The Mother Lode of Teaching

faithinthealleyWhat riches we have today. One hardly knows where to begin. I could write an entire reflection on the beauty of the words attributed to Moses:

“For this command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.
It is not up in the sky, that you should say,
‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,
‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out.”

God is as near as your very breath. You do not need degrees in theology or biblical studies to know this. You can feel it. As Moses said, it is already in your mouths and in your hearts. It is part of who we are. God’s love resides within us as the spark that ignites our life and sustains us until it pleases God to return us to Himself.

It is what moves us as our stomach tightens at the beauty of a sunrise, the sweet smell of a newborn, or the tender caress of a loved one. God sighs in the morning breeze and kisses our shoulders in the warming rays of sunlight. God is close and if we sit in the silence of his love, we KNOW both this and what it means to “carry it out”, being the human that we are called to be.

The parable of the good Samaritan brings us up sharply against our desire to somehow make “God’s will” hard to understand, and thus excusable when we fail. For we do desire that understanding God’s will be hard. We after all, are using so much of scripture to work out our salvation. We want to be different, apart from others who don’t care about “being saved.”

Look at the opening gambit by the scholar. What is he interested in?

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Not what must I do to understand God’s will for me? What might I do to be a good person? What must I do to honor God? No, his concern is what must he do–what is the minimum requirement that I must fulfill to get where I want to go–my eternal salvation. It’s a “me” question.

Jesus simply confounds the scholar with his answer. The scholar must have been deeply pricked by the implications.

First the priest avoids the wounded man. The priest is following good “law”. He is following good religious law–avoid the unclean lest you have to interrupt your journey to return for purification. He didn’t have time, he had important “church” business to attend to.

How many times have you heard  remarks from alleged Christians who claim that the bible doesn’t “support” government aid to the poor, that it is the proper jurisdiction of   individuals–individuals like themselves who need and want to feel “good” and “righteous” through their largess? How many times have you heard them say that to support the homeless by feeding them only encourages them in their “laziness”?

We rely on out-of-context remarks from Paul suggesting that those who don’t work shouldn’t eat as justification for our “legalism”, and our refusal to help, much as the priest did in the parable.

Jesus DID NOT SAY, ask the fellow questions and first be satisfied that his behavior is not a ruse for free food and lodging. Jesus DID NOT SAY, ask at the innkeeper if the fellow is known as a vagrant, lazy and unwilling to work. Jesus DID NOT SAY, tell the innkeeper that once he is on his feet that he should work off his debt or be thrown out. Jesus DID NOT SAY, worry yourself sick wondering if you’ve been duped by a con artist out of a few dollars and a loaf of bread.

Jesus DID SAY to GO AND DO LIKEWISE, as the Samaritan had done.

I am continually confounded why those who claim that the Word of God is just that, the ACTUAL LITERAL WORD of God, and yet continually caveat, ignore, explain, and parse the meanings of this parable as well as the great commandment of Matthew 25: when you failed to do it for them, you failed to do it for me. The literalism screams at us in both these statements, yet somehow it is explained away.

I have to wonder why.

I can only come up with the fact that too too many of us supposed Christians are like the scholar–the poor (whom they claim Jesus admitted would always be with us) are there for the purpose of helping us “real Christians” work out our salvation. They are the fodder for our charity machine that spits out a “receipt” if we wish one, that can be taken to our graves to present to St. Peter as our proof that we were properly charitable.

We have our receipts, and we have taken our proper deductions from our tax obligations. We have done our duty, and so leave the rest of my money to me, government, for I plan on going to Disney world this year. After all, I’m entitled. I did my Christian duty and I have the receipts to prove it.

I bet that Samaritan fellow couldn’t wait to tell all his neighbors that he had worked out his salvation too on that road to Jericho that day. Yes I’m sure that’s what Jesus meant. I’m sure that’s what he really meant.



5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tim
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 07:21:19

    Sherry, yesterday was pretty much spent on airplanes, but time well spent, as I got through a big chunk of an amazing book you recommended: The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude. And (spoiler alert–LOL) as the writer, David deSilva, explores the Apocryphal book, Tobit, for its influence/impact on Jesus’s teaching, he makes much of Jesus radicalizing the Jewish concept of almsgiving. In Tobit there is that caveat that you (rightfully) call out as contradictory to Jesus’ teaching: Tobit teaches his son, Tobias, to give to the “righteous” person in need. But not only does Jesus strip that qualifier away, He actually teaches that generosity to one’s enemies and oppressors is how we “lay up treasure in heaven”–i.e., securing our eternal rest. And in the Good Samaritan story, He forever flips the question from “Who is my neighbor?” to “Am I a true neighbor?”

    We don’t withhold our kindness because we suppose someone is undeserving of it or may not use it in an “appropriate” fashion. (The classic excuse for not giving the street drunk a dollar, for instance.) Jesus says these factors are not ours to decide. How right you are–it’s so much simpler than we’d like it to be. Just give. It’s not a loan or a reward, it’s a gift and, as such, it enables us to reflect God’s boundless grace and demonstrate our own understanding that if we had to deserve or earn God’s love and mercy, we’d all be out of luck!

    I regretted not getting here on yesterday–this place long ago became an essential part of my Lord’s Day routine. But opening this on a Monday morning is a particular treat, as it sets my mind aright at the start of the work week!

    Thank you and bless you, dear friend,


    • Sherry
      Jul 15, 2013 @ 08:55:06

      Oh thank you for you insights and well as your references to Tobit. Some of the apocryphal books are such wonders to me. I love the story of Susanna and the three young men who went into the fire in I think Maccabees. In any event what I dislike so much about the “controlled” almsgiving is that the giver wishes to remain in control–no foodstamps but I’ll give to the soup kitchen where I can control what you eat. That is what they really dispise about government programs–it doesn’t allow them to choose who they deem worthy. That is not what Jesus taught as I see it. As I said, I always look forward to what you have to say since it’s always something I didn’t know usually or hadn’t thought of in that way. And that is always a blessing for me. Blessings my dear friend. Sherry. !END


  2. aliceny
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 09:12:36

    Excellent posting, Sherry. Much clarity, on target, direct meaning and application for today’s Christian to understand and live out Jesus’ teachings. In that way, the Word is always timeless. You and your friend Tim make a great combination in your exegetical interpretations and comments. Very helpful. (Like eating good country style spareribs: savoring the sweet meat while getting right down to the bone!) No disrespect intended in this metaphor.


    • Sherry
      Jul 16, 2013 @ 07:48:26

      Thank you Alice. Tim is the real scholar here, and I learn much from him, but I do keep reading and hopefully learning. I agree that scripture is timeless. Whatever you believe in or read from a tradition standpoint should have that as it’s definition I guess. I’m sure that Hindus say the same. Wisdom knows no time I suspect. It is definitely not relative I don’t think. !END


      • aliceny
        Jul 16, 2013 @ 08:13:59

        Thank you Sherry.
        Scholarship is important — to a degree. But it cannot all come from just head learning. That’s the easy part. More importantly, I think, is what comes from your heart, your faith, your experience as a follower of Christ. All of these come from the Holy Spirit that dwells within you. That is so obvious in your postings. You could not do it without that inspiration. It is good to have confirmation from others that we’re on the right track and to occasionally broaden our interpretation. That, in itself, helps to build community (and most likely keeps us from heretical pronouncements).

        I think it is amazing, truly a work of the indwelling Spirit, how far we can come in our faith journey when we rely upon that gift. When I look back 20 years to see how far that Spirit has walked with me and taught me and given me spiritual and emotional comfort, I am in awe!

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