I want to introduce you to Mrs Jellyby…well, Dickens does. If you pick up a copy of Bleakhouse, (that’s if you can lift the 900 pages of it) you’l find her in Chapter 4. Callous, and fanciful, her eyes are fixed on things afar. Her family crumble beneath her, and her children, hungry and half-clothed, are as wild and neglected as she believes the natives of Borrioboola-Gha, (on the banks of the Niger) to be. Her husband has been driven to bankruptcy and the “furnished lodging” in which her family reside is littered and squalid.
The chapter is entitled ‘Telescopic Philanthropy’ for the very reason that Mrs Jellyby’s burning, all consuming desire is invested in her philanthropic efforts. These efforts do however come at her cost; her pre-occupation may be foreign, but the need is domestic. Her “rapacious benevolence” is at the dispense of her household and her neighbourhood.
After musing over Mrs Jellyby’s condition in my latest essay it got me thinking that despite Dickens’ somewhat satirical portrayal of the situation, he is making a definite point. We, and I’m pointing the finger at myself more than anyone, can become so caught up in looking beyond, that we forget the desperate need on our doorsteps.
I, funnily enough, like Mrs Jellyby have a real passion for Africa and am currently seeking God’s heart as to my future. But, until God takes me there, or whatever he has planned for my life, I have a purpose here. Right here in London. I mean this city is garnished with need, and i often forget that in letting my mind run riot with foreign thinking, and as a result neglect my nation.
How about your neighbours?Are they doing okay? Well, In a 2009 study conducted by the Pew Research Centre, only 19% of people polled said they knew all of their neighbours’ names, and only 24% said they knew most of them. We live less than five feet or so away from them yet we know nothing about them. They need Jesus too. The child who faintly tinkles his recorder at five in the afternoon, he needs Jesus. The troubled teen with the bass cranked up sitting in the drive, he needs Jesus. The couple arguing all day, everyday, they need Jesus. And, i am the harvester of God’s great light…”the anointed one to preach the news to the nations”…do they know?
Six or so years ago, we had a new set of neighbours move next door to us, a Taiwanese family I believe. One sunny day a few weeks after the move in; I looked outside from my bedroom window to see the Dad cutting the lawn with a pair of shears. Yes, the whole lawn. I mean, it wasn’t a huge lawn, but it was lawn enough to enable me to see a visible sweat breaking on his brow. While he was sweating, a few feet away sat a lawn mower in my shed, most probably crying out to be used. I watched him almost til the final snip through the very slight opening of my curtains, which just about hid my guilt for each time he severed another green blade, and my stomach sank as it urged me to offer him what sat inside our shed.
I mean, if i can’t even offer him a lawn mower, then i have no chance of telling him about Jesus. And no, I can’t blame this English reserve, and, how ever many times i try to bring justice to my own poorly constructed actions I only have my self to blame for the fear which so often cripples us.
In the three years in which we shared that patch of territory, the only contact we ever had directly with them was the awkward glances over the inappropriately low fence when either party was hanging out washing, or, the hand salutes which would pass as we’d offer each other the car parking space when we happened to turn into the drive at the same time, or, the trading of goods at the fence when they had somehow managed to find themselves on the wrong side.
Three years. THREE YEARS! We didn’t even know their names, and they probably didn’t even know that I had a relationship with Jesus. I mean, we sing about it on a Sunday…about shining a light to let the whole world see, yet, we can’t even let that light permeate through the half hearted attempt at a garden fence because we’ve never bothered or tried to have a conversation to allow it to.
It’s not even about ulterior motives or a conversion count. It’s not about offering them a bible and in under a minute giving them the tour of Christianity, and for the finale, the alter call. It’s about serving, serving selflessly. Serving that asks for nothing in return so we can reflect that little bit of Jesus into their lives and letting that power alone burst forth into something almighty.
We can’t sit and wait for the world to come to us, that’s a little silly. If God had done that then we would have a pretty hopeless future, He came down to us as a baby, and in turn God commands us to “Go OUT into the world…”. Go out and make a conscious effort to make something good of your day. Get to know your neighbours, drop round an extra batch of cookies, stop to chat, invite them to a service, take their bins round, sweep their side of the wall. Whatever it is, SERVE because Jesus served first.
This is as much a test to me as well as you, DON’T you worry. I’ve just moved into a new house, and apart from introducing myself to the neighbours when i first moved in, it has once again failed to get much further than that.
God calls us to live lives defined by love, God commands us to love our neighbours and he wishes for us to live a life full of service to others.
Esther Summerson, the voice of reason in Bleak house, and quite the opposite of Mrs Jellyby, sums up my closing point pretty perfectly: “I thought it best to be as useful as I could, and to render what kind services I could to those immediately about me, and to try to let that circle of duty gradually and naturally expand itself.”
It starts here. It starts at the house adjoining, and it spreads down the street and THEN it conquers the town, city and nation.
I dare you. I dare you to love your community and live radical lives of love and to then reap the harvest of blessing when God’s voice echoes from heaven ‘well done, good and faithful servant’.