Monday, June 05, 2017

Anything + Everything | Who is my neighbor?

I've been thinking a lot about folks who say, "We will do anything to get others into heaven," while doing everything to keep them out of the country.

Perhaps this is one of those domains in which it is hard to be a Christian. I hesitate to put words in the mouth of G.K. Chesterton—even his own words—but I keep recalling his line: "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." [1]

Mr. Chesterton's difficult Christian ideal included, in 1910, religious practitioners who didn't manage to live up to the promise, in part because, he wrote, "the princes conquered the saints." And then: 
....My point is that the world did not tire of the church’s ideal, but of its reality. Monasteries were impugned not for the chastity of monks, but for the unchastity of monks. Christianity was unpopular not because of the humility, but of the arrogance of Christians. [2]
In a similar way, church is the last place some of my friends would look for a Christian—but, then, they're not at all clear where, or when, or why, they would look for a Christian. They're glad, as far as it goes, if they hear that a church hosts a feeding program, or gets involved in flood relief, or whatever. But they think of such gestures as table stakes for an operation that benefits from local infrastructure without sharing the tax burden. As long as nothing goes terribly wrong at a local church, they're content to keep their distance and be left well enough alone. Beyond hearsay, these friends are not particularly clear about who constitutes the membership of these churches, or what draws and binds the members together. 

As long as we're in the way back machine, I'll call up an address to Christians from M.K. Gandhi, quoted in 1930 by his good friend, Charlie Andrews:
When I began as a prayerful student to study Christian literature in South Africa in 1893, I asked myself again and again, 'Is this Christianity?' And I could only say, 'No, no. Certainly this that I see is not Christianity.' And the deepest in me tells me that I was right; for it was unworthy of Jesus and untrue to the Sermon on the Mount.....In spite of your belief in the greatness of Western civilization, and in spite of your pride in all your achievements, I plead with you to exercise humility. I ask you to leave some little room for honest doubt. Let us simply each one live our life; and if ours is the right life, where is the cause for hurry? It will react of itself. By all means drink deep of the fountains that are given to you in the Sermon on the Mount; but then you will have to take up sackcloth and ashes also with regard to failure to perform that which is taught in Christ's Sermon. For the teaching of the Sermon was meant for each and every one of us. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.... [3]
I think it's difficult to refute Mr. Gandhi on this point. I think we are — all of us who propose to know anything about Jesus — responsible to answer a question from Jesus recorded by Luke:
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?”
There's the question: "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" This, apparently, is something Jesus wants to know.
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?”  
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two [days wages] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’  
“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.” [4]
It seems to me that everyone who asks, "What is required of me?" faces the question in return, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" Apparently, our answer to that question makes a difference.

[1] G.K. Chesterton, What's Wrong with the World, Part I, chapter five, Dodd and Mead, 1910, p 48

[2] ibid, pp 46-47

[3] C. F. Andrews, Mahatma Gandhi's Ideas: Including Selections from His Writings,  Macmillan, 1930, pp 94-95

[4] Luke 10:25-37, The Bible, New International Version

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