Stray Oxen: Improving Relationships Through Kindness

If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. Exodus 23:4 ESV

As a part of the emphasis on “Passion for God” my church is doing this year, we are reading through several books of the Bible together, and one of them is Exodus. The reading from a few days ago took us through the chapters after the 10 Commandments, which also list law after law. Now I know that we are not bound by the Law, and are under grace, but God didn’t make laws for no reason. And the reasons for those laws are worth considering for today. Obviously, some had to do with temples rituals and health that don’t apply to modern life, but many have a moral foundation that can teach us something.

This law in chapter 23, verse 4 jumped out at me. I imagine this scene, a young man is walking down the road, and sees the donkey of a man who hates him wandering loose. He knows that the donkey isn’t supped to be out there. This man has done nothing wrong. It’s not his donkey, and he didn’t turn it loose. The owner hates the man. In modern America, it would perfectly acceptable for the man to just keep on walking with a clear conscience. He did nothing wrong, it isn’t his problem. He is not expected to help a guy who hates him.

But here in the Old Testament, a law telling people to bring the donkey or ox back to the owner, even if he is an enemy.

Why?

It goes back to why we are here. What is the meaning if life on earth, and how that applies to this sort of situation. (I know, this is getting philosophical. Even if you don’t like my idea about why we are here on earth, there is another reason, so hang on.) There are two reasons for life on earth, and only two reasons: 1. We are here on this plane of existence to have opportunity to choose God or not. 2. Once we have chosen God, we our mission, our ministry in life is to help others to do the same. that is an extreme simplification of a complicated journey of sanctification that starts with justification by faith in Christ, but there it is. If you ascribe to that view of life’s purpose, you cannot afford enemies. Your whole job, once you have been reconciled to God through Christ, is to be a “minister of the reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5). If you have an enemy, you must do everything in your power to mend that relationship so that you can influence them toward Christ. Going out of your way to do a good thing, to help them is not a bad way to start fixing what’s broken there.

A second reason, which applies even if you think my first reason is messed up, we are supposed to love others. If you love someone, you don’t want bad things to happen to them, even if they hate you. So if it is within your power to help them, you should. That’s why the Law said that if you see your enemy’s ox wandering free, go and take it back to him.

But how does any of that apply to us, now? I don’t own oxen. And if I saw one wandering free, I wouldn’t know how to get it back to the owner.

We may not have oxen or donkeys, but there are times when we encounter situation where we can help others. And the others we encounter may not even be enemies. If we are to try to help our enemies, how much more should we try to help friends and work colleagues, and neighbors?

So yes, they may not have filled out the proper form, but you may be able to help them. It’s not your problem that the wind knocked over the trash can in your neighbors yard, but maybe you can gather it up. That guy at work may get on your last nerve, and it may not be your job to help him, but if you can you should.

Try it and see if your relationships don’t get better.

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