Saturday, August 13, 2011

Consider the Ant, thou Christian Sluggard

We are all familiar with Proverbs 6:6 which says, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

This popular passage provides us with one particular trait of ants. What are some of the other traits that are unique among this, one of the lowliest of God’s creatures? The Proverbs passage refers to gathering food for lean times. What it doesn’t tell us, is that ants commonly cooperate with each other and collectively gather food. When one ant finds a source of food, he marks the trail on the way back to the colony. This trail-marking enables other ants find the same source of food and bring it back to the nest. Should an obstacle suddenly block the pathway to the food, the ants will randomly search for a new pathway to the food. Once an ant rediscovers the pathway to the food, he will mark a new trail and the harvest will continue. Successful trails are followed by more and more ants, reinforcing better routes and gradually finding the best path.

Other than gathering and storing food, what else do ants do for each other? As a group, they fight off their enemies and rescue captured ants. They groom each other and remove dangerous pathogens from the colony. A knowledgeable forager has been found to lead naïve nest-mates to newly discovered food. In learning from his experienced brother, the young ant obtains the necessary knowledge to gather food for himself. Ants are known to chip in to care for the eggs of as-yet un-hatched ants. Everything an ant does, is ultimately for the welfare of the whole colony.

What does this little biology lesson about ants have to do with Christians? Jesus may very well have been thinking of ant behavior when speaking about the Good Samaritan, the two greatest commandments, and the parable of the King inviting the Righteous into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Mark 12:28-31 discusses the Greatest Commandments, namely we should love God with everything we’ve got, and we should love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s rather easy to say that we love God with everything we’ve got…but what about the second part…that part about loving our neighbor as ourselves? And, exactly who is our neighbor? Is it the person who sits next to us at church?

Luke 10:25-37 tells us who our neighbors are. This passage describes the Good Samaritan. A lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus then told the lawyer about a man who was attacked by thieves. They robbed him, wounded him and left him for dead. When a priest spotted the wounded man, he crossed to the other side of the road and continued on his way. Likewise, a Levite also avoided helping out the man. Finally, a Samaritan took the time and effort to help the wounded man. Take notice that the Samaritan didn’t go to the Temple and put in extra money in the offering pan that was dedicated to helping the poor and needy. No, this man stopped, cared for the man’s wounds, and transported him to the nearest inn where he left money with the innkeeper instructing him to continue caring for the wounded man.

Once finished with his story, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Who was the neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?” The lawyer had no choice but to answer that the one who showed mercy to the wounded man was the one who was the neighbor. On hearing the lawyer’s answer, Jesus commanded him, “Go and do likewise.”

So, we Christians now know that our neighbor is anyone we run across, acquaintance or not, who is in need. Mark 12:28-31 tells us that one of the greatest commandments is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and then in Luke 10:25-37, Jesus commands us to do as the Good Samaritan did.

This principle is further reinforced in Matthew 25:34-40 where the King said to the Righteous, “Come you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, I had no clothing and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, and I was in prison and you came to me.”

A bit confused, the Righteous asked the Lord, “When did we see you hungry or thirsty? When did we take you in? When did we provide you with clothing? When did we care for you when you were sick or in prison?”

Quick to answer, the King said, “When you do those things for other people, you are doing them directly for me.”

Like it or not, we Christians tend to be rather anti-social. We rush out the door in the morning, work at climbing the corporate ladder, step on other people’s ambitions in order to get what we want, rush back home, close the garage door without even waving to our neighbors, and then hide in our homes until the next morning when we do it all over again. Yes, we go to church on Sunday morning to appease our conscience. We might even volunteer to help out of some church activities, but a record of regular church attendance does not even come close to satisfying God’s greatest commandment. According to scripture, fellow church members are not defined as our neighbors; they are our family. Who wouldn’t care for their own family? Even thieves and robbers care for members of their own families, and we know that thieves and robbers aren’t too likely to be invited to pass through the Pearly Gates. According to scripture, our neighbors are more accurately defined as strangers or people we barely know.

The ant which is among the lowest of creatures, blindly obeys God’s law of loving his neighbor. Yet we humans, who are the greatest of God’s creation, tend to make the conscious choice to ignore God’s law, all the while proclaiming that we love God with all our hearts.

It would be wise to remember that the way God expects us to love Him is to express that love by caring for our neighbors who are in need.

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