In the Gospel set for today, Jesus speaks of those slaves or servants appointed to guarantee that the needs and rights (though not every wish, whim or demand) of their fellows are met; drawing a contrast between the blessed slave who does so diligently, and the wicked slave, who exploits others, acting only for their own personal gain.
Across all parties, the overwhelming majority of Members of Parliament—public servants, appointed to guarantee certain basic needs and rights of the population at large—are in politics in order to serve the best interests of the population. More, on the whole, they agree on what makes for a good society; albeit that they disagree, at times profoundly, sometimes by very little, on how best to deliver that.
Yet they bear the brunt of a level of abuse no-one should have to endure. Death threats are a regular occurrence; and, for female MPs, rape threats. While many people would consider these ‘taking things too far,’ such hatred is legitimised by a far wider-spread derision of MPs as either ‘obstructing’ or ‘bypassing’ democracy. We place ourselves as qualified to judge them wicked slaves, and demand decisive judgement on them.
Paul prayed for the church at Thessalonica, ‘And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all...’
Paul prayed that Jesus, at work in them by his life-giving Spirit, would multiply and bring forth the fruit of love, in them, for all.
This is a fitting prayer for our time, that we might be empowered to love those with whom we disagree, at times profoundly disagree.
I voted to Remain in the EU, and nothing has caused me to change my mind. I believe Brexit to be an abdication of responsibility towards our neighbours. Yet, I sit and eat with those who voted to Leave and those who voted to Remain, week by week.
I vote Green, in a Blue ward in a Red city. Yet, I care for, and experience the care of, those who vote Blue and those who vote Red, on a regular, ongoing basis.
We cannot get along by avoiding talk of politics, by ignoring the engagement that, together, contends for the good of society.
And so, we must attend, carefully, to the way in which we speak to, and of, one another.
And that, in turn, means that we must attend carefully to the ways in which we allow ourselves to think of one another and to feel in relation to one another.
Rather than be swept along by the crowd, we need to stand our ground. We need to observe carefully, reflect deeply, discuss honestly. Then we can plan wisely, give account of ourselves soberly, and act justly.
We are all slaves, not masters. When we beat one another up, we prove ourselves to be wicked slaves. When we give to others ‘their allowance of food at the proper time’—when, among other readings, we nourish them with a word in season that affirms their humanity—we find ourselves to be blessed, or happy, slaves: content in our own circumstances (which is not the same as being content with all circumstances), and at peace with our neighbour.
The truth is, we can’t do this in our own strength. The pull to put others down is too relentless a rip-tide. But the good news is, we do not have to do this in our own strength. We can not only love all, but increase and abound in love for all. This is the work of Jesus, who eschewed the place of Master to become servant of all.