A few weeks ago, I heard a wonderful reflection in our Sunday Zoom church at St James’ Old Cathedral on 1 Thessalonians 5:14: ‘And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the lazy, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.’ What a beautiful vision for our Christian community, and our pastoral care for one another! Urged to speak in season, it is so important to discern the needs and situation of our sisters and brothers before we impose our own solutions. If we admonish the weak, we only add to their burden; if we encourage the lazy, we reinforce the lethargy; and if we help the fainthearted, we risk taking agency from one who needs it most. This verse captures a simple but profound wisdom for a community to show that they are Christ’s disciples by how they love one another.
Meditating on this verse, its wisdom can be extended to two other spheres of life. Firstly, this principle can be applied to how we care for ourselves. If I find patience with others difficult, patience with myself is most difficult of all. Especially in this time, when in a sense we are all weak, and fainthearted, difficult months of isolation behind us, and the unknown ahead of us, it is easy nevertheless to admonish oneself. Why am I not as productive as usual? Why am I so bad at getting in contact with people? Why is the house so messy when all I have is time on my hands? But for most, now is a season to be gentle with oneself, not to admonish, but to find encouragement or seek help.
Secondly, this wisdom extends to our broader community, to our politics. During this pandemic, our government has finally recognised, albeit fleetingly, that people on JobSeeker are not the lazy, but people who have suffered great loss, and need the help of the community at this time. Payments shouldn’t be at a punitively low level. They should help, not admonish. Similarly, those who struggle with restrictions may be fainthearted, not weak; and sadly, the tragedy of our aged care homes in Victoria may be the result of our collective laziness, apathy concerning the dignity and respect due to the ageing of our community, something that does require severe admonishment. Yet, among the lazy, the fainthearted, the weak, and with oneself, we are exhorted: be patient with all of them.
Rachelle Gilmour is Bromby Senior Lecturer in Old Testament at Trinity College. She completed her studies in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at the University of Sydney (PhD), before undertaking postdoctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Edinburgh. She has also held positions as Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at BBI: The Australian Institute of Theological Education, and research fellow at the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University.