Thought for the Day by Toby Parsons
Have you ever had something weighing on your mind, which you’ve then shared with a friend? And their response was to explain what you should do. That might actually have been helpful – perhaps they simply put into words the decision you’d already made.
But it might instead have added pressure, raising the question of whether you should take their advice. And if a couple of other friends then pitched in too, all with different opinions, how did you decide which one to listen to?
In our passages today, there’s a lot of advice being given.
In the reading from Samuel, Absalom hears from both Ahithophel and Hushai about what his next move should be. He has to make a tactical decision in his war with David. Now there’s all sorts of intrigue and follow up in the rest of chapter 17. And that flows from the decision that Absalom has to make between his two advisors.
In Acts 10, Cornelius the centurion hears instruction from an angel to send for Simon Peter, who at that point is wrestling with a vision from God about cleanliness. These threads knit together just after the end of today’s reading, with Simon Peter declaring to Cornelius in verse 34 that “God is no respecter of persons” – that the existing concepts of clean and unclean are no longer relevant.
It’d be easy to say that the difference between the passages is that the “advice” in Acts comes from God, so we can be confident in it.
But throughout history many things have been done in the name of God that are very hard to listen to, let alone accept as divinely-inspired. We have to be careful with visions, prophecies and direct revelations of God’s word to us – without, of course, closing our ears, eyes and hearts.
There’s no fail-safe for how to do this. Prayer, discussion with others, and reading all help.
Perhaps we can try to picture ourselves with Jesus at that first communion? Reminding us that his body is about to be broken and his blood shed for all. Accepting his coming death and still praying forgiveness for his persecutors. Promising that, through God, love does indeed conquer everything, even death itself.
If we continue the conversation that we’ve just been picturing, if we imagine Jesus going on to share his advice on whatever it is that we’re wrestling with at that moment, do we end up with something credible?
Could the words we think we’re hearing really have been spoken by someone who told us to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and to love our neighbour as ourselves?
Does the advice we might already have heard from others really reflect the compassion, humility and patience of Jesus in that moment? The way forward might still be uncertain, but each decision we make along the way should surely be rooted – as best as humanly possible – in that pure, sacrificial love.