10 July 2016: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Dt 30:10-14 Ps 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37
or Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11
Col 1:15-20 Lk 10:25-37

Love: go and do the same

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings focus on God’s law of love.

The first reading, from Deuteronomy, is from Moses’ “farewell address” section. Moses tells the Israelites that God’s law is not unknowable or undoable, but real and nearby–“in your mouth” (already memorized) and “in your heart” (already internalized). The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match Jesus’ teaching about the law of love in the gospel.

The second reading begins the letter to the Colossians. Scripture scholars believe that today’s passage is part of an early Christian liturgical hymn, known to the Colossians. The hymn presents Christ as the mediator of creation and of redemption. We will hear the author develop these themes in the coming weeks’ readings.

In Luke’s gospel Jesus and a Law expert tangle about legalism versus love. To understand the parable, we must first understand how the Law expert is testing Jesus:

Part 1: Legal definition of “what I must do.” The expert in Hebrew scripture (the Law or Torah) baits Jesus with a theological question about what he needs to “do to inherit eternal life.” The Law expert’s question has two hidden assumptions:

  1. Do:  The Law expert uses a Greek verb tense (aorist tense, which has no English counterpart) that indicates an action that is done once and completed. That is, the Law expert is looking for a “one-and-done” action.
  2. Inherit eternal life:  Anyone casually familiar with Hebrew scripture (especially a Law expert!) knows that eternal life is a gift from God, not something inherited or earned. That is, the Law expert is looking for a future reward for his pious acts.

Jesus’ response turns the Law expert’s question back on the questioner. The Law expert correctly answers “Love God” and “Love your neighbor.” Jesus’ comment about the law of love–“Do this and you will live“–corrects the Law expert’s errors:

  1. Do:  Jesus uses a Greek verb tense and mood (present tense, imperative mood) to indicate an action that must be continued and repeated. The Law is a way of life, not a “one-and-done” action.
  2. You-will-live:  Jesus redirects the Law expert’s view from eternal life to this life. The Law is about how to live this life, not about earning points for the next life.

Part 2: Legal definition of “whom I need to love.” The Law expert foolishly persists with legal questions. Jesus replies with a parable that overturns the definition of neighbor. The Jewish passers-by fail as neighbors because they don’t offer help (even though the Law requires that they must). The Samaritan–a Jewish enemy (like a Hamas member)–helps the half-dead Jewish man. He acts, “moved by compassion” (literally “his guts ached”). For Jesus, the law of love is not a theological question but a very human reaction to suffering. A neighbor is not a theoretical definition, but the person next to you who needs help, no matter who he is.

Jesus turns the parable back on the Law expert: Who became a neighbor? The Law expert admits that love must be more than feeling, it must be action: “mercy.”) Jesus orders the Law expert to “Go and do the same.”

Sometimes we of the believing community let love get stuck in committee. We argue about “who” and “what,” when we should just do. What are we waiting for?

–Terence Sherlock

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