I had a planned post for this week’s blog post, but I thought I’d write something off-the-cuff and spontaneously; so there! I don’t always watch a great deal of TV, I tend to cherry-pick and tape things I really want to watch. Recently I’ve been watching a programme on a channel called ‘Quest’, which is called ‘No Reservations’ about the travels of a sassy and mouthy but always funny chef from New York called Anthony Bourdain, who has gone all over the world in search of new experiences and especially to eat local food and meet local people. I’ve watched him visit China, Japan, South Florida, Peru to name but four places but he’s visited many more. He’s even visited Scotland and England too, and in a book of his I bought off Amazon called ‘A Cook’s Tour’ he said, and I quote, ‘I love England’, which I thought was nice, as we tend to expect people will say they hate England and especially that people will usually hate our food! Anyway, I’ve really grown to like this guy and his often wry and always funny observations, but in between the glib remarks and witty one-liners, there comes across a guy who is genuinely thrilled by his travels around the world and who loves different cultures and different cuisines with a passion. Now and then, even he is lost for words; he visited Machu Picchu and felt that whatever he said wouldn’t be enough – so he didn’t say anything much and just left me feeling that this guy realised how lucky he is going around the world meeting nice people and eating different food, and getting paid for it too! Another thing; I’ve always felt an empathy and affinity with New Yorkers, their toughness, their directness, their sassiness, their world-weariness and that important sense of humour too. Some of my heroes are New Yorkers like Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and John Garfield, to name but three. I always felt that with New York especially, that people were direct and tell-it-like-it-is, not a characteristic generally noted about English people, or some English people anyway.
The Good Samaritan
Sometimes ordinary non-religious people can be kinder and have a genuine love for people, far more than some so-called Christians have, and opposed to the often rigid and intolerant views that some religious people can have. I am brought to the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus was quizzed by a lawyer: ‘And now a lawyer stood up and, to test him, asked, 'Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' He said to him, 'What is written in the Law? What is your reading of it?' He replied, 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.' Jesus said to him, 'You have answered right, do this and life is yours.' But the man was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbour?' In answer Jesus said, 'A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of bandits; they stripped him, beat him and then made off, leaving him half dead. Now a priest happened to be travelling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan traveller who came on him was moved with compassion when he saw him. He went up to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He then lifted him onto his own mount and took him to an inn and looked after him. Next day, he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper and said, "Look after him, and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have." Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the bandits' hands?' He replied, 'The one who showed pity towards him.' Jesus said to him, 'Go, and do the same yourself.'’ (Luke 10:25-37 NJB) We see sometimes in life that people, not particularly religious, not particularly special, not particularly anything really, are more considerate, more caring and more compassionate than those who are supposed to have these qualities, the religious kind of person, who might talk about love and concern for others but when it comes down to it, is merely full of words.
The Samaritans were a mixed race people, and because their views and practise of religion differed somewhat from the Jews, the Jews often held them in contempt. But Jesus uses a Samaritan to make a point, a point that we should all heed. Sometimes the outsider, the marginalised, those whom greater society often dismisses as of no account, can be the very people who have more love and compassion than those who pride themselves on being pure and religious. The point also being, that what is the point of religious pride, or doing all kinds of ‘religious’ things, if you don’t have simple love for your fellow human? I sometimes look at powerful people in the established churches and important people who just happen or claim to be religious , and wonder whether what they profess is genuine or heartfelt or whether such claims of religious piety are just a mask, a mark of respectability, or another marker of superiority to add to all the rest. We have to be the people who don’t walk on by, but the people who are truly living as Christians every day.
Che, the Revolutionary
Like most people, I have a thing for rebels, for those hardy souls who challenge injustice or take on the establishment, or just blaze a trail in pop music or film making or some such thing. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was said to be so moved after travelling around South America on motorbike with a mate called Alberto Granado that he wanted to help the poor of the many countries of this large continent. In some ways, he may have been right, and in some ways, he may have been wrong. But sometimes things only move forwards when brave people, be they individuals or groups, challenge blatant injustice and unfair situations, usually targeted at the poor and disenfranchised. British society itself, far from being staid and lacking revolutionary zeal, changed many times when ordinary people began to fight for their rights. Sometimes the rebels were peasants and the poor, and sometimes the rebels were more Middle class; there is in fact a rich history of civil disobedience throughout the British Isles against governments and all kinds of injustice.
Even at their best though, many revolutionaries could be said to be somewhat egocentric, not all, but to do something for others takes real courage. The only revolutionary that completely succeeded was Jesus, a man who knew He would be executed by the powers-that-be, the military and religious authorities of His day, but who still went out into the world, to challenge some of us, to chastise some of us, to show up religious hypocrisy for what it was but ultimately to save us.
Many people today, even many Christians, feel lost, feel that the harsh economic times we live in, with the constant closure of businesses and consequent loss of jobs everywhere, means that they won’t have decent lives and that they might have to struggle just to exist. I feel like this myself some times. For the believer, there are better times ahead. We must have faith in God and we must not fall into despair; despair is an opportune impostor. Read this, and take comfort: ‘You will be a crown of splendour in Yahweh's hand, a princely diadem in the hand of your God. No more will you be known as 'Forsaken' or your country be known as 'Desolation'; instead, you will be called 'My Delight is in her' and your country 'The Wedded'; for Yahweh will take delight in you and your country will have its wedding. Like a young man marrying a virgin, your rebuilder will wed you, and as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so will your God rejoice in you.’ (Isaiah 62:3-5 NJB)