11 Jul Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Times
July 10th, 2016
Deacon Blaine Barclay
The gospel today continues with the theme of discipleship, of what it means to be a follower, a student of Jesus. In a few brief brush strokes, it gets at the core of what it means to be apprenticed to Jesus of Nazareth, to be in this relationship of intimacy with him. Both the relationship and its core demands can be summarised by the word ‘love’, love God and love your neighbour. So, the Beatles were right after all, ‘all you need is love’. But wait, it’s not quite that simple. This is not the touchy feely hipster love the fab four were no doubt singing about, but something much deeper and demanding in its implications. Deep simple, not shallow simple. So let’s unpack this gospel a bit, so that we can uncover what Jesus is inviting us into.
We are told that a lawyer, that is to say a teacher and interpreter of the Jewish law, the Torah, interrogates Jesus, he asks, and a certain hostility is implied, ‘’What am I to do to inherit eternal life? Jesus, in turn answers with a question designed to deflect the hostility of the confrontation and to open up its teachable moment. He asks, ‘What is written in the Torah? How do you read or interpret it?’ The ‘lawyer’, who we can assume is someone learned in the Law of God, doesn’t hesitate. He quotes the book of Deuteronomy, the Shema to be precise, the closest thing the Jews have to a creed. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might, and with all your mind’’. So here we have it, the heart of the Law, the heart of the Torah, and a teaching that Jesus embraces as his own, Love God. Simple, right? Not so fast. We must love God with ‘all’ our heart, ‘all’ our soul, ‘all’ our might, ‘all’ our mind, not just with the head but not the heart, not just with part of our heart, soul, might, or, mind, but with all of each, and all of them together. In short, we are called to love God with the whole of our human nature, with all of our capacity for thinking, feeling, understanding, affections, appetites, memories, hopes and dreams, with everything that animates who we are as embodied persons. We are meant to offer God nothing less that the whole of who me are. This of course is a lifelong process. Conversion, transformation, and growth in virtue happen over time. Virtues are forms of human excellence, they correspond to the various capacities and potencies of the whole of human nature, particular excellent ways of acting, for example, showing kindness or wisdom or patience. For the Disciple, virtues are both acquired and infused, so we get to rely on grace in our struggle to grow in the various disciplines of discipleship. As an aside, notice that the words for disciple and discipline have the same root.
The letter of James says that ‘if you say you love God and don’t love your neighbour, then you are a liar’, so we know that the call to discipleship is not fulfilled only by loving God. Being apprenticed to Jesus is to walk in the path of mercy. Yes, “We love God because God first loved us”, but we are to love others with this same love that God has poured out into our hearts. Prayer, acts of devotion, good resolutions, liturgical acts, are not enough to pay the cost of discipleship. So we come to the second tablet of the Torah scholars answer, also a quotation from the Torah, ‘’and you must love your neighbour as yourself’’. What does Jesus say to all of this? “Jesus then said to him, ‘you have answered correctly; do this and you shall live.” We know from elsewhere that Jesus teaches that to love God and to love neighbour, summarizes all the law and the prophets., that this twofold love is both the heart of the law and the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Love is the fulfillment of the law. Discipleship is an apprenticeship in love.
Now, back to our lawyer friend, you think he would have been satisfied, Jesus totally agrees with his interpretation of the Jewish law. But, no, he wants to push the issue further and asks, “But who is my neighbour?” The lawyer, the Rabbis of Jesus’ day, indeed the Torah itself, taught that the neighbour we are here commanded to love was the fellow Israelite, the Jewish neighbour. This teaching, to be sure was often extended to the stranger or sojourner in the land to whom the faithful Jew was called to extend hospitality. In contrast, the teaching of Jesus radicalizes the definition of neighbour. Jesus expands the hospitality of the love of neighbour to include everyone in need of mercy, and he does so by telling a parable where a ‘non-neighbour’, a Samaritan, is the hero of the story. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a story that would have scandalised it first hearers, a shock wave that would have destabilized the ground beneath their feet. God’s mercy, and so subsequently our mercy is meant to be transgressive, it ignores boundaries, crosses over the abyss between the self and the other, changes distance into proximity. The neighbour is anyone who is in need of mercy. The good neighbour/disciple is the one who is willing to risk the genuine encounter with the other, the one who shows mercy. So again, our gospel turns out to be a further invitation into the path of discipleship. Are we willing to risk our lives being dislocated by this call?