Loving the Least and Loving All

Subtitle: Often, I think…

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Recently, a dear friend, Corinne Van Rensselaer, responded to my blog post, Paul’s Words of Love (July 25, 2020), writing, “Wonderful!” In replying, something stirred and moved along a now long familiar inner track running from my soul to conscious awareness:

Thank you, dearest Corinne. It occurs to me – on second thought (always, I have them) – in the light and shadow of our current times of viral and racial pandemics, particularly in regard to the latter and the ongoing protests: Standing up publicly for the sake of the least and last and loving all, irrespective of personal politics, are two of the hardest, sharpest edges of following Jesus and living his gospel. Love to you and Ivan, always and in all ways.

As I continue to reflect, it occurs to me that Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.25-37) embraces and embodies both of these aspects of the gospel imperative; that is, the essential ethic or practical, demonstrable manifestation of living, being the good news of Jesus. And I believe that if…when I do not stand up for the least and love all – never one or the other, but always both – then I am not following Jesus. And, as I continue to reflect, so, I review Jesus’ story, adding my biblical, historical, socio-behavioral observations.

A lawyer stood up to test Jesus.

“A lawyer.” One trained in the legal code, the Law of Moses, the Torah, which include civil and ceremonial, religious and moral laws. Thus, this “test” may have been less of a conversation between an inquirer and a rabbi and more of a contest, a debate.

Often, I think, especially at times of social upheaval, we humans argue intensely over the principles of theoria and praxis; the definition and description of the movement from theory to practice.

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

“Justify.” To demonstrate, to prove that something is right. Or that someone, one’s self is correct; in agreement, aligned with established code or principle. The lawyer seeks to show himself righteous; right with God. And, even more, even deeper, I think, that he is virtuous in accord with his understanding and his practice of God’s Law concerning his people – those whom he loves, those whom he considers his neighbors.

Often, I think, especially, since the 19th century dawn of the notion of individualism (and, in America, enhanced to the extreme under the mythologies of our national exceptionalism and our Western sense of rugged independence; also 19th century ideas), we humans – when push comes to shove – tend to place our personal trust in our individual presumptions, our individual “truths” over and against any “law.”

Jesus replied, “A man…”

As Jesus tells this story in response to the Jewish lawyer’s question, I assume “a man” is Jewish.

“…was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away…”

“Stripped him” The man, naked of the clothing that, in ancient times indicated (and perhaps still, to whatever degree, indicate) social and economic status, is unnamed and unknown.

“…leaving him half dead.”

“Half dead.” Does the badly injured man appear dead? Or is he almost dead? Or, with his next, last breath, is he actively dying? I don’t know. Nevertheless, the form of the story leads the reader, leads me to wonder: Will someone come to help, to save? If so, who?

“Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”

“A priest…a Levite” Two members of the religious elite, perhaps with worship-related duties to perform in Jerusalem, dare not touch a half dead body (Leviticus 21.11) and, thus, be made ritually impure and incapable of fulfilling their sacred obligations. Or perhaps each wondered, feared that the half dead man was a ruse, a lure for bandits who would assault and rob anyone who stopped to help. Whatever. The priest and the Levite “saw” the man, that is, with not with a glance, but a clear-sighted gaze, and then “passed by.”

Often, I think, when faced with a challenge to our individual sense of duty that also involves our security, we humans are predisposed to follow our expedient determinations of what constitutes our faithfulness to our obligations for the sake of the preservation of our safety.

“But a Samaritan…”

The lawyer, listening to Jesus’ story, probably expected the next person (if one was to come), following “a priest” and “a Levite,” to be an Israelite (a Jewish layperson). For the historic cultural and religious animosity between Jews and Samaritans would make it virtually impossible to anticipate that a Samaritan would appear and, even less, would be cast in the potential hero’s role.

Often, I think, we humans resist, if not reject outright any idea or image contrary to our expectations.

“…while travelling came near him; and when he saw him…”

The Samaritan, as the priest and the Levite before him, “saw” the half dead stranger. Would the Samaritan also “pass by”?

“…he was moved with pity.”

“Pity.” Compassion: com (with) + passion (suffering). The ability and willingness to see (and to be “moved” – in mind and heart, soul and spirit – by) another’s suffering as identifiable as one’s own.

Often, I think, we humans resist, if not reject outright any idea or image that our enemy, anyone or group (clan, ethnicity, nationality, race, tribe) we dislike or despise, might be the hero of the story, even less, a real-life situation.

“He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’”

Compassion is not a feeling, an ephemeral emotion, but an inward disposition that motivates outward action.

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

“Mercy.” The word bears manifold connotations. Graciousness. Kindness. Tenderness. Yet, given the context and content of the parable, involving the action of an avowed enemy to a fallen, half dead enemy, mercy denotes the forgiveness that, withholding punishment, acts to do good.

Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Looking at “likewise” through the lens of today (or any day)…

When I, “going down (life’s) road,” “come to the place” of a fellow human being, whether or not a member of a socially or personally despised group, who has been: “robbed” of resources, “stripped” of that which makes for survival, and “beaten,” brutalized, whether by an individual or a group, an institution or the society as a whole and whether via a moment’s flash of opportunism or as a manifestation of an insidious -ism (e.g., ageism, chauvinism, heterosexism, racism, or sexism), then, as a follower of Jesus, I am to stand in strength on the side of that person and to act to in service to bear the relief of solace.

To do anything other, to do anything less is to disown Jesus and disavow my discipleship.

© 2020 PRA

Illustration: Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jan Jansz Wijnants (1632-1684)

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