By The Right Revd Michael Perham
Nehemiah is continuing to rebuild the city walls. The task is daunting, the opposition determined, the need to guard against attack real and even the support of the Jewish community cannot be taken for granted. That Nehemiah succeeds and the wall is completed says a lot for his energy, generosity and determination.
Nehemiah is clearly a man of faith and of hope. They sustain him through all the undermining and opposition. What you don’t see in him is much love. You certainly don’t see it in his opponents, some of whom even want to kill him, all of whom resent this wall-building and hurl insults at the workers. You don’t see it much in Nehemiah other. He wants the plotters given over as plunder. He doesn’t want their sins blotted out.
This is where the New Covenant and the teaching of Paul is so very different. Paul values faith and hope – they will, he says, last for ever – but he adds love and, because he is follower of Jesus, he means love for God, but also for neighbour and even for enemy. Love, he says, is the greatest of the three. At the end of Chapter 12 he has said that he will show us a still more excellent way. This is that excellent way – love. It’s almost as if all who have gone before, even the activist Nehemiah, have understood God’s purposes only as “in a mirror, dimly”, but now in Jesus, face to face, we can see that the purpose of God ultimately is love.
Loving an enemy is a tall order. Can you identify someone who is akin to an enemy – someone who opposes you – and think through prayerfully how you might love them?
Can you add to Paul’s long catalogue of characteristics of love? How would you finish the phrase “Love is . .”?
Holy God, in you I put my faith, in you I place my hope, in your over-flowing love I receive the grace to love. Help make that love strong. Let your love flow through me. Amen.
The Right Revd Michael Perham is Bishop of Gloucester in England.