I know these seem like some random verses from an old-fashioned bible but this is incisive, political, heart-of-God stuff that is absolutely relevant to us today. Maybe not the donkey bit, but at least the principle! I heard some of these verses read out in a prayer meeting a few weeks ago. I was convicted. I thought of the strong command of God to me to make sure I do stop and help when someone’s car breaks down, when a friend has an issue at work or at home, and even when an enemy is in need. These are God’s words to a newly forming Israelite society. Whoever said that Christianity was irrelevant, or simply about a spiritual existence?
One of the big news items recently has been the stopping of free school meals. Whatever your political or economic view – whether it is for big government to arrange taxation so that poverty can be helped or small government that promotes work and wages for all – injustice and poverty are always under scrutiny in the bible, and God always wants people to deal with it. Rising Brook
(the church I lead) are just about to start a new series about ‘Shalom’. This is the Hebrew word for peace. But it doesn't just mean the absence of war; it means rightness, wholeness, prosperity and health. Shalom sums up the kind of world that God has always intended for humanity and that Jesus brought with him when he taught, corrected, healed and befriended. Shalom is the way that the Kingdom of Heaven is expressed, and Jesus didn't just talk about it, he made it happen around him. He healed his friend’s (Simon Peter’s) mother in law and he healed his enemy’s (the Roman Centurion’s) servant.
There are all kinds of ways to bring about this kind of righteousness that leads to wholeness in body, soul and spirit and we may each have our preferred view of how it should be done in the UK. But, according to God, it should be done; children should be able to eat. I was struck by the stories that my friend Hugh read out as part of our online service last Sunday; how so many of them were about bringing shalom where there is hunger and brokenness. These were stories of the church in action in India, Russia and France; people demonstrating love by risking their own health, by giving imaginatively and sacrificially, by attending to presenting needs like the examples above in the Old Testament. I heard, too, today of a local supermarket in Cannock asking us to help them give away some packed lunches this week.
Fulfilling those donkey laws can be done by anyone, but in real life the state of our hearts will either help us or prevent us from fulfilling them. That is why government strategies also fail and falter, despite having some great and convincing ideals from both the left and the right. Our hearts prevent the giving of shalom. We keep our excess to ourselves rather than promoting more work for others, and we avoid taxes or work the system to make sure that we are OK when there are helps and handouts. How maddening it is that there appear to be companies who have wrongly perverted the furlough scheme and there are others who have stored up yet more riches on the back of this global pandemic. The bible promotes shalom in society but also knows that the way to the multiplication of shalom is through renewed hearts and not just more effort.
That is why the mission of Jesus was to change hearts and also to teach and practice how to live justly. He talked about how our renewed-heart behaviour marks us out as different to others around us – in the same way that sheep and goats might be identified as different. The mission of the church is the same. Our hearts need renewing - especially when it comes to looking out for others. We need spiritual deliverance, a new vision of what life is all about, a release from the bondage of sin and selfishness. And we need to be those people who are prepared to help out our friends, our neighbours and even our enemies. Now is the time for the church to promote brand new life in Jesus, to pray fervently against demonic strongholds in our own lives and in our world. When we worship – or even watch it on a Sunday morning on our TV – this is a time to open our hearts and say “Come Lord Jesus!”, to pray alongside one another for the power of heaven to shake the foundations of this life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, knowing that even this is a spiritual weapon, which can spread out to change the culture of a nation.
So when you next see a donkey, be a sheep and not a goat, and let your Spirit -filled heart lead you to an act of kindness and generosity; knowing that the holiness of shalom is more powerful than the selfishness of sin. We really should be addressing hunger, clothing the poor, healing the sick and visiting those in prison – so do get behind any of these actions when you see them happening around you and lets pray that our hearts are filled with the transforming love of Jesus.
Martin J Young