Eugene Peterson translates a portion of today’s reading as follows, Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, "How can I help?" That's exactly what Jesus did. He didn't make it easy for himself by avoiding people's troubles, but waded right in and helped out. The goal in so doing is to bring outsiders in, just as God worked through Israel (the insiders) to bring the Gentiles (the outsiders) into the sphere of His saving love. Then we will all live together in the harmony that has always been God’s intention for humanity.
It does seem to me that one of the fundamental calls of the Christian life is the willingness to forsake what we enjoy to do a better job reaching out to those who are around us. The NRSV translation is also instructive here: we are not to please ourselves, but each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.
I think there are a couple applications to this. One has to do with how we are the Church. Our practices, from the music we choose, the way we read and speak about Scripture, our liturgical forms, and the things we do (or don’t do) when we get together must not so much be in accord with our likes and tastes, but must be accessible to those presently outside our walls, drawing them in. This kind of flexibility and openness to new forms and ideas is, I think, one of the marks of a church moving towards maturity.
The other has to do with how we live our lives personally. It has to do with our willingness to be inconvenienced not just corporately (that’s the last paragraph), but in the thick and thin of our lives.
In any given day there are things I really need to get done, and I focus pretty tightly on them. Am I willing to let those things go when needed to do a better job of sharing God’s love? Truthfully, not as often as I’d like.
So here are some questions I ask myself as I reflect on this passage. Maybe you’ll want to ask them too.
Who are “the people around us”? How well do I know them—if at all? What can I do to change that?
Specifically, what do “the people around me” need? How can I find out?
What can I do, and encourage my church to do, to meet those needs in a very practical and concrete way?
If it means being “inconvenienced”, or “taking the trouble” to go out of my way, am I willing to do it? If not…who will?