Jesus gave a simple command: “Love your neighbor.”1 However, “neighbor” is pretty vague, and some wise guy asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”2 Jesus answered with the story about a traveler on the way to Jericho who was ambushed by thieves, beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Two people passed him by but didn’t stop to help.3
I can speculate on what each might have been thinking as he passed that poor guy on the side of the road.
He lay covered in white hospital sheets, hooked up to a tangle of tubes and wires. As I approached, I barely recognized him—the pasty skin, the sunken cheeks—but when he opened his eyes and smiled at me, it was all I could do to keep from jumping into his arms like I always had. Grandpa, whom I loved more than anyone else in the whole world, had had a serious heart attack.
Most of us are familiar with the phrase “Love never fails.”1 It’s illustrated in children’s devotionals. It’s woven into songs, stories, and poems. I can’t remember a time when this scripture wasn’t familiar to me.
In my younger years, I took it to mean that love was always strong enough to get what it wanted. “Love” held the trump card and could somehow get its way. I guess I had a somewhat manipulative idea of love. I thought it could outsmart, convince, reason and persuade to encourage whatever results were necessary.
I was thinking about my mom on her birthday, and realized that there was something very special about my childhood—the times we spent together. More specifically, I was thinking about the Christmases when I was small. The thing that made each memory special wasn’t the number or value of the gifts we received or the Christmas parties we attended. Rather, it was the simple things.
Another Christmas is almost here, and if you’re like most people, you’re probably so busy with all that goes into Christmas that you haven’t yet found much time to stop and think about “the reason for the season.” Well, here’s your chance! This issue of Activated is all about putting the meaning and joy back into Christmas.
I was watching an interview last Sunday, and the guest was asked, “What’s the greatest need in the world today?” Without hesitation, he responded, “Empathy. The world needs more empathy.”
I probably would have responded, without thinking, that the world needs more love. But I liked his answer. It was much more specific to say that the world needs more empathy.
One day when I was nine, my older brother and I went for a swim. I hadn’t yet learned how to swim properly and could only do a little dog-paddling and floating on my back. My older brother was an excellent swimmer, which was why my parents had sent him along to keep an eye on me. He and I had argued that morning over something I can’t even remember, so I was annoyed that my parents insisted on him being there. I was determined to do my own thing and insisted on swimming laps by myself.
I’m sure most of us would look at Mother Teresa and people like her and think we could never be like that; we could never be so saintly or make such a difference in the lives of so many. Maybe not, but the tragedy is that because so many don’t think they can, they don’t even try.
But Mother Teresa didn’t set out to become a saint or a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. And she didn’t start out ministering to multitudes of the poorest of the poor. She just saw the need nearest to her and responded.
I discovered the power of forgiveness on a July afternoon in 1976. It was during the Idi Amin regime, when Uganda had come to a standstill—careers, the economy, the infrastructure, education, everything. I was a student at Makerere University and also newly married and expecting a baby.
Jesus started the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes,1 which spoke of blessings for the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted. He was teaching what those who were part of the kingdom of God were to be like. Then He moved on to another topic: