Matthew 22: 34-40
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
Tuesday of Holy Week, and we find Jesus back in the temple, teaching. The chief priests and the elders are not happy. They are determined to find fault with what Jesus says, testing him with seemingly impossible to answer questions. Eventually they ask a question about the law, to see whether he really knows his stuff. Which commandment is the greatest? Jesus’ answer is short and to the point. Love God and love your neighbour.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve become a nation divided. Divided into those of us who are staying at home, behind closed doors, keeping distant, as we have been told to do, and those who are on the front line of this pandemic, out there, working to keep our NHS, our food shops, our pharmacies, our bin collections and other vital services going.
Tomorrow I’ll be thinking about those of us who are staying at home. But today I want to think about those key workers who are going out, going to work each day and risking their own health to do so.
Now maybe there are some, but I’ve not heard of any doctors, nurses or other health workers saying ‘you know what’, this isn’t what I signed up for, I never agreed to put my own health and wellbeing at risk to go to work. I’m quitting. Supermarket workers, not the best paid people in our country, are still showing up, even in the face of unpleasant, even abusive, behaviour from some customers.
If we ever wanted a perfect contemporary example of what it means to ‘Love your neighbour’ this has surely got to be it. Jesus has another example. In Luke’s account of this story, the lawyer asks a follow up question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’. Jesus then tells the story of the good Samaritan. The story of a man who is prepared to put himself in harm’s way to help a stranger in need. A man who then gives of his own resources to make sure the man is cared for.
Being good neighbours is what builds strong communities. It’s when we care not just for our family and friends, for those we know and love, but care just as much for the stranger, for people who may be very different to us, that’s when communities are strengthened and that’s when we begin to see glimpses of heaven, even in the midst of darkness.
I am so humbled, watching the news each day, to see and hear stories of ordinary people, going to extraordinary lengths to help people they don’t know. I am also afraid. Afraid for the health of people I know and love who day after day are going to work despite the dangers.
It sometimes feels like there is nothing I can do to help. But there is. I can applaud at my front door; I can encourage them; I can pray for them and I can entrust them into God’s precious care.
Let’s just pause a moment and pray for those on the frontline in this pandemic. For those people we know, and those we don’t.
I’d like to finish with words from the hymn ‘Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us’.
Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us,
o’er the world’s tempestuous sea;
guard us, guide us, keep us, feed us,
for we have no help but thee;
yet possessing every blessing,
if our God our Father be.