I’m on holiday. The weather is fair, the people wonderful and the language very confusing. I have learnt the word pansement this year, as it has been useful to help with the blisters that have ensued.

The trains have been so punctual, and clean! OK an attempt at picking our pockets occurred on the first day but we were at the entry station and holding a suitcase. I wondered of their plight and the need to attempt such crime. I doubt that they chose to have this as a career option. How can we help?

So what to do, where to go? We’ve been here before, so we, armed with a guide book, set out to relive past experiences. However, upon arriving at one such venue we were astonished that it was so different. Well not the iconic landmark but that the access to the base was so limited – and not solely because of the entry price! Where we had walked before no one was permitted. We checked the guide book – no mention of this. Why not?

Ah the edition we carried was from a few years ago – no mention of the 3 metre security shield surrounding the base.

It would seem that we need to read with a view to the date of publication to get the context correct. I wonder whether we do this with the Bible?

I read today that Jesus spoke of ‘an eye for an eye‘. It sounds quite draconian, very severe. But wait when was it written? Maybe we need to go back and get into context.

That part Jesus was quoting was when Moses was leading people out in to the Wilderness. They needed rules so that the community could function. They had left Egypt which had very severe rules, mainly against them, and now needed some understanding of how to live as one. These were basic rules. Now Jesus was using Jewish arguments to make them think once more. This Jewish ‘midrash’ looks to offer extremes so that people do think, come out of their comfort zones and make a difference to their community. We may hear Politicians come out with extremes sound bites (which they may often fail to deliver upon), but here Jesus is, in my opinion, offering people to consider what it would be like to really, radically, be community.

Jesus asks those who were listening then, if anyone strikes you on the right cheek – hence hitting you with the back of the right hand, as it was unclean to hit with the left hand – turn the other cheek…so that they might hit the left cheek. The only way would be to the clenched fist which would be demeaning to the Roman soldier, to whom this statement was aimed. It would suggest that you and the soldier were fighting equally. This needed context to get to the underlying point.

If they sue and take your coat, give them your cloak as well. People then didn’t have an extensive wardrobe – bit like me. Taking your coat was something but to take your cloak would leave you feeling ….rather cold and vulnerable….and nigh on naked. The soldier would look particularly over zealous in such circumstances. The ridicule of the locals would fall on the soldier.

It’s that last part of what Jesus said which really strikes a chord with me today.

Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:42

Here we see many who beg on the street, in the rail stations. Is Jesus asking us to give all of our cash to the beggars? I think the answer lies with community.

I had the privilege of listening to Tony Campolo, a liberal theologian and a bit of a hero of mine over the years. He told of a story in Haiti he saw around 50 children on the street starving. So he funded a solution which was to build a centre to house and school 50 children. When the centre was opened the news got around and …300 children appeared. What a choice to have: which 50 children do we have…select? His response, the community needs to take a hold in this overall solution. Where is the Government, the necessary change in the local infrastructure which can support these, and undoubtedly other, children? Ultimately let’s do something.

Do we give money to those on the street? I’m not sure that we should offer money and state that this money is only to go for food, for that is not a gift. I’m more for rejuvenating community so that our money is there to make a change, so that all can survive with self-respect. It is all too easy though just to give money and leave it to that. That hasn’t changed us at all. We need to join in with that response. Hence, our response maybe to sit with everyone, share a meal, a hot drink, listen to their story, and be part of the larger community response.

What we can’t do is walk on by.

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