At prayer very early this morning, I reminded myself that the goal is always the same, communion with God. Breaking through the barriers of the human condition and connecting with The Source can be frustrating work. I try to remember that feelings are not a measure of one's prayer. What God is doing secretly in the depths of our being (soul/heart) is not always translated into burning feelings, peaceful feelings or soaring feelings. In the end (I remind myself) prayer is a focus on God, therfore, paying attention to my feelings is looking in the wrong direction.
I meditated on the readings today. The first, from Ezekiel 18, is a landmark in Israel's understanding of sin and punishment. In the Torah there is a clear connection to communal guilt. "The sins of the fathers will be visited upon their children to the third generation." It was understood that there was generational solidarity and the wages of sin, death, were going to infiltrate and wreak havoc on not only the sinner, but also the sinner's progeny. In reality this is true. Our family of origin has an obvious impact on who we become. If daddy is arrested for dealing drugs, Junior suffers. However, Ezekiel reveals that God has also declared individual responsibility. If the father sins, it is on him. If the son sins it is on him. The tension between individual responsibility and communal responsibility (see the recent blog on Cain) is hard to hold. We prefer either/or. I think it is important to understand the multi-generational impact of sin. I think we must also have a laser focus on personal responsibility. To keep them both in play is truth!
The reading ended with a very hopeful statement about God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin...Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live. Taken on face value it seems to imply two things. God's desire for all people is salvation. God is not totally in charge of that. He is trying to motivate us to repent (turn around). There is some freedom of action on our part. The grace is in the offer. The choice is ours.
This blends well with the Gospel today, Luke 10:25-37. In Luke's version there is a shift. A lawyer asks Jesus (as a test) "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" but instead of Jesus answering, He asks a question. "What do you think?"
[side note... This is one of the places where we really see how each Gospel author is "reworking" the story. Luke moved this story up chronologically in his Gospel. Mt and Mk place it later. In Mk there is a dispute and a scribe wanders up to ask the question. Jesus answers in much the same way, though it includes "Hear O Israel" which is the beginning of the verse called "the shema." Mt shortens the saying like Luke, and identifies him a lawyer who is part of a group of Pharisees. However, he has Jesus answer.]
The lawyer's answer, love God and love your neighbor, is his summary of the Torah/Law. Jesus judges him to be correct. If you do this, says Jesus, you will live. What jumped out at me was the obvious lack of hopelessness so often trumpeted in the church. Jesus is either setting the guy up (telling him the answer, when He knew it was impossible) or He really thought that such love was possible in sufficient measure to attain to life. Now I have also said that we need to read the whole Bible, not just a verse. Yet, my reading of the whole Bible indicates that the love talked about here is exactly what God expects. It certainly seems that Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 13 (if I have all faith...but have not love). 1 John says "whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him/her." The Jesus code of ethics is love based, love motivated and love responsive. As we also read in 1 John "God is love." To be holy, sanctified and godly is to be loving. To embrace the will of God (Torah/instruction) is to be loving. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be loving.
Now love is not a feeling, however sweet or tear drenched. It is not warm nor affective. Love is gentle strength. Love is power to give life and power to endure suffering. Love is self-gift and cross, love is also resurrection and new life. Love heals and saves; it's creative making all things new. If you want eternal life, says Jesus, then love God and love your neighbor....
Now in fairness, in Luke 7 a woman, a public sinner, weeps at Jesus' feet. In response to her He declares her sins forgiven. When the Pharisees chafe at such a thing He says, "her sins are many but are forgiven, for she has loved much." People who know Greek better than me say that the love is not causative, it is a fruit of forgiveness. Jesus says those who are forgiven much, love much. Love springs forth from God's mercy, it does not cause it. Then He tells her to go in peace, "your faith has saved you." I am not trying to rekindle a debate on Reformation doctrines or favored scripture verses. I acknowledge faith in Jesus saves. I want only to remind that Jesus calls us to love. Sometimes loving is harder than trusting. After all God is trustworthy, but people are not loveable (not all of them and not all the time).
In order to make clear that love is hard, Jesus redefined the word neighbor. It is not, as in the OT, the fellow Jew. It is, rather, the betrayer of God's people, the half-breed Samaritan. That mixture of ancient Israel (blood of my blood) and ancient pagan (invaders who intermarry and bleed out the faith) come together in a hostile combination just to the north of God's people. If the sworn enemy is neighbor, then I must love everyone?!?! Jesus did not say that. What He said was the neighbor is a behavior (caring for others in their need). Love as a neighbor is a choice to serve the needs of others, even those whom we do not like. Faith is easier then that kind of love. Much easier.
So today I must seek out the one I contend with and see in his/her face the face of Jesus. It is the way of life eternal. It is the way in the Kingdom, how we live and move and have our being. Oh, and I trust to Jesus my failures and weaknesses, and receiving (trusting in) His love, mercy, grace, kindness, I hope that more of that grateful love will well up within me!