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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Who Should I Help ... and How? Good News From Christianity

For Christians looking to follow the two great commandments to love God and love neighbor as self, the questions arise, who are those neighbors and how do I serve them? For the answers to these questions, I suggest turning directly to Jesus, the head of the church, our leader in all things faithful, and our reliable trailblazer who has gone ahead of us and beckons us to follow. When the lawyer in Luke stand up and asks Jesus this very question, he is told the following parable. 

Luke 10:25-37 25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He 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.”28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He 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. 35The 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.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

From this parable, we discover our neighbor is anyone who needs our help and who it is within our power to help, even an enemy as shown in the actions of the good Samaritan. From the Samaritan we also learn we should take that aid just as far as we are capable. The Samaritan undid all the harm done to the wounded stranger by both the bandits and the religious leaders. That's a powerful message. So, now we have a basic and BROAD understanding of who, thanks to Luke and Jesus. 

To put a finer point on it, we turn to Jesus in Matthew near the beginning and the end of the book, seeking out the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount (what has been termed Jesus mission statement) and the apocalyptic vision in chapter 25 where we receive some very pointed suggestions on who we should seek out ... and what sort of help we should offer. 

Matthew 5:1-12 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 25:31-40 31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

This leaves a lot of territory to cover. It is tempting to throw up your hands and throw in the towel before you even begin, saying its all just too big for me! But, wait, here's some further help from a seminary professor I had not too long ago. He stated you need to turn to the issue that makes your blood boil, the injustice in the world that really upsets you (and falls within the parameters listed above), and act upon that in whatever small ways you can. You'll soon find that once you start, unexpected opportunities in that field will quickly crop up for you. 
Please take note of the fact that in all three readings, the call is to take positive action to help some suffering individual or group. It does not call for us to argue endlessly rather than act. It calls for us to reach out a helping hand and really do something. Today, in my humble opinion, we are having our efforts and our time sidetracked from doing good to arguing over what or who isn't good according to one perspective or another. I don't see Jesus saying blessed are those who successfully argued how many angels can dance on the head of a pin definitively for their generation. I suspect we spend as much time arguing as we do because to actually do the things listed above involves a lot of personal risk in one form or another ... and that's scary. However, from what I read here, the risks are well worth taking ... and they are risks Jesus is calling us all to take. Here in the twenty-first century, there are a great many people who need our positive response today. Jesus calls. Will you answer? 

For a useful, associated, scriptural article, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2010/08/protection-for-dark-days-peaceful.html

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