My ice-cream encounter reminded me of a passage: “Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realising it! Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies” (Hebrews 13:1-3).
This ice-cream woman had welcomed me and my St John's co-workers into her home. Unfortunately, she was immobilised with back pain and her bed had become a prison. Her clothes were stained in urine and faeces. She lived alone and probably felt neglected, and that bowl of ice-cream was all that she had eaten for a couple of days.
Perhaps this woman was entertaining angels. Or perhaps we were. And perhaps this was an opportunity for us to share her pain and love her as a (much older) sister.
I’m also reminded of the close Fijian communities I experienced in 2012. Not many people there ate ice-cream, but they were hardly ever alone. They may have experienced physical pain, but their friends, family and neighbours were by their side. A young man named Sammy made a lasting impression on me. After eventually making his way to university, he put it all on hold to care and live with his aging Grandmother. Loving support wasn’t left to paid carers or wonderful strangers in uniform. This feels like an uncomfortable contrast to our own neighbourhoods.
It’s hard to take Jesus’ command to love our neighbours seriously when we don’t really know who they are. Since the beginning of the year, God’s really been challenging me on this. If we want to see God’s Kingdom come, I think we all need to simply know and love the people next door.
For months I found ways to ignore that challenge. My life’s far too busy, and knocking on someone’s door is far too unacceptable.
I just get nervous, shy and disobedient. Thankfully, God’s showing me that I don’t have to meet and love the world by myself. Our Christian brothers and sisters are also our co-workers with God, and unity with one another is a powerful witness to Christ (John 17:23)!
One of my recent joys was partnering with my flatmate to celebrate National Neighbours Day. We used this day as an excuse to visit all 14 or so houses on Douglas Street Lane – yep it is a street and a lane – and invite everyone to our house for “Tea, Coffee, Chat and Cake.” Seven neighbours turned up to our house and other families welcomed us into theirs. A single mother brought her kids to my flatmate’s church’s Easter Party, and everyone seems keen to have another neighbourhood gathering soon. It’s becoming a little bit easier to love them as I would love myself. In the next few weeks I plan to invite a few neighbours to a Jesus discussion home group, so any little prayers will be hugely appreciated!
Ponder the passage in Hebrews above. Can you see ways that it relates to Matthew 25:31-40? Who was the last angel you might have shared love, food, clothes, hope or pain with?
Are there any old ladies on your street waiting to share ice-cream with you? Grab some trade aid chocolate sauce, knock on a few doors and find out! Honestly, do it! That would be awesome!