I have a few favourite stories from the Old Testament. The story of Joseph and his beautiful coat is one of them. Another one is the whole story of Moses, leading the people out of slavery in Egypt and bringing them to the promised land.
Moses is a fascinating example of being a leader. One of the most important strengths for effective leadership is ‘love and the capacity to be loved’. It’s very closely connected to kindness. As the leader of the people of Israel, Moses’ chief purpose was to look after his people, to love them. Moses led the people out of slavery in Egypt. He escaped Pharaoh and all his army and chariots. He helped them survive in the wilderness, against all the odds, by finding water and food, and then he had a powerful religious experience on the Mount Sinai and gave the people the law, the 10 commandments. These commandments, and the other laws which went with them, would distinguish the people of Israel from all the other tribes they would encounter in the years ahead.
One critical thing Moses taught was that life wasn’t just about looking after yourself or your own family. I love this particular phrase from the book of Deuteronomy: “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10: 19). Their own lived experience of being strangers in Egypt, of being oppressed by the Egyptians, was to inform their own treatment of people in the future.
Roughly 1,500 years after Moses, Jesus would simplify all the Jewish law, including the 10 commandments, and distil them down to just two fundamental principles: “Love God and love your neighbour as yourself.” Our human rights are built on this tradition. The UN Declaration of Human Rights ultimately goes back to Jesus. Everything in our society would work much better, if we actually did this, if we actually loved our neighbours as ourselves.
But it’s not always easy! In lots of practical ways, loving your neighbour and helping them out can be hard! About a month ago, on one of those really hot nights in Adelaide, I was sleeping with the window open, to try and get a bit of a breeze through, and was woken by the sound of running water in our front garden. I’ve worked out over the years that if you notice something that is out of the ordinary, it’s not always a good sign. So, as I stirred and worked out that it was indeed running water. I thought, “That’s odd”. I crept to the window and saw a shirtless, heavy set man, holding some of the piping from our front garden’s water system in his hands, basically just spraying water around everywhere. Loving your neighbour as yourself is not always easy, particularly when he’s just ripped up your watering system!
In a split second I weighed up my options. Bear in mind that I had my family in the house as well, so there was a lot at stake.
Option no. 1: grab the cricket bat, charge out, and threaten him. This was not a great option, given that he was:
a) pretty big;
b) almost certainly drunk and therefore potentially aggressive.
Option no. 2: this was a similar option, set my Staffordshire Bullterrier on him. Again, though, once you do that, you can’t control the outcome.
Option no. 3: just call the cops straight away. That was certainly an option and I kept that option ready, just in case.
Option no. 4: Talk to him very calmly and quietly, from inside the house.
So that’s what I did, “Um, mate, are you okay? You’re ripping up my watering system.” He kind of mumbled, “I’m washing” and kept spraying water everywhere. So I said, “I think you’d better go. Are you okay?” He mumbled something and then wandered off. If I’d been really good, I would have gone out with a sandwich and a glass of water, but it was 2am and personal safety does actually come into consideration as well! But it would have been so easy just to start abusing him, except that: a) that approach doesn’t work and b) Jesus calls us to a better way of relating to people. It’s a tougher way and sometimes it won’t work perfectly, but that’s the goal and that’s how we make the world a better place.
The Reverend Dr Theo McCall