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 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)

 

For Equipping the Saints; For Edifying the Church

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  . . .  And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,

for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…  (Ephesians 4:7, 11-13)

As St Paul makes clear the spiritual gifts bestowed on Christians are given to each so that they might contribute to the building up (the edification) of the Church – for the good of all other members of the Church.  Spiritual gifts are given for “the work of ministry“until “we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God“.  Spiritual gifts are not personal empowerment so that you can lord over other people, nor are they for self-glorification.  Spiritual gifts benefit others, they don’t put the person with the gift on a pedestal.  Anyone who uses spiritual gifts for personal gain, empowerment, career advancement, prestige or to vaunt oneself over others, has totally abused the spiritual gifts.  Though some Christians clamor for power and magic gifts to do miracles, St Paul tells us to desire the higher gifts, especially love (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13).

Sadly, some seek spiritual gifts not so much to minister to others as to become ministers – people with power and position over others.  The other church members then become not the neighbor to whom they minister but the people who are to  stand in awe of the person with power.  It becomes very self-serving and is not love.  It is a temptation not only for people with spiritual gifts but for clergy as well.

But such problems are not new in the Church.  Even in the ancient Church among the desert fathers we see the same kind of problems – people are people after all.

A brother asked an old man, saying, “How is it that there are at this present time men who labor, but who do not receive grace as the early fathers did?” The old man said unto him, “Formerly love existed, and one brother was raised up by the other; but now love has grown cold, and we each drag the other down, and in consequence we do not receive grace.”   (The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2), Kindle Loc. 3846-48)

Love leads us to build up others and the Church.  It teaches us to follow St John the Forerunner’s thought that Christ must increase, but I must decrease.  It doesn’t lead to superstars who become rich and famous.

One of the old men used to say, “Formerly, whenever we met each other we used to speak words of profit about each other, and we formed companies, and were lifted up into the heavens; but now when we are gathered together, we come to hateful converse concerning each other, and we drag each the other down to the bottom of the deepest abyss.”  (The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2), Kindle Loc. 3768-71)

We can build each other up, or we can engage in behavior that is spiritually detrimental to others.  The endless gossip, love of scandal, pointing out the faults of everyone else, self-vaunting,  turning people against each other for our personal advantage – these are all ways that cause the community to decline and to inflict wounds on the body of Christ.  Our task is always to love God and neighbor and to serve others as Christ served us.