Just think how many times in an average week you spread something. Most likely it’s butter on bread or toast before applying jam or marmalade. Another spreading, less conscious, but more significant, perhaps, is the spreading of disease. That makes me think of ebola and one of the ways adopted to stop it spreading was to discourage people from touching each other. In a society where touch was so important, this was particularly difficult … to touch someone, a hand of friendship or support, or the shaking of hands, was virtually second nature.
We were chatting in church a few weeks ago about something else that we do quite often, and maybe take for granted … sharing the peace. For non-church-goers I should explain that this is a semi-formal occasion during the liturgy when we get up and greet one another with a handshake, or a hug, or whatever seems appropriate, in the name of God. It’s also an opportunity for a quick apology, an enquiry about aches and pains or something more serious, or for a few words of catch-up with someone we haven’t seen for a few weeks.
Someone pointed out that, out of all the people she had greeted that morning, she knew the names of all but one, and could greet them personally. It niggled her that there was one person with whom she had so far had neither a conversation nor the opportunity to discover his name, and she resolved to correct this at the earliest opportunity.
Our discussion moved on to the recognition that this sharing, what I describe as a ‘semi-formal process’, is – or can be, if looked at in the right way – an expression of our calling as people of God to spread His love to those around us.
One of the key elements of our Faith is Jesus’ death and resurrection; on the night before He died He celebrated the Passover with his disciples and, after the meal, He prayed for them (a prayer that is summarised in chapter 17 of John’s Gospel). “As You sent Me into the world,” prayed Jesus, “I have sent them into the world. … My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” (John 17:18,20).
Jesus sent His disciples into the world to spread the message of what he had taught them and of what He was about to do for the whole of mankind. It’s the same love that sent Him to the Cross that is ours to share with those around us. Earlier, in His conversation with the disciples, Jesus had spoken about them being like the branches of a vine. He told them, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5). That is our mission, too.
That doesn’t mean we all have to stand on street corners proclaiming to passers-by … though some are called to do so. Often it’s the small things done to or for someone close that sows the seeds of that fruit in their hearts. In our prayers that morning we had prayed for many classes of people in need: victims of war; people burdened by guilt, filled with anxiety, sorrow or despair; those who are lonely or alone, whose homes have become a prison; people living with difficult or broken relationships, who don’t know where to turn or what to do. All are victims, one way or another, of a lack of love; if we keep our eyes open, keeping aware of who and what is around us, we can spread God’s love to them.
Matthew concluded his Gospel with words often referred to as ‘the Great Commission’: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt:28:19). How are we to do that? By spreading God’s love.