Monday, July 27, 2009

Love is an Action Word

Luke 10:25-37
25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Every time I read this story I struggle with trying to figure out a way to make it clear just how impossible this scenario would seem to the people listening to Jesus. In our world, the enemy is different for each generation. For the Jews, the Samaritans have been the enemy for hundreds of years. They were a despised minority whose land lay in between two Jewish nations, Galilee and Judah. They were relatives who didn’t worship right, who didn’t come to the temple, who had scriptures that were not exactly the same. As far as the Jews were concerned, Samaritans were untouchable, unclean – like lepers only without the possibility of ever healing. And the Samaritans knew how much the Jews despised them. After a priest and a Levite went by, the idea that a Samaritan would stop to help was just impossible. It would be like . . . well, that’s where I started. Not being able to come up with an adequate comparison. Maybe an undocumented Mexican coming to the aid of one of the Minute Men guarding the border? Or a black helping a member of the Aryan nation? But then for the story to have the same effect, it would have to be told to an audience of Minute Men, or members of the Aryan nation . We just really can’t quite get it the same way Jesus’ audience would have heard it.

Once again I found the study questions in the Green Bible provocative. One of those questions pointed out “Those listening to Jesus would have considered the Samaritans the scum of the earth. Yet the Samaritan is the one who lived out God’s commandment to show love and mercy. What does this suggest about power and justice?”

In terms of justice and power, the point of the story is not so much that a stranger helped a stranger, or even that an enemy helped an enemy, but that a member of a much hated minority helped a member of the group that oppressed. As in so many of the stories Jesus tells, the person with the least status and power is behaving in a way that makes him superior to those who out rank him in the eyes of the world. The Samaritan helps the Jew. The poor widow gives her last coin to the temple. In each of these stories, the last is first. In each of these cases, we see the way it is in God’s kingdom – exactly the opposite of the way it is in the world we’re used to inhabiting.

The justice we see in the actions of the Good Samaritan is like a homeless man finding and returning a fat wallet and refusing a reward. We’re surprised, first that he didn’t steal anything, then that he refused the reward. This surprises us nearly as much as Jesus’ audience would have been surprised at the Samaritan helping the man on the road. I mean, each one of us would certainly return the wallet and take no reward for doing what is right. But for a homeless guy to do this is so surprising it makes the news! No one expects justice to be done by the lowly. But here it is clearly the despised Samaritan, who worships wrongly and reads the wrong scriptures and rejects the Law, who acts with love and practices justice.

In a recent article on the internet, Pastor Mary Jo Bradshaw of North Long Beach Christian Church challenged the church to show love for a group we often think of as “the least.” The entire article is going to be included in our newsletter this month. But I want to share with you today part of what she said. “In cities and suburbs and rural areas all across the world, "street gangs" are a concern. We're losing our kids, and we feel helpless to do something about it. The thing to remember, though, is that they aren't just "our" kids; they're God's kids. And God weeps at every senseless death, every ruined life, every fractured family. Locking them up isn't helping. "Three Strikes" isn't helping. Fear surely isn't helping. We have to love them back into the arms of God, and love is verb. Love is action. Love is something we have to do.”

The Green Bible asks two more questions. First, how do we see Jesus’ response to the lawyer in terms of the interconnectedness of all life? And, how do we show mercy to the ‘enemy’ of the environment and humanity?

You have to understand that Jesus was asking the lawyer for no less than a complete change of heart. “Lawyer” meant someone who was expert in the laws of Moses, the laws that governed the life of every Jew and the nations of Judah and Galilee. He was asking the lawyer to do something as difficult as when he asked that other young man to give up all his wealth. He was asking the lawyer to put aside all the history he’d learned about other people, all the specific laws that governed his interactions with non-Jews, and live by those two commandments that are the basis for all the other laws.

I think what Mary Jo says is really relevant here “We have to remember that the kids in street gangs are not just “our” kids, they’re God’s kids.” The lawyer was a Jew, but now had to look at the Samaritan as one of God’s children, plain and simple. As the neighbor, whom he was required to love. And once he could see the despised hereditary enemy as his neighbor, as his equal in God’s eyes, it wouldn’t be as much of a step to see all kinds of people as equal. No matter what their perceived place in society, the lawyer, if he is truly to “go and do likewise” will reach out with love and justice to every person he encounters. He will help the oppressor, the Roman soldier, as readily as a poor Jewish widow. He would begin to act with love without discriminating between persons. He would become a neighbor to all persons regardless of religion, station or nation. He would become a neighbor to all persons regardless of how they had treated him in the past, regardless of any history they might have together personally or because of their political, social or religious differences.

So how does this relate to Creation Care as Justice? In this story, loving the neighbor is demonstrated by helping someone who has been injured by robbers. The Samaritan didn’t waste time chasing down the robbers or looking for soldiers to catch and punish them. The attack was old news. The important thing, the critical thing, was to save the one who had been injured. To clean up his wounds, and bandage him and make sure he had someone to care for him until he was back on his feet.

So we show mercy to those who have damaged the world – which would include most of us, I suppose. I doubt any of us are completely sinless when it comes to damaging our ecosystems. We probably haven’t personally cut down a rainforest or a filled in a swamp, but we each have a responsibility for the condition our planet is in right now. I have been guilty of wanting to blame the big corporations and the world bank for a lot of eco-damage around the world. But rather than looking for someone to blame or passing laws with which to punish the perpetrators, we can act with mercy. We will show mercy by doing love in its most difficult form – we will forgive, as God forgives us. We will stop worrying about the old news, the damage that’s already done, and move forward.

We simply concentrate on cleaning up the damage, healing the earth so we can actively love the neighbor. On digging wells where they are needed so people can water their crops. On developing and using more eco-friendly ways of producing power and food and everything else that we depend on. I’m not saying that everyone needs to go totally green and organic and all that. Simply that, if we are to love our neighbor, and do justice as the Samaritan did, then we will treat all the earth and its creatures with love, as God intended us to do from the beginning.

To do this, we’ll have to change our entire outlook on living, as the lawyer in this story would have to. We’ll have to change our perception of who the neighbor is, and learn how to act in love in every circumstance. We will have to open our hearts to the enemy, and to new ways of caring for each other, that we might do as God requires us to do and love our neighbor as our ourselves.

I want to share with you a note I received in an email this morning that speaks so well to today’s passage. (This note will also be in our newsletter but you get to hear it first.)

Dear Church,

Away with acceptance and toleration! You probably think I've popped a cork by saying this. But someone must.

Sorry, no popped cork just basic Christianity. Jesus never told his followers or church to be acceptable or tolerant of other perspectives, beliefs or ideas -- even ideas that are in contention with his. He never said to argue or defend God's truth whatever the cost may be.

No, Jesus said that if you are my follower then love your enemy, do good to those who persecute you, love your neighbor and, if there are other teachers teaching different truths, let them be.

Somewhere along the way we went wrong when we swallowed the idea hook, line, and sinker, that to be acceptable and tolerant of others is enough. We have congratulated ourselves for our bigness and broadmindedness while completely missing the mark.

To accept others or to be tolerant of others has never been the point of Jesus' teachings. He said, people of faith -- love! He said, church -- love! Away with acceptance and toleration. In with love, God's love, for everyone.

As powerful in the 21st century as it was in the 1st, such love will transform, unify, and give direction for the church today. If you want something that is not just a temporary fix, if you want something with ultimacy, it doesn't get any better than this. Let none of us settle for anything less than Jesus and God's love for all!

Ron Degges, President DHM

So let’s ask God to create in us a new heart, that we might teach the world to love.

* Copied with permission from the blog “Jacobs Well Christian Church”, a “virtual church“ started by Pastor Mary Jo Bradshaw of North Long Beach Christian Church.

1 comment:

Eva-Genevieve! said...

Hi Maria,

I just discovered your blog today while I am on a bit of a vacation from my regular routine. It's funny but I just got done explaining my faith and why I am so involved in equal rights efforts to someone I just met Friday. I summed it up this way: I am trying to love my neighbor as myself because Love is a verb.

I am also planning on dropping by your Church today for the 1:30m service. See you then.