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.

Amen.

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Why Do We Fail to Hear?

 

I watched a bit of the “family values” summit in Iowa yesterday. Most of the GOP field was there to seek the blessings of these “good Christians.”

Applause was loudest for repealing that odious marriage equality decision forced upon an unwilling electorate by “rogue” judges. Next in applause was for all efforts to make sure that “illegal aliens” were prevented from using health care and other safety net provisions of Iowa laws.

A week or so ago, Herman Cain was loudly praised for his desire to put up a 20-foot fence along the border, and electrify it so keep out the unwanted.

A few weeks before that, a gay soldier was booed when he asked would any of the GOP candidates work to undo the gains made by LGBT members in the Armed Services.

Meanwhile Rick Perry plummets in the polls for having the audacity to suggest that it would be heartless to deprive children who are citizens by virtue of birth here from college funding programs offered to non-Latino children with nary a thought.

And the folks who boo or applaud these things think of themselves as “good” Christians. In fact they revel in the fact. They sit in utter sanctimonious splendor as speakers soothe their occasional guilt, citing a verse here and there supposedly assuring them that charity begins and ends with the church and not with any government program. How else to deprive the  “unworthy” of sharing with those who are worthy.

Today’s reading from Exodus instructs us that far far back in Jewish history as recorded in Exodus, the Israelites were reminded that they owed care and concern for the aliens among them.

Thus says the LORD:
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.
If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,
I will surely hear their cry.  (Ex 22: 20-22)

If there was any confusion on who was the alien, surely Jesus cleared that up when he taught the parable of the “Good Samaritan.”

But there is more. It is not just a matter of  “not molesting or oppressing”, as Exodus suggests. It is as Jesus suggested in the Samaritan parable and as he perfectly defined it in today’s Gospel reading:

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Mt 22: 36-40)

The alien is our neighbor, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Now what does that mean?

Jesus tells us that this second commandment is like the first, which tells us to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind.

So, we are to love ourselves in this same manner, and thus to the alien among us.

Why is this so?

It can only be, as far as I can tell, because God told us at the very beginning that all creation was “good”.

People often say that “God doesn’t make mistakes.” And I believe that is true. Whatever has been created was meant to be as it is. Thus we, as sentient beings, able and capable of discerning our Creator, must be what God intended. We must be in perfect way, loveable. We are worth loving. We are as intended.

Thus the  practice of some faith traditions of zeroing in on sin and our failings is patently wrong. We do fail to meet our own and God’s expectations, of that we can all be sure. But that should never over-ride the basic goodness within us as created beings.

And if we stand tall in our worthiness to be loved both by God, who assures us that this is true, and ourselves in recognition of that statement, then we are called to love everyone we encounter with that same fervor and certitude.

How many of us do that?

Fairly stated, we all fail miserably most of the time. We ignore most of the people whom we have no personal relationship with. We turn a blind eye to much of the suffering throughout the world, and indeed at home. We do this out of a certain sense of self-protection, since one would go mad if they didn’t keep themselves at least emotionally at some distance from the true misery that exists.

But most of us steel ourselves, we look away. We limit ourselves to a few gestures. We toss a few bucks in the “charity” dish on Sunday, and we make a big deal out of donating a few cans of food, or taking a turn now and then at a soup kitchen, or other public display of “giving”.

I’m not trying to judge what you do, versus what I do. I’m just as guilty of not doing enough as most are.

But we can surely stop this madness of lumping great groups of people together and claiming that somehow they don’t meet our standards of being worthy to be given to. We can surely stop declaring that “others” are not entitled to basic human decency because of the methodology of their arrival here.

One of the speakers at the Iowa forum yesterday was a man from Indian descent. He claimed to be a proud resident alien who had worked for his citizenship. He claimed that allowing “illegals” to gain state benefits of any kind in Iowa was a “slap in the face” to those of us who worked for our citizenship the legal way.

Well, I shook my head. Of course, he didn’t bother to acknowledge that his entry into this country illegally would have been a hard thing to pull off coming from India. He clearly had some real money to accomplish his dream of coming to America. He was not poor, with a large family barely making it. He did not face the dangers of trying to cross the border. He was not driven by poverty and the lack of meaningful hope for the future in his own country. I doubt that he was.

Yet he wishes to be one of the “ins” and separate himself from the “alien”. And, given where he was, and the group to which he spoke, I suspect he believes himself to be a “good” Christian.

Do you think God would agree?

The Good Samaritan by Rembrandt (1630) shows t...

The Good Samaritan by Rembrandt

 

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