prejudice, racism, and loving your neighbor as yourself

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:36-37

Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan is considered a classic for good reason. And it really puts us on our heels in a number of ways, regardless of who we are. (Read or listen to this interesting piece.) The one who did good was part of a people who were not only looked down upon, but utterly despised by the Jews. Samaritans did not hold to the faith, and they were a mixed race. But Jesus singled out a Samaritan, as opposed to a Jewish priest and levite, as being the one who epitomized what it meant to love one’s neighbor, a staple of the Jewish faith, in contrast to the Jewish religious men who failed to do that.

There’s no way getting around it. We probably all struggle with prejudice. It’s not like we ought to simply accept that, but when we don’t understand another culture, it is easy to simply dismiss them as somehow not measuring up, yes to our culture. And surely they end up looking at us in much the same way. Just that realization should help us curb our tendency toward prejudice. We realize our own weakness and lack of understanding, so that we more and more refuse to prejudge anyone. Rather we might ask questions, or simply assume the best. While at the same time giving no one a free pass on what is plainly wrong.

Racism is another, more serious matter. It has a marked, troubling history in the United States, and actually is still alive today. And for one reason: humans are sinful, and inherently see others who are different as somehow inferior to themselves. Again, refer to the article linked above which I would say substantiates this Christian claim, even if people in it would not use the word “sin”. If we all struggle with sin, then to some extent, we might struggle with racism. Racism simply put is the opinion, even conviction that one’s own race is somehow superior, and that other races are somehow inferior. By race I mean one’s ethnicity, their ethnic roots, which oftentimes is marked by skin color and culture.

Scripture does not either deny the diversity within humanity, or try to tamp it down. Rather, as we see in the last book in the Bible, it acknowledges and one might even say, celebrates it. The gospel in the reconciliation it brings, integrates into the one humanity, all the different peoples. And that would include everything they have to contribute to the whole. This is all considered a gift from God in creation, and especially in new creation in Jesus.

Like “the good Samaritan,” it’s not enough at all to agree intellectually. We must act on that, regardless of what prejudices we still might have. And see ourselves not only as givers, but also as receivers of God’s good gift and blessing from others who we don’t readily identify with. More and more learning to see our differences as complementary, as we find our unity in the love of God that is in and through Jesus.

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it take a church

Nowadays there seems to have been a backlash against what was used by a political candidate here in the US some years back: “It takes a village.” Actually that has plenty of truth in it, just as does the idea that we can’t depend on others to do for us what only we can do. They can’t live our lives for us. Nor should we expect others to do for us what we can do ourselves. True. But the prevailing emphasis on individual rights and freedom nowadays perhaps is the idea that we can get along just fine on our own, that we need no one else.

God’s word and its fulfillment in Jesus tells us something entirely different. Humans are made for community. Yes, some of us like our space, and need more separation than others. But none of us were made for isolation, for solitary confinement. As God says in Genesis: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make one corresponding him,  as complements to each other” (Genesis 2; my paraphrase).

Sin divides us from God and each other. At its core sin is a violation of love for God, and for neighbor, which really ends up being all humanity, especially in the world in which we live today, a shrinking globe due to our ability to traverse so well. God’s saving work in Christ is at heart a reconciliation to God and to each other. That reconciliation is front and center in the church. Through the gospel: baptism and the Lord’s table being central in enacting and displaying it.

“It takes a church” we might say. Yes, made up of imperfect, broken, yet being put together people like you and I. Just ordinary people, and often struggling to one degree or another. But our lives are meant to be lived not in isolation, but with others. If we’re “in Christ” by faith, then we’re in Christ’s body, the church. Our identity then, is not only in Christ, but in his body, the church.

That seems often minimized in evangelical Christian circles, with an emphasis on people’s individual response to the gospel and God’s word. But it is not minimized in the very Scripture we evangelicals hold as central to our faith. We need to acclimate ourselves to something different. The life of God we find in Jesus is especially made known in the church. And imbibed and then lived out yes even in the church through what we might call the sacraments, and our lives lived together in communion with each other. And from that sent out on mission. In and through Jesus.

politics and love for neighbor

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:25-29

Without getting into the politics and technicalities (philosophy, etc.) of everything, since it’s really more complicated than what many people on different sides make it out to be, I want to press home what should be our chief consideration as Christians when it comes to politics. I’m assuming that you like most Christians have some interest in it, from at least considering voting, to actual participation in the process.

Love for God and for neighbor should trump every other concern. It’s not like we shouldn’t take care of our own, but that we should use the freedom we have to help others. Of course that includes the unborn, the war torn refugee, the down and out- the homeless, etc., etc.

Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan to press home the teaching that we’re to be a neighbor to whoever is in trouble. That we’re to show them love by being present for them to bind up their wounds and take care of their needs so that they can recover.

At the heart of Christianity is a devoted love for God and for our neighbor as ourselves. It’s not just about how well we are. It’s about others flourishing, also. Only Jesus can help any of us be well. We as Christians seek to be present in Jesus for each other, and for others. We should want to be a neighbor to everyone.

For the Christian, the church is where the life of Christ is present and where we’re commissioned to be a witness to the good news in Jesus, and to do good works. What moves us  is not in a political party or candidate of this world. It’s only Jesus. Not to say good as well as evil isn’t done by political parties and candidates. But that our work is in Jesus with the distinctive of love for God and neighbor.

the righteous requirement of the law: love

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4

…in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us….

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 8:4b; 13:8-10

It is interesting how it seems that the reason for Christ’s atoning work and the Spirit’s work for believers is that they might love their neighbor as themselves. Jesus made it clear that includes everyone, that actually we’re to be a neighbor to all in actions of love for those in need (see the parable of the Good Samaritan). And that this is one command with the command to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength.

Of course we’re going to love no one perfectly in this life. Only God can do that. But love should be the overriding passion for all that we are and do. And it’s not a love defined by us or on our terms, what we might think love is. It’s always in terms of God’s commandments. A friend pointed out to me recently that the law of sin and death overcame the law (Torah) God gave, but the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus overcomes the law of sin and death (see Romans 7). And that’s so that we can love others, really love them in terms of God’s love.

That should be what moves us beyond anything else through the everyday routines of life, and the intricacies within the challenging, difficult places. And it’s a love steeped in God’s love. We love because he first loved us (1 John). Believing and knowing we’re loved, and living in that love through God’s grace and gift in Christ, will help us extend that same love to others. In practical, needed, down to earth ways. And in avoiding what is contrary. In and through Jesus.

the heart and soul of Jesus followers

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

There is nothing more fundamentally basic for human life than love, specifically loving each other, one’s fellow humans. It’s profound in its implications, and given the nature of us all, it can be a tall order. We have to look out for each other, and think about the best interest of the other. In fact in following the way of Christ, our best interest should be pursued so that we can serve the best interests of others.

As Jesus taught, echoing Scripture, we’re called to love our neighbor as ourselves. He put that in the same category as loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We can’t love God if we don’t love our neighbor. And theo-logically, our love for our neighbor is rooted in, and comes out of our commitment to love God. It’s not just rote, but it can begin there. But out of love for God, we commit ourselves to loving our neighbor as ourselves. Something which should flow naturally out of that, but something also that we need to be committed to. Because given the nature of us humans, everyone of us, it would be easy to opt out. But then we would be abandoning love for God. Something we in Jesus cannot do.

Commands are given to us as necessary boundaries we’re not to cross if we’re to love our neighbor, which includes doing no harm to them. The ultimate goal of the law, or God’s word is love: love for God, for each other in Jesus, and for everyone else, including our enemies. This is fundamentally basic to us as Christians, but is not only the foundation in Jesus for how we live, but ought to be our heart and soul. It’s the cake and frosting and everything else. In God’s love in and through Jesus.

shift down and relax

What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 2:22-26

I think one of the staples of the United States has been hard work. I guess the Protestant work ethic has somehow figured into that. But we work long and hard. And production or how much you get done for the bottom line (profit), is considered critical.

I am trying to dial down, yet be fully engaged at the same time. Just much more relaxed, in fact essentially relaxed. I have been uptight for years, staying on top of everything, and pushing to the max always. But while that might have translated well in terms of output, I don’t think it was either that healthy for myself, or even for others around me who might pick up that spirit. One is more on edge then. Production numbers might be higher, but at what cost?

I’ve decided that for me to carry on day after day, I need once again to dial down. Staying on top of things as best I can, yes, but much more laid back. Our job can be fast paced and have one machine problem after another. And without knowing it, I can easily be living outside of God’s peace in the midst of it all.

My goal now: do one thing at a time, relax, try to keep everything going as much as possible, but not be upset when we don’t, even if I’ve overlooked something in that process.

It seems like that’s something the Lord may have been working in me for some time, to slow down, actually do less, and pay more attention to God and God’s priorities of love to others in Christ’s love, and out of love for God in response to his love. Too often in my life I’ve been quite driven, and while that can contribute to good numbers, it doesn’t necessarily mean the good that God is looking for. God might want something better, at least hinted at from the passage above in Ecclesiastes. In and through Jesus.

keep on keeping on

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

There’s much to be said around this, and right from the pages of Holy Writ itself, but I plan to continue to plod along in the Bible from one day to the next, to just keep going. Right now in my slow meditative musing I’m in Song of Songs in the Old Testament and Acts in the New Testament. Then I have my daily Scripture reading at the end of the day from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Sermon on the Mount (or the Sermon on the Plain) and the New Testament, according to the headings in my Bible. Nothing fancy for sure, but just my way of continuing on.

For years and years I used to listen to the Bible being read straight through, mostly through cassettes and CDs. Though I certainly missed plenty of detail along the way in doing so, it did give me a good basic understanding of the whole. Now my way of being in the word is much more slower, and less. I miss going through it all in a relatively short time (anywhere from a time and a half to three or more times a year I imagine, though I never kept track). I recently heard of a man who went through the entire Bible I think once a month and had to read over two hours a day to so do, but was one of the most ungracious, critical people you ever could meet. Being in Scripture doesn’t mean you’ll be Christ-like or godly. The Pharisees were in Scripture all the time, but missed the point of it all. It was empty religion to them and actually idolatrous at its core, because it amounted to a worship of God that was more about them and their identity than anything else, or so it seems to me. So we all have to beware. Are we understanding the point of it all? To love God and our neighbor, even our enemies; to find our way in Christ.

At any rate, I push on and plod along. As bored as I can be at times, and tired. As long as I try to understand the main points and seek to practice them of course by the help the Spirit gives, and the church, then it’s all good enough. Something we’re meant to do by ourselves and with each other. In and through Jesus.