Is That My Place Burning Down?

Monday, August 31, 1998

Luke 10:36,37 – "Which of these three, do you think, was the best neighbour to the man who fell among thieves?" And he said, "the one who showed mercy on him". Jesus said, "then go and do likewise."

I was having coffee with a friend recently and he told me this story of growing up on a farm in central Manitoba, Canada. "I was out plowing in a corner of our field when I saw this huge plume of smoke from a neighbour's farm. I noticed him out working in his farm near me and hurried over to him. "Emil, your barn is burning!" I told him. He replied, "Is that my place? I thought it was my neighbour's."

We chuckled at the humour, years later. I wondered if Emil's neighbours were as apparently indifferent to his plight as he had been, thinking it was theirs rather than his own. My friend, Eli, had been concerned enough to hurry over to collect Emil, but that is what I would have expected from him.

This story reminds me of the poem by John Donne containing the famous line, "Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." (Meditation 17) Donne, besides being a brilliant poet, was, as Dean of St. Paul's in London, a pretty fair preacher as well. He reminds us, as Eli's story does, that as human beings, we are connected both by our common humanity and our Lord's command. Jesus reminds us of the same in his story of the Good Samaritan.

St. Paul from whom Donne's parish was named, exhorts us to "bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2) It was Jesus who said that the evidence to the unbelieving world of His claims would be the love shown one another by the church. (John 13:35)

Frances Schaeffer, in his series "How Then Shall We Live," said in the mid-1970's that one of the great curses of the modern age are the twin gods of affluence and the quest for personal peace, regardless of truth, justice or others' welfare. As long as I have what I think I need, does it matter if I can see the smoke from my neighbours? Apparently, yes, it does.

Prayer: Lord, deliver us from the desire to escape the pain of suffering, especially that of our neighbours. Amen.

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About the author:

Harold McNabb
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

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