Letter from John Spiers, Associate Priest - January 2020
I was once asked if some sins were worse than others. I responded no, all sin was wrong. It is just that the consequences of some sins are worse than others. A quick glance at the Ten Commandments confirms this. The consequences of murder (commandment no.6) are far more devastating than those of covetousness (commandment no 10).
Jesus was much less specific when it came to commandments than the ten with which Moses came down from Mount Sinai, carved by God on tablets of stone. Jesus was more straightforward. He simply said ‘You shall love the Lord your God. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-40). With the first command Jesus is drawing upon his knowledge of the Old Testament by quoting Moses.
But what does this mean in the context of sin? Quite simply, Jesus is setting boundaries for us. The old version of the Lord’s Prayer uses the word trespass rather than sin. When we trespass we are crossing a boundary.
This letter is being read in January, the celebrations of Christmas are over. Many of us will have thought about New Year’s resolutions. Some of us will have made some. Apparently 80% of us will fail to keep them. This may be because we think of these resolutions as trying to put right things that are wrong in our lives.
But what if we think of New Year’s resolutions as trying not to cross boundaries which are set by love? Surely this would be a more positive way of trying to do things differently in our lives. Our priority might be the boundaries that we have in our lives when we try to love God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind.
Then, having thought about this first set of boundaries, we think about what it would take to love our neighbour as we love ourselves? New Year’s resolutions are made because we recognise that there are things in our lives that we need to do differently. Yet they are made at an arbitrary point at the start of the New Year.
If we see our lives in the context of love, for God, for our neighbour, (whoever that might be) and for ourselves, then we are on a path of gradual improvement rather than trying to make a significant and, at times difficult, change to our lives once a year. Henry Moore, the sculptor, is quoted as saying ‘I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not of the year’s.
If we accept that God created everything that we are and we have, including this amazing bounteous but finite Planet Earth then loving God says that we should gradually try and make a difference to what we consume. Rather than say I will drive less so generating less CO2, could we not say how can I walk more, thus loving God, my neighbour and myself. Then, at the end of each day, before we fall asleep, we can reflect upon how loving we have been, not why do we make New Year’s resolutions that we almost always fail to keep.
Reverend John Spiers