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Thought

Who is my neighbour?

Recently I was driving on a fast dual carriageway when I saw a man in the central reservation waving his hands. As I got nearer, I saw an elderly man who looked very confused standing near the other man. It seems the elderly man had dementia, had left his care home, and had wandered onto the dual carriageway. He didn’t realise the danger he was in, but someone, seeing he was in danger, had stopped to help him and take him to safety. Some years ago, an elderly friend of mine who suffered from dementia left his home without his wife, who was his main carer, knowing and was knocked over by a car and died.

I was so encouraged to see someone who was willing to take time to care for a vulnerable stranger who was in need. This is not common in our society today. When we set aside the first Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”, the second Great Commandment: “Love our neighbour as you love yourself” also becomes a casualty.

A man once asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus told a story about a Jewish man who was attacked when he was travelling on a lonely desert road. The thieves robbed him of all his possessions, beat him severely and left him half dead. Two religious leaders passed by but, when they saw the man, didn’t stop to help him. Then another man, a Samaritan, came by. He stopped, cleansed the man’s wounds, put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn where he cared for him. The next day he gave the inn keeper money to continue taking care of the man. Jesus said this man showed what it means to love your neighbour as you love yourself.

The story Jesus told was especially powerful because at that time most Jewish people had nothing to do with Samaritans because they were of mixed-race heritage. Jesus taught that true neighbour love goes beyond the love of family and friends and reaches out to strangers. Jesus himself exemplified such love in coming from heaven to this world to seek and save people who are lost. His death on the Cross paid the price of our sins so that through him we might experience God’s forgiveness and receive the gift of eternal life. Christians joyfully sing, “Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God. He to rescue me from danger interposed his precious blood.”

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Thought

Finding God in the Depths

During his life Jonathan Aitken has risen to great heights and also plumbed the depths. He was a Cabinet member and member of the Privy Council, but was found guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice and was given a prison sentence. Because of the pressure of the case his first wife later left him and he was also declared bankrupt. Through these events Jonathan began to seek God and became a Christian. He preached a sermon in July 2008 entitled “Finding God in the Depths.” In July 2003 he married his second wife, Elizabeth.

On 1 July 2013 Elizabeth suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage, which often proves fatal. Those who survive may suffer brain impairment and lifelong disability. The medical team at Charing Cross Hospital told Jonathan that urgent major surgery would be needed to save Elizabeth’s life. As Jonathan listened to the doctors his eyes began filling with tears. One young doctor said, “Our professor tells us we haven’t done our job properly if our briefings don’t make the patient’s family cry.” Before taking Elizabeth to the operating theatre the consultant told Jonathan, “It is a simple procedure, but it carries high risk. The brain does not give second chances.”

As the family waited they were conscious of the prayers of many people. The congregation at St Matthew’s Church, Westminster, where Jonathan and Elizabeth had married, were praying. The chaplain at Wormwood Scrubs, where Jonathan had preached the previous Sunday, sent a message to say the chapel-going prisoners were praying for Elizabeth. They also sent a giant-sized card to the hospital signed by 60 prisoners saying, “We are praying for you.” God wonderfully answered these prayers and brought Elizabeth safely through a successful operation and then the long period of convalescence.

Reflecting on the past year Jonathan recognises how various factors all came together. One was the skill and dedication of the medical team at Charing Cross, who work at the cutting edge of neurosurgery. The loving support of the family was also important as they were alongside Elizabeth through the time of crisis, and after, encouraging her in her will to live. Then there were the prayers of thousands of people from all over the world, which God graciously answered. Jonathan wrote, “As a husband I love Elizabeth all the more after walking with her through the valley of the shadow of death.” It is clear that in that darkest valley the Lord was with them, as he promised he would be.