context

fistRegular bloggists will know that I have been following a series of 40 readings from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In case you have missed the previous thoughts I have shared, let me remind you that he was a German pastor who was arrested (and executed) for being an outspoken critic of Nazi Germany. He wrote this:

Words and thoughts are not enough. Doing good involves all the things of daily life. “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink” (Romans 12:20). In the same ways that brothers and sisters stand by each other in times of need, bind up each other’s wounds, ease each other’s pain, love of the enemy should do good to the enemy. Where in the world is there greater need, where are deeper wounds and pain than those of our enemies? Where is doing good more necessary and more blessed than for our enemies?

In prayer we go to our enemies, to stand at their side. We are with them, near them, for them before God. Jesus does not promise us that the enemy we love, we bless, to whom we do good, will not abuse and persecute us. They will do so. But even in doing so, they cannot harm and conquer us if we take this last step to them in intercessory prayer. Now we are taking up their neediness and poverty, their being guilty and lost, and interceding for them before God. We are doing for them in vicarious representative action what they cannot do for themselves. Every insult from our enemy will only bind us closer to God and to our enemy. Every persecution can only serve to bring the enemy closer to reconciliation with God, to make love more unconquerable.

How does love become unconquerable? By never asking what the enemy is doing to it, and only asking what Jesus has done. Loving one’s enemies leads disciples to the way of the cross and into communion with the crucified one.

They are powerful words, but the context in which they were written make them even more remarkable. His ‘enemies’ were people whose ideology was diametrically opposed to his. His enemies were far more powerful than he was. His enemies could (and did) destroy him almost without thinking.

It puts our petty squabbles into perspective doesn’t it?

Alongside the wisdom and depth of what Bonhoeffer wrote, the context speaks almost as loudly and poignantly. And context makes all the difference. Someone striking someone else in the stomach could look like an assault. Or it could be that they are trying to dislodge some food that is choking the victim. A shaking fist can indicate anger or victory. It’s one of the classic plots in TV dramas – someone sees or overhears something when they don’t know the whole context and draw the wrong conclusion. The outcome can be tragic or comedic and the consequences are worked out.

But when it is real life we would do well to pause and ascertain the true context rather than jumping to conclusions. When we do we may find that those whom we thought were our enemies actually are people in need of God’s love expressed through us.

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

context

Context is everything.

“I never want to see you again” can be devastating if spoken to a person but fully understandable if spoken to a grey hair that has just been plucked from your head.

It is entirely appropriate to greet someone and say, “How are you?” when you meet them in the street but sitting in a doctor’s waiting room the same question can seem overly nosy and perhaps even unnecessary.

Thumping someone on their chest is entirely appropriate if you are attempting to give cardiac massage but can lead to a night in the police cells if that other person Is perfectly healthy.

Steaua Fans“Who are you?” is a very different question when chanted by a football crowd in the direction of the opposing fans to when you say it to a stranger in your house.

It’s also very true for the way we read the Bible. If you take a verse out of its context you can almost make it mean anything, and can certainly distort its meaning. I can still remember the adage from my days in the vicar factory: “a text without a context is a pretext.” it’s important to ask ourselves what is happening in the surrounding passages in order that we can more fully understand the passage we are considering.

In all of the above circumstances if we fail to take account of the context we may well get the wrong end of the stick. We can jump to conclusions, make assumptions and fill in any blanks in the background story in such a way that we completely misunderstand what is happening.

Hopefully you are all agreeing with me at this point because they think I’ve said anything particularly radical. So why is it that we often fail to take account of our own context? We can fail to recognise that we are too busy and wonder why our family seem a bit distant. We can ignore sin in our own life and happily dispense judgement about others (Jesus said something about planks and specks of dust didn’t he?). We can feel hurt and wronged by others and fail to recognise that we may well have caused hurt by our own failure.

At its worst this tendency has a hideous name which Jesus used for the religious leaders of his day: hypocrisy.

Have people ever said to you that they won’t go to church because churches are full of hypocrites? it’s a sobering thought. But following on from yesterday’s bloggage I think (or at least hope) but the reality is that the churches are full of people who fall short of God standards but are aware of that and are asking God to help them as they wrestle with that reality. We are people who are acutely aware of our need of God’s grace and forgiveness.

Please God always help me to be aware of my own context so that I never end up being hypocritical.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A driver is pulled over by a policeman. The police man approaches the driver’s door.

“Is there a problem Officer?”, the driver asked.

The policeman says, “Sir, you were speeding. Can I see your licence please?”

The driver responds, “I’d give it to you but I don’t have one.”

“You don’t have one?”

The man responds, “I lost it four times for drink driving.”

The policeman is shocked. “I see. Can I see your vehicle registration papers please?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”

The policeman says, “Why not?”

“I stole this car.”

The officer says, “Stole it?”

The man says, “Yes, and I killed the owner.”

At this point the officer is getting irate. “You what!?”

“She’s in the boot if you want to see.”

The Officer looks at the man and slowly backs away to his car and calls for back up. Within minutes, five police cars show up, surrounding the car. A senior officer slowly approaches the car, clasping his half drawn gun.

The senior officer says “Sir, could you step out of your vehicle please!”

The man steps out of his vehicle. “Is there a problem sir?”

“One of my officers told me that you have stolen this car and murdered the owner.”

“Murdered the owner?”

The officer responds, “Yes, could you please open the boot of your car please?”

The man opens the boot, revealing nothing but an empty boot.

The officer says, “Is this your car sir?”

The man says “Yes,” and hands over the registration papers.

The officer, understandably, is quite stunned. “One of my officers claims that you do not have a driving licence.”

The man digs in his pocket revealing a wallet and hands it to the officer. The officer opens the wallet and examines the licence. He looks quite puzzled. “Thank you sir, one of my officers told me you didn’t have a licence, stole this car, and murdered the owner.”

The man replies, “I bet you he told you I was speeding, too!”