Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

When I Needed a Neighbor – From the Daily Office – March 21, 2013

From the Gospel according to John:

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – John 10:22-30 (NRSV) – March 21, 2013.)

“I have told you, and you do not believe.”

Jesus Walks in the Portico of Solomon by James J TissotWhat does it mean to believe? That is really the crux of the matter and the stumbling block for 21st Century folks. In modern American English, the dictionary tells us, the the verb to believe means, “to accept a statement, supposition, or opinion as true.” Is this what Jesus is saying to the Jewish authorities in the Jerusalem Temple? “I have told you and you do not accept my statements, suppositions, and opinions as true.” Somehow, I don’t think so.

The Greek-English lexicon, in quite a contrast to the modern English dictionary, tells us that the Greek verb pisteuo, used in the original Greek of the New Testament and translated here and elsewhere into English as to believe, is “used in the [New Testament] of the conviction and trust to which a [person] is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of soul to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something: saving faith.” This is what Jesus is saying to the Temple authorities: “I have told you and you do not have that inner certainty which impels you to trust, with your soul, in God.”

In the same way, I was once told that the Latin verb credere, which is also translated to believe and from which we get our words credo, creed, and credibility, is related to the Latin word for “heart” (cardia) and can be understood as meaning “to put one’s heart upon.”

So religious belief, Christian belief is more than simply intellectual assent to a statement, supposition, or opinion. Religious belief is a matter of heart and soul, a matter of trust and conviction, not simply a matter of the head but of the whole person. This is what the Temple authorities lacked, this whole-person trust in and commitment to God. Jesus had told them, and they did not believe.

In recent days, I have had to put that kind of trust into people I have never before met. I have had to hand over to them and entrust them with one of the most precious things in my life. Not only have I had to accept their statements that they know what to do and have the skills and wherewithal to do it, I have had to steel my soul and my heart with the conviction, the inner certainty that they do. I have never doubted in God; in these days, I have had to not doubt these neighbors who, like the Samaritan, are ministering to my and my family’s needs. When they have told me what they know and understand, what they believe (in the modern English sense) needs to be done, I have had to believe it, too (in every sense of the word).

The experience of these days has reminded me of a lovely English hymn entitled When I needed a neighbour:

When I needed a neighbour were you there, were you there?
When I needed a neighbour were you there?
[Refrain:]
And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter,
were you there?

I was hungry and thirsty, were you there, were you there?
I was hungry and thirsty, were you there? [Refrain]

I was cold, I was naked, were you there, were you there?
I was cold, I was naked, were you there? [Refrain]

When I needed a shelter were you there, were you there?
When I needed a shelter were you there? [Refrain]

When I needed a healer were you there, were you there?
When I needed a healer were you there? [Refrain]

Wherever you travel I’ll be there, I’ll be there,
Wherever you travel I’ll be there.
And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter,
I’ll be there.

I do believe that what Jesus was really saying to the Temple authorities was, “I have told you to be neighbors to those around you, to those in need, and you have not done that; you have not committed yourself heart and soul to the love and care of others.” When I needed a neighbor, many were there. When I needed an answer to prayer, it came through these neighbors. Thanks be to God.

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

3 Comments

  1. hildegarde

    Was so good to hear from you, for you all have been in my thoughts and prayers all week. And I will continue to be with you in Spirit/ Love….

  2. eric

    Thank you, Hildegarde. See you soon.

  3. Vicki Sizemore

    Really enjoy your blog Fr. Eric. You all have been in our thoughts and prayers.

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