Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Psalm 69; Luke 10:25-37
In our Gospel lesson from St. Luke, the lawyer asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” Jesus answers him with another question, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus agrees that he is right, and then comes the kicker; to justify himself, in other words to defend his past actions the lawyer wants clarification as to who exactly is HIS neighbor. Jesus’ answer was the parable of the Good Samaritan, which actually did not answer the lawyer’s question. He asked, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ parable teaches, not who is our neighbor, but to whom are we a neighbor. He puts it right back in the lawyer’s lap, in effect telling him that it doesn’t matter who anyone else is, it is who you are that matters. This is the truth of our Christian life, it is who we are that matters, our faithfulness, our witness, our perseverance. In our reading from the Fathers yesterday by Dionysius of Alexandria, we read, “…the Lord gave us this example to show us that we shouldn’t give up counseling our neighbors even if they aren’t affected by our words…we also should never stop striving to set the careless right even if it seems no good comes from our counsel.” We are neighbor to everyone, and we owe it to them to be faithful to our witness, to be humbly insistent about who Jesus is, and who we are in him. Whether they listen is between them and God, it isn’t our responsibility. We need to love and respect them enough to let go, and let God. I am speaking here of adults, all Christian parents have a sacred duty to guide, instruct and form their children’s faith, conscience and intellect. With everybody else the most effective position is to stand firm in our own faith, and leave them to God.
In our class with Brother Steven on Wednesday the subject of Gnosticism came up. Gnostics, both ancient and modern, secular and religious, have one thing in common – they love to complicate things that are essentially simple. Our lesson from Deuteronomy might have been written as a reply to Gnostics – It isn’t mysterious or remote, it isn’t up in the sky, or across the sea – it is right here, in our hearts, we just need to DO it. And what is in our hearts is Christ, our Savior, our God, our Friend, our Brother. In his letter to the Church at Colossae, St. Paul writes, “In him everything in heaven and on earth was created, things visible and invisible…all were created through him, and for him…In him everything continues in being.” We were created for Christ, we were brought into being, and are kept in being for him and by him. When we reject Christ, we reject our own life and choose death. That is who we are in Christ, that is our witness, that is our simple, uncomplicated faith: We are in Christ, Christ is in us – we live with the life of the Holy Trinity. And in Christ this life is open to all who desire to receive it, as St. Paul writes, “It pleased God to make absolute fullness reside in him, and by means of him to reconcile everything in his person, everything, I say, both on earth and in the heavens, making peace through the blood of his cross.”
Our most important witness to our neighbor, whoever they are, is to live this truth. To live a Christ-like life, to live, not in and for this world, but in and for Christ, who is the image of the invisible God. How do we do this? That is the hard part, not complicated, but hard, because we resist, we rebel, we drag our feet and make excuses. But there really are no excuses. We know the Truth, the Truth lives in us, the Truth challenges us every day to rise up, to stretch ourselves, to strive to be more loving, more patient, more faithful, more everything that Christ is. Doing this is hard, but we often make it harder than it needs to be. I have spoken before of what I call “white knuckle” Christians, these are people, and I have been one, who are so controlled, and controlling, that their spiritual fists are clenched. We are so concerned with controlling ourselves, our behavior, our environment that everything is a struggle. I am not saying that living a Christian life should not be a struggle, but it needs to be the right struggle. The key is to not worry about controlling ourselves, relax those clenched fists, both spiritual and physical, and practice the presence of God. The focus of our being should not be ourselves, but God. And if all our attention is on God we will do what is right. Self-control is a misleading phrase, we want our self, our being, to be controlled, but we are not the one who does it, we do not control our self, our self should be in Christ, and Christ should direct our actions. Not like a puppet, or a slave, or a machine, but like a soldier. This is the right struggle, the struggle to practice the presence of God in the midst of our frenetic, stressful lives surrounded by the standards, snares and stumbling blocks of this fallen world. It is in this struggle that we are truly witnesses, martyrs, to our Faith in Christ. It is in this way that we die to ourselves and live to Christ, it is in this way that we love our neighbor as our self without ego, because our true self is Christ and Christ has all our love and therefore so does our neighbor.
Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the man who fell in with the robbers?” The lawyer answered, “The one who treated him with compassion.” Jesus said to him, and to us, “Then go and do the same.”
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