As many will know, Jim and I like travelling in France and we are attempting (slowly!) to learn the language. During our holiday last year, we met a chap called Bruno who was very fluent in several languages. According to him, with one hundred words you can make yourself understood in English but in French, with a hundred words, you can just about tell someone your name. Somewhat of an exaggeration but, it seems to us in our feeble attempts to make ourselves understood, it has some accuracy.
The French do like to complicate matters. This is the case with the word ressentiment. As many will know, it is the French translation of the English word resentment, but it is also so much more. In philosophy and psychology it is a concept that was of particular interest to the existentialist philosophers. For them, ressentiment is a sense of hostility directed at that which one identifies and blames as the cause of one’s frustration. This leads to a sense of weakness, inferiority, even jealousy that attacks the perceived source of this frustration. According to the journalist, Pankaj Mishra, ‘we are now seeing a tremendous increase in mutual hatred and a somewhat universal irritability of everybody against everybody else.’ It seems that frustration, blame, envy, humiliation and powerlessness are all on the increase and are seeping into every aspect of our political and societal life.
By complete contrast, our God is the God of love, mercy and inclusion who gives dignity and value to every single human being without distinction. He is calling his people, us, his Church, to deliberately and intentionally go in the opposite direction of this seemingly inevitable slide into ‘mutual hatred and universal irritability.’ God wants us to live in a way that has authenticity and integrity as his people. We need to see the world from God’s perspective, to have his values and priorities, building our lives on the sure and certain foundation of Jesus Christ.
In a section of Scripture known as the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus clearly outlines what God considers to be of eternal value. In this most challenging of passages, Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe and provide for the poor, engage with people in need, in hospital, prison, or wherever. We are to help alleviate poverty and suffering in whatever form. Jesus, the One who is the King of Kingdom, shows us that this is how we serve him. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus says, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.’ The Message translates this verse as, ‘I’m telling you the truth: whenever you did these things to someone overlooked or ignored that was me – you did it to me’. Jesus turns everything on its head. The King, the top of tree, is saying, actually you will find me at the bottom of the ladder, that is where I am, at the opposite end to worldly systems of domination, power, oppression and injustice that fuel the ressentiment around us. And this is our ministry, our calling, to care for the least and lowest, the victims of the system, those our ‘turbo capitalism’ has ‘left behind’ and left humiliated, powerless and silenced. Also included in this are the elderly, the weak, the infirm, the mentally and physically sick, those who just can’t cope, those in debt, the addict, the homeless, the helpless, the hopeless, the marginalised, the ignored.
Here at Abbey Baptist Church God has given us the opportunity to express this in practical action for the first three months of this year by being involved in the Reading Faith Christian Group’s Bed for the Night Project, Night Shelter programme (see https://fcg.org.uk). On Monday nights we are using the downstairs hall to house up to 18 homeless people. During the coldest months of the year, accommodation, food, washing facilities, help, support, friendship and advise are being offered every night of the week by many of the churches, social action groups and homeless charities in the town. It is a blessing and a privilege for us to be part of this loving, caring, practical ministry. I believe God has endowed us at Abbey with a special gift of hospitality. All he has given us is to be shared and used by God for the extension and advance of his Kingdom in Reading and beyond. I wonder what other doors of opportunity will open up for us to express this and minister to ‘the Least of These.’