“We have come… to bring before him the needs of the world…”
Jesus brought to his followers a new focus on the world. The Jews had considered themselves as having a special and superior relationship with God. To be a gentile was decidedly to be second best. The Old Testament writers were unhesitatingly intolerant of the people of other nations; violent warfare against them was seen as being justifiable, often undertaken in God’s name. When Jonah preached against the sin of Ninevah, he viewed their surprising repentance as a bad thing. In Jesus’ lifetime, the Samaritans were treated like scum.
In fact, the word “Gentiles” is only recorded three times in the Old Testament, twice in prophetic words in the book of Isaiah:
It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.Isaiah 49.6
Jesus became “the light to lighten the gentiles” as revealed in the prophetic prayer of Simeon recorded at the beginning of Luke’s gospel. He would transform the world view of the first generation of Jewish Christians. Perhaps the most well known verse in Scripture follows on from this mission:
… God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.John 3. 16,17
The early church was born with an expression of the Holy Spirit’s zeal to reach other peoples of the world:
how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!Acts 2. 8-11
The attitudes of nations have not changed fundamentally over 2,000 years. There is is still a sense in which we do what is right for our own country and people, without considering the implications of what it could mean for our neighbours. As Christians we too can focus on our own local needs, rather than our faith being all-embracing. How much do we care about the people of other nations and pray consistently for their well-being? I don’t know whether you are like me – but sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the issues of the world – they seem so great and the News on television seems to be full of upsetting stories about tragic situations in many other countries as well as our own. How can we possibly pray for these big issues that seem to be completely outside our sphere of influence?
Most of us need help to develop a world vision, as we begin to take seriously the task of fulfilling the commission to love the world. We will consider these matters in more detail when we come to consider intercessory prayer, later in this series of reflections. However, something I do every morning is to pray alongside a globe:
Whilst I cannot remember many specific issues, I can lay my hands over different parts of the world, recalling some of the problems affecting that continent or nation and asking God to heal and bless the situation.
Set us free, O God, to cross barriers for you,Brother Barnabus, Society of St Francis
As you crossed barriers for us.
Spirit of God, make us open to others in listening,
Generous to others in giving,
And sensitive to others in praying
Through Jesus Christ our Lord