A Community Christmas

Our church at Newbury hosted a 'Community Christmas' lunch on Christmas day. The idea behind this thoughtful charity is that no older person should be alone on Christmas day (unless they want to be). We were delighted to host 35 visitors and volunteers for a traditional turkey-with-all-the-trimmings (plus vegetarian option) lunch! I think it's fair to say that a good time was had by all - and nobody left hungry. And it was quite an experience to host the TV cameras of Good Morning Britain who covered the event - it's not often that our little church gets a slot on national TV!

But this endeavour raised an interesting question for me. How far should we go in helping the needy? Believe it or not, some Christians and non-Christians alike argue that helping the needy is futile. Much of this hinges on a misunderstanding of a passage in John12:1-8. Here, Mary anoints Jesus with expensive perfume and Judas challenges this extravagance. Jesus’ somewhat esoteric response is to say ‘“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”’ (John12:7-8). On the face of it, this passage does seem to suggest that helping the needy is ultimately futile. But a little bit of Old Testament background helps. It seems likely that Jesus has Deuteronomy 15 in his mind in making this response:

‘If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need…Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.’ (Deut15:7-11).

So, yes, there will always be poverty - more poverty than we can possibly hope to solve. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be ‘openhanded’ toward our fellow neighbour. If you are still in any doubt as to how far we should go in helping others, do you think the Samarian was selective or conditional when helping the beaten and robbed traveller? Or the ‘sheep’ in Jesus’ parable realised they were helping Jesus himself when feeding and watering strangers?

By Jon.

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