The Economy of God
The Economy of God: A cost benefit analysis, or the gift of life?
Week of Sunday July 14 - Pentecost 8
Hebrew Scriptures: Deuteronomy 30
Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
Just 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 neighbour as yourself.’28And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 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 travelling 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 neighbour 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.’
Jesus' point that everyone is our neighbour is so obvious—the parable is so clear—that I wondered what else could be said! The holy people, who should've helped the man, didn't. The bloke everyone hated, the Samaritan... you can't trust those Samaritan heretics, did help. He was the neighbour. He shows us that everyone is our neighbour, even the people we don't like, don't trust, and who we think wouldn't help us. He is the one who is holy.
The point is obvious. It's the be-ing of it that is hard.
In the desert, when we came upon a broken down car, we would lock all the doors, wind up the windows, scan the surroundings, and engage low gear for a quick getaway. We all knew the stories of ambush and robbery. There is a good reason the Priest and the Levite did not stop to help the wounded traveller; there was a good chance he was bait.
What they did not put in the New Testament is the rest of that story. ;-) The inn keeper was a crook. He didn't like Samaritans. He didn't look after the injured man very well, and he charged triple because the Good Samaritan was ... a Samaritan.
Why bother to help? Be-ing a neighbour costs.
Why would you look after someone who was not your family, or on your team, or in your party? Why would you risk your time, and your money, or even your life? We even need Good Samaritan legislation to protect people who help others in need from being sued!
They taught me in theological college to be extremely cautious about domestic disputes. "Call the police," they said, for both sides have a habit of turning on the helper.
Do we help others because God commands us? Deuteronomy said
... you shall again obey the Lord, observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, 9and the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, 10when you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 30:8-10)
Maybe we are doing some 'enlightened self interest' when we help others? After all Deuteronomy said
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,20loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days.... (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
But it's not about striking a bargain with God. It is about the about the reality in which we live.
What sort of world is this? Living for self, and for the tribe, or for the nation, leads only to injustice, hatred and war. We have seen this for millennia.
Life does not go so well if we are not neighbourly. But when I am your neighbour, you are my neighbour. We need not fear each other. Instead, we can thrive together.
The lawyer told Jesus, "Love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind," This is the one side of a coin. The other side of that coin is to love our neighbour as ourselves. The two sayings do not stand apart. And Jesus agreed. Do this an you will live.
If we are not loving our neighbour as ourselves, we are not loving God, however much we might think we are! We cannot love God if we do not love our neighbour. And loving God teaches us what it is to love our neighbour; Jesus shows us how to love.
This is not to say people who are not Christians can't be good. I think that claim is Christian prejudice. Deuteronomy said
11 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ 14No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. (30:11-14)
The commandment to be neighbour simply makes sense. It is an obvious truth. Jesus' parable tells the obvious truth. All people are our neighbours.
The real issue here is the way we think about God. Did God create a world in which life is hard just for the sake of it? Did God sit, as it were, thinking "What rules can I put in place to really make them prove themselves?" Does God rule over us like an oriental king?
Are the rules of life arbitrary? Is God like some little bureaucrat who makes trivial demands of us, and when we ask why says, "Because I can?"
If God is to be thought of as the projection of those human value systems which see power and control as primary, and which see the ideal life as one of ultimate self importance and adulation from others, then the problem is already in our theology, because such values are in conflict with love for neighbour.
Unfortunately the language of worship too often reflects such values, despite our efforts to explain that the language of kingship and court deference is metaphorical.
Where however our theology has an image of God whose being is loving and whose life is the creative and redeeming out pouring of such love, then loving one’s neighbour is not a secondary obligation ‘which the king requires’, but an invitation to participate in the life and being of God. Bill Loader
God does not command us, despite what Deuteronomy thought. God invites us to participate in the life and being of God. This is good for us! It heals us! It makes us whole! It makes us human; god-like, even.
To be human, and to know joy, is to love our neighbour. If we will not love our neighbour, we will be a poor sort of person, and our joys will be fleeting and shallow.
We will not be right with God (justified) by keeping a set of rules. Meeting a set of standards we imagine God requires of us will not 'save us.' A mother may be pleased, proud even, when her child is well behaved. But what melts her heart is when he runs to her and throws his arms around her. 'Hugging God back,' brings the child his greatest joy. "Can I help you cook the tea, Mummy? Can I do it with you?" His desire to be with her, and work with her, is a far greater joy in her heart than how well he actually does the cooking. And, for him, being with her is a greater joy than the doing of the cooking.
So when I am too tired, and when living the Jesus life of Neighbour seems too costly, perhaps I do need to take a Bex and have a cup of tea and a good lie down. A little ginger wine would be as good. I need to rest... and sometimes for a month of recovery.
But to stop being neighbour would be to walk away from my very being. It would be the beginning of my destruction; a denial of my humanity. Being neighbour is not a cost. It is the essence of my humanity.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!