BELIEVE that the Good News of Jesus Christ
challenges and equips us
to develop radically new attitudes and relationships
with our neighbours throughout the whole of Ireland
The ‘other side’; ‘them un’s’; words and phrases like this (and worse) have become commonplace in the way we have spoken for years about some of our neighbours.
And some of the attitudes towards those from other countries who have come here to work and settle still leave a lot to be desired. Latest figures from the Police Service of Northern Ireland tell us that in the 12 months to 31st December 2016 there were 1,037 recorded incidents where there was a racist motivation. In the Republic of Ireland one hate crime is reported to An Garda Síochána everyday, though many feel that there is significant underreporting.
The story that Jesus told of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) is a dramatic answer to the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ And He backed up His teaching by the way He related to and spoke to people who, in some way, were very different from Him: His gracious encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well; His teatime event with the despised taxman Matthew; even His call for the forgiveness of the Roman soldiers who crucified Him ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).
If there was still any doubt remaining about how to think about neighbours – and those might well include enemies – Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 are very clear and equally demanding: “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (verses 43-48).
Our society thrives on blame – and not on grace, compassion and mercy. Forgiveness towards those who have offended us is almost an endangered species. Yet the call of Christ to have a radically different attitude and relationship with others is not made on the basis of self-help. It is part and parcel of the work of the Holy Spirit to bring about the necessary change, and certainly needs to be prayed for.
For Jesus there was no ‘other side’ or ‘them un’s’. We are not permitted to have them either and call ourselves devoted followers of Jesus Christ. There is still much work to be done by the Spirit in my soul on how to connect well with my neighbours. Might He need to work in your soul too?
Dr. Hamilton is convener of the Church’s Council for Public Affairs. He is Minister Emeritus of Ballysillan Presbyterian Church in north Belfast and was Moderator of the Presbyterian Church Ireland 2010-2011.
The Statement was welcomed and adopted by the General Assembly in June 2016. Its five paragraphs are a declaration of belief, confession, affirmation and aspiration for our members across Ireland as disciples of Jesus Christ and as peacebuilders.
You can read all the blogs in this series here. For free resources, including short promotional films, a specially written hymn - based on the words of the statement - downloadable poster and prayer card visit the resources section here.