“Go and do likewise.”
Four words upon which kingdoms have fallen, thousands wounded or killed, the message of Jesus torn to shreds and replaced by…what? Hate, contention, violence, and many seriously nasty things.
Martin Luther, who, along with other dissenters of his time, insisted that “by faith alone” (sola fide) are people saved. In fact, this Gospel alludes to that when we hear:
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.”
We can interpret this to mean that we don’t have to perform good works, buy indulgences, or do any physical thing to achieve salvation. Luther was wrestling with his faith and understanding of the Bible for a long time – and quite fervently – when he happened upon this concept as a new door opened for him by the Holy Spirit. “By faith alone.”
Well, it turns out that Luther added the word “alone” (allein in German in which he was later writing to explain his epiphany. He said that he had to add it because that was how colloquial German would say it. This is a long historical/philological argument that we don’t have to delve into here. Let Luther sum it up by saying that in his reading, both Ambrose and Augustin used the word “alone.”
And so, back and forth for ages is the concept bantered. And fought over. And worse. But I was struck by Jesus’ command, “Go and do likewise.” And where did this phrase come from? It came from the scholar of Jewish law when he asked “And who is my neighbor?”
Thus, the parable of The Good Samaritan.
So then if we are to be saved, we must treat our neighbors as ourselves. And in this example, the Samaritan tends to the victim, takes him to an inn, continues to care for him, and then gives money to the innkeeper to continue to care for the man.
What then? Is it sola fide or do we have to perform acts in following the law?
Even the readings for today are not definitive. Moses says we already have this love of the Lord in our hearts and in our mouths. “In our mouths” implies to me that we have to act and profess what we believe. Take an action.
In the Psalm, God will protect us and rebuild the cities. But also “Turn to the Lord in your need and you will live.”
And in the Second Reading…but wait, now I’m even getting caught up in the maelstrom.
Look, we can sit in our warm studies and contemplate God and never see or talk to another person…so long as we love the Lord our God we’ll be saved. But if we see a person in need, we must help her or him.
Yet for the Love of God, we cannot go out and do battle to make others believe as we do! We cannot kill in God’s name. We cannot lay cities waste to get our point across. We cannot not love our neighbor as ourselves.
And one more thing from today’s Gospel: We really shouldn’t try to test Jesus our God. We are the only ones who may need testing.
Lord, today help us to recognize our neighbor in everyone we meet, and yes Lord, help us to find ways to help our neighbor.