We have heard the story of the merchant who finds a pearl of great price – and it is so important to him that he sells everything else to buy that pearl. What, I wonder, would we consider to be of such importance that we would sell everything else for it – if anything at all?
All my possessions for So it sounds as though that would have been true for her.
Life is certainly important for Our Lord. He tells us (according to St. John’s gospel) that he came so that we might have life – and have it to the full. He does not want the death of anyone, but that all would live – and live to the greatest degree possible.
What does it mean – to live life to the full? What would Jesus have meant by that? Reading and listening about Our Lord’s life, we could say that he set great store on communication with other people; prayer (communication with God); fellowship with his friends and companions. We could also add the importance of the stewardship of creation – of all of God’s gifts to us; and that implies a hope that in a full life we would work for good in the world, leave a good effect on it, and in particular work for good for other people.
I think we could say the same: we would all aim to do good in the world and good to other people: the world and all the people in it are God’s good creation, and are God’s gift to all of us. In the past few decades environmental concerns and ecology have assumed a far greater importance in the minds of people generally than was the case in previous times – and this must be for the good. It reminds us that the world, vast though it is, is not infinite, and that it does not belong to us, for us to treat as we wish. For Christians, the task of being stewards of God’s creation merely makes these issues even greater in importance. Within this overall care for creation, we have a particular care for our fellow human beings, sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, brothers and sisters of Our Lord Jesus and therefore our brothers and sisters as well.
Respect for human life – which we celebrate today in our annual ‘Day for Life’ – is already shown in our parish communities in many ways. In Lutterworth the ‘Mary’s meals’ initiative, caring for young people in other countries who otherwise could not receive an education; in Narborough the SVP, visiting people who are housebound, or poor, or in need for some other reason; in both parishes, others who are involved in ‘outreach’, and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion already in place or about to be trained, to offer their services to the community, particularly to those who cannot attend our community worship.
Recently, as we all know, this respect for life is under challenge from those who promote ‘assisted dying’. Care for the elderly, for the ill, for the disabled, for the infirm, for the dying, should always be a special concern for Christians. But how are we best to show this care? Medical and surgical expertise has improved greatly in the past century. The life expectancy of men and women these days is far higher than it was a hundred years ago. This fact – undoubtedly a matter of praise for those who have pioneered these developments and those who continue to do so – also brings with it new problems and difficulties. These same developments enable people to be kept alive when their quality of life (however that could be assessed) has become very low. Is it necessary to use these medical techniques regardless of the distress that we might be causing to the patients themwelves, and to those who love them?
I am sure that respect for life is not to be measured in terms of length of days alone. For we believe in eternal life, we believe in the resurrection of the dead; as St. Paul says, it would be better to die and be with Christ, but he is glad to remain alive because that is what Christ wants, so that he can do the Lord’s work.
So respect for human life implies that we do our best to enable those who are nearing the end of their physical lives in this world to have as good quality of life as possible, and to die with as much human dignity as possible. This means, for example, that painkilling drugs and other means of palliative care should be used, even when that might mean that physical life ends more quickly; it means that we focus our care on the living person, living life still to the full, so far as possible, rather than on the length of the person’s life measured in weeks or days (or even hours or minutes).
Jesus says that he came that we might all have life, and live to the full; and care for those who are elderly or disabled or infirm must focus on the full life of each human person as human. Perhaps that means that, when people start talking about assisted dying, we should remind them of the importance of assisted living instead.