Many years ago when I was studying in England, I had occasion to interview an evangelical minister and his wife who lived just outside one of the major industrial cities in that country. The appointment was set for early evening and I remember well walking briskly to their home from the train station, feeling a little uneasy about the approaching darkness, and drops of rain.
The interview which lasted about an hour gave us an opportunity to talk about forms of ministry and the multitude of ways that women and men of God use their talents in service to the church and others. The time came for me to leave.
As I was about to walk through the door into the night darkness, the minister called me back. “I am really concerned about your safety walking to the train station at this hour.” His wife agreed, noting that the gentle rain had now matured into a “downpour.”
I stepped back into their hallway, grateful they understood that the conditions outside were compromising my safety and my comfort.
“We want to pray that God will keep you safe and dry!” said the pastor. He prayed. The wife smiled. I thanked them. And then I left.
As I walked past their car in the driveway, I smiled to myself, thinking that God would have enabled their prayer to be answered immediately had they offered to drive me to the train station.
At first I was a bit puzzled and a bit disappointed by this experience. How could these spiritual leaders be so insensitive? Rather than praying for my safety, why didn’t they grab their car keys?
But I learned a valuable lesson, one that I have shared a few times over the course of my life.
When I am tempted to dismiss the practical needs of someone else—who I can easily help—I am reminded of the irony of this story.
Responding to Practical Needs
“Who is my neighbour?” said the Pharisees to Jesus. In reply, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. “And who was the neighbour?” asked Jesus in return.
The answer was very clear: the one who saw the need, bandaged the wounds, transported the traveller on his donkey, and paid for care and shelter.
So, I turn the question to us: who is our neighbour? Well, the one who needs a cup of cold water. Or, the one who needs shelter, or a care package, or some biscuits from your oven, or a cheery text message. The call to the believer is to offer help where help is needed.
The “hands on” practical ministry of women, like you and me, needs to derive its strength and vision from our spiritual leader. So what were some of the things that Jesus did that we might wish to imitate?
Jesus fed before he taught: By our acts of kindness, we earn the respect of others and the right to witness to God’s love in our hearts and lives. Throughout Jesus’ travels, he showed concern for the physical well-being of his followers; then they were hungry, Jesus fed them; when they were weary, he offered them rest; and when the disciples were frightened, Jesus calmed the seas.
Jesus washed the disciples’ feet: As the heart of our Lord was being prepared for His Own Passion and imminent suffering, Jesus planned one last meal for the disciples to have together and greeted each one at the door by washing their feet. With his own betrayal close at hand, he ministered to others more in need than he saw himself. Am I willing to do this too—look upon the needs of others and take the gaze off myself?
Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus: The compassion of Jesus for those around him was remarkable. Not only did he realize their need, but he empathized with their pain. Why did Jesus weep when he knew that life could be breathed into that dead body? Because Jesus cared for him, loved him, and loved his two sisters, Mary and Martha. Jesus understood the emotional angst the death of Lazarus had created.
By feeding, washing and weeping over those he loved, Jesus established his credibility as a man sent from God. Once he arose from the dead, it became clear to some of his followers that Jesus was indeed God. Our actions, like his, speak a lot louder than words.
Do I need to do some washing, weeping and feeding? A cup of cold water makes an enormous difference to someone who is very thirsty.
August 8, 2017
Portions of this blog appeared as an article I wrote for The Wesleyan Woman, Summer 1996, 16(2); 11-12.