Neighbors

But the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”   (Luke 10:29)

Jesus asked: Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”  (Luke 10:36-37)

“Neighbors, as Jesus knew. Can be a not insignificant challenge to anyone’s Christianity.”  (Niall Williams. THIS IS HAPPINESS. P 92)

We Partake of the Body of Christ to Become the Body of Christ

“At the Divine Liturgy we live the mystery of the Church, because each eucharistic community is the one flock which offers its gifts to the one Shepherd (John 10:16) ‘with one mouth and one heart‘ (cf Acts 4:32 and Rom 15:6).  We are nourished on the holy Body of Christ, on Holy Communion, and the Church is made manifest as the Body of Christ.

‘With this we are nourished, with this we are mingled, and we have become the one Body of Christ’ (St John Chrysostom).  Communion in the holy Body of Christ creates the communion and unity of the Church: ‘As we partake of the holy Body of Christ, so we too become the Body of Christ’ (Nicholas of Methoni).”  (Hieromonk Gregorios, THE DIVINE LITURGY: A COMMENTARY IN THE LIGHT OF THE FATHERS, p 88)

Christ and Your Enemy

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:43-48)

In the United States today we honor the memory of  the courageous human rights advocate Martin Luther King whose own work was derived from his Christian faith.  He says:

There may come a time when it will be possible for you to humiliate your worst enemy or even to defeat him, but in order to love the enemy you must not do it… The Greek language has another word [for love]. It calls it agape. Agape is more than romantic love. Agape is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men. Agape is an overflowing love, a spontaneous love, which seeks nothing in return. And theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. When you rise to love on this level you love all men, not because you like them, not because their ways appeal to you, not because they are worthful to you, but you love all men because God loves them. And you rise to the noble heights of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. And I think this is what Jesus means when he says, ‘Love your enemies.‘” 

Racial equality is a human rights issue.  All Americans who love freedom and independence benefit from the work to have civil rights in America.  It is not just minority rights, but human rights – and we all benefit from this.  We can see in our country’s history, the struggle we have had to be Christian and to accept the declared vision that all humans are created equal.  We realize the significance of the anti-slavery movement in our country to defend Christianity and the Declaration of Independence and human rights as well.  The American Antislavery Society motto:

“If you come to us and are hungry, we will
feed you, if thirsty, we will give you drink, if naked,
we will clothe you; if sick, we will minister to your
necessities, if in prison, we will visit you; if you need a
hiding place from the face of pursuers, we will provide
one that even bloodhounds will not scent out.”

(Catherine Clinton, HARRIET TUBMAN: THE ROAD TO FREEDOM, p 79)

The civil rights movement has its origins in Christianity.  All Christians who attempt to follow the Gospel commandments will see that a struggle against racism and prejudice is a struggle against the passions and for following Christ.

Christ Jesus Came To Save Sinners

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  (1 Timothy 1:15)

How are we to look at sinners?  St Paul identifies himself as the chief of them (an identity we claim for ourselves before receiving Communion).  Jesus says He came to seek and save sinners, which is the Gospel which St Paul proclaims (and how we became part of the Church – Christ seeking us out as sinners and inviting us in).  We are to see sinners as Christ sees them – because this is how He also sees us.  We are to love them as Christ loves us (John 13:34), for while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  We are to treat them as we have been treated by Christ.  We are to treat them with the same spirit as Christ treats us.  This applies to all of us, but very particularly to those involved in any kind of ministry within the Church.

Fr Alexis Trader writes about how a father confessor, or for that matter, a godparent, should treat their godson or goddaughter who has sinned.

“The virtues of love, faith, and humility should be manifest in the way the spiritual father approaches his spiritual child.  Without unfeigned love for the spiritually sick and a desire for their restoration to health, the spiritual father can hardly be considered a spiritual physician at all.  Without unshakable faith in God, he might be tempted to pronounce those who have been severely wounded in the Christian life to be dead, because he is blind to the fact that God can raise up both confessors and martyrs from those reckoned to be lost.

And without humility, he is in danger of resembling a physician who administers medicines to the sick and does not look after the poison of his own infection.”  (ANCIENT CHRISTIAN WISDOM AND AARON BECK’S COGNITIVE THERAPY, p 154)

Made By God in the Womb

Did not he who made me in the womb make my servant? And did not one fashion us in the womb?   (Job 31:15)

Fetus at 6 months

The Prophet Job recognizes that both servant and master have the same origin – God fashions each in their mother’s womb.  One life is not more sacred than the other for every human being has a God-given sanctity – male and female, master or slave. Each human receives life from God.   Each is created in God’s image and each breathes the spirit that God bestows on us.  We receive wisdom from God as well as light and rain.  We are to treat all human life as sacred even though some are strangers to us and some are enemies.

It is not God who devalues any human, but humans do decide that some others don’t deserve to live.  We dehumanize certain others and in so doing expose our own inhumanity.  We decide that some others shouldn’t live and justify this thought by seeing those others as less human than we are and thus not entitled to human rights.  All of this applies to how we see the unborn baby in the mother’s womb.

“But there is something wrong with us.  If we don’t want to believe that we are murdering our son or daughter when we have an abortion, we don’t believe that, and we then don’t see the evident fact that it’s a baby, a human being.

The Nazis wanted to kill the Jews, so they saw them as subhuman.  The white slavers wanted to treat Blacks as subhuman, so they saw them as subhuman.

Then, the atheist, the aborter, the Nazi and the slaver give arguments to rationalize what they see.  This is the way our psychological mechanisms usually work. ”  (Peter Kreeft,  CHRISTIANITY FOR MODERN PAGANS, pp 251-252)

Little Things Add Up

“For if, as they used to say, we do not despise little things and think they are of no consequence to us, we shall not fall into great and grievous things.  I am always telling you that bad habits are formed in the soul by these very small things – when we say, ‘What does this or that matter,’ – and it is the first step to despising great things.  … ‘What does it matter if I find out what this brother is saying or what that guest is doing?’ the mind begins to forget about its own sins and to talk idly about his neighbor, speaking evil against him, despising him, and from this he falls into the very thing that he condemns.

Because we become careless about our own faults and do not lament our own death (as the Fathers put it), we lose the power to correct ourselves and we are always at work on our neighbor.  Nothing angers God so much or strips a man so bare or carries him so effectively to his ruin as calumniating, condemning, or despising his neighbor.”  (St Dorotheos of Gaza, DISCOURSES AND SAYINGS, pp 131-132)

The Greatest Sin

Now the betrayer [Judas] had given them a sign, saying, “The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to Jesus at once, and said, “Master!” And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him.   (Mark 14:44)

 

“The greatest sin is, as Christ himself stressed, not the violation of a rule but the action against love or without love.”  (Michael Plekon, LIVING ICONS, p 90)

“Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord in Thy Kingdom.”  (Prayer before Communion)

Creation Both Good and Wounded

“This makes a kind of sense until I look at a child, at all that is wonderful in the world, and then see that creation is both profoundly good and wounded beyond our understanding.  The fact that it takes the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection to cut into the ice around our hearts shows the depths of the catastrophe.

And the fact that the catastrophe is often more apparent to us than the goodness of creation is not the way God wanted things to be.”  (John Garvey, DEATH AND THE REST OR OUR LIFE, pp 42-43)

Sin, Sickness, Suffering

“… and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.”  (James 5:15-16)

“It is a fundamental Christian belief that suffering and sickness are the consequence of sin.  The creation narrative in Genesis makes it clear that humanity was created to dwell in paradise, in the company of God, where, in the words of the funeral kontakion, there is no ‘sickness and sorrow.’ …. Sickness, suffering, and death, therefore, are not normal.  Humanity was created not for suffering and death, but for eternal life in communion with God.

As a result of human sin, however, this communion has been broken; and the physical consequences of this break are sickness and death, because apart from God there can be no life, but only death.  …  The inescapable conclusion is that we all sin, we all suffer, and we all die. … Epidemics, disease, strife, suffering – all remain despite the remarkable progress in technology, science, and medicine.” (Paul Meyendorff, THE ANOINTING OF THE SICK, pp 64-65)

 

All Humans Belong to God

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him.  (Romans 10:12)

“We, however, can also understand in another way what he [St Paul] says, ‘But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him’ (Romans 8:9).  For this really seems to be pronounced bluntly, to say that one who is not of character and stature such as to deserve to have the Spirit of Christ would immediately be repudiated as belonging to Christ,  even though in the Psalms it says, ‘All the wild animals of the forests are mine, the beasts on the mountains and oxen‘ (Psalm 50:10). And if the wild animals and beasts are his, how is it that human beings are not his?”  (Origen, COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS Books 6-10, p 54)

Origen who was the great biblical exegete of the 3rd Century, uses scripture to interpret scripture.  So even though there are passages in the bible which make strong claims, Origen, reminds people that those passages have to be interpreted in the light of other claims of scripture.  One doesn’t get to pick and choose which verses to follow – one has to take all scripture into consideration to avoid coming to errant conclusions.  Some passages will seem to specifically support ideas we like, but that doesn’t give us permission to ignore the passages that don’t fit so easily with our interpretation or favorite verse.

Do you want to know that he [Christ, the Word of God] is present everywhere and is in the midst even of those who do not know him and do not confess him?  Listen to the very things John the Baptist testifies about him: ‘In your midst stands one whom you do not know, who comes after me‘ (John 1:26).  Therefore, he is in the midst even of those who do not know him, but he is potentially in their midst and not in actuality.  For they are capable of receiving him, but do not yet receive him.” (Origen, COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS Books 6-10, p 139)