What does God want of us? It sounds like a daunting question, but it’s really not. All of the 10 Commandments, all of the Mosaic Law, all of the teachings of Jesus, come down to just two things: Love God. Love you neighbor. But to quote the Lord from Exodus, we are a “stiff necked people.” Our readings this week remind us that loving our neighbor is our ticket to salvation.
Psalm 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37 or 19:8, 9, 10, 11
first reading is from the book of Deuteronomy. This is the book that
most scholars believe was presented by King Josiah during the 7th
century BCE in his attempts to reform the people back to the Lord. In
this passage, we hear Moses telling the people of Israel that God’s
wishes for his people are not some remote or inaccessible dream, but are
instead quite obvious… Love your neighbor. Moses reminds us that we
know this already, in our minds and in our hearts. We just need to
carry it out.
The lectionary gives us an option for the Psalm
this Sunday, but whether we sing “Turn to the Lord in your need, and you
will live.” or if we sing “Your word, Lord, are Spirit and life,” the
message is the same… in God we find life. Life that is ours for the
taking, so long as we can find it in ourselves to follow God’s command
and love our neighbor.
Our Gospel from Luke continues this
theme. Here our passage has a “scholar of the Law” questioning Jesus
about what it takes to inherit eternal life. True to form, Jesus turns
the question back to the scholar, who answers, in short, to love God,
and to love your neighbor. But this “scholar of the Law” is the
equivalent of a modern day lawyer, and we all know that any good lawyer
not only knows what’s in the law, but what’s not in the law. So this
scholar poses the question to Jesus, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus then
give us the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a well known story unique to
Luke’s Gospel. A man is robbed and beaten on the highway and left for
dead. Both a priest and a Levite (both obviously Jewish) go to some
effort to avoid the obviously injured man, but a Samaritan (a non-Jew)
sees the man and helps him. At the conclusion of the story Jesus asks
the scholar who it was that was a good neighbor to the man on the road.
The answer is obvious, and instructs him, instructs us, to do likewise.
second reading begins a four week study of St. Paul’s letter to the
Colossians, and actually serves as a nice complement to our other
readings. Here the new Church was struggling with Jesus' role within
the cosmos (not surprising given the pagan practices of this region in
the heart of modern day Turkey), which in Paul’s mind was keeping them
from the real work of the Gospel: to love one another. In this
introductory excerpt, Paul addresses these issues up front in an effort
to put them to rest… quite simply, that Jesus is at the center of
everything. From there, he is now free to explore what it means to be a
member of the Body of Christ.
is my neighbor? The scholar of the Law was trying to test Jesus by
exploiting what he thought was a loop-hole in the Law. In other words,
if you’re not my “neighbor” then I don’t owe you anything. Jesus,
rightly taught us otherwise, but we, like this scholar, seem to
consistently want to narrow our definition of who is “my neighbor.” A
“neighbor,” after all, is someone who’s “close” to us. Someone who
lives near us, someone who looks like us, shares our beliefs and
customs. It’s this narrow view of “neighbor” that allows us to
discriminate, to marginalize, and to avoid. But Jesus, through this
parable, teaches that we are all neighbors, differences and all. That
we owe a duty to those who are different from us. That those neighbors
are also God’s creation and deserving of the same love that we would
grant to those who are closer to us. In a nation and a world that seems
more divided than ever, it would do us well to remember this parable
and live as the Lord has taught us… difficult though that may be, but it
will lead us to salvation.