belief … What is the point?

I am going to go off on something of a tangent today, away from the usual issues of science and faith – but I would like to put up an idea and start some discussion, hear what people think. Over the years I have heard many sermons – two a week in my childhood and youth, more in college if you count chapel services. One a week in much of my adulthood… well over 2000. Favorite stories, favorite passages have been covered many times. Luke 10:25-28 is one such passage, where a lawyer comes to question Jesus:

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And 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.” and he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

Another such passage is the rich young ruler in Luke 18

A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “…You know the commandments,…” And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

The vast majority of sermons I have heard separate these two instances – they are discussed in different series for different purposes with different applications. Jesus is telling the two men something different, meeting them where they are. In particular the main message of the Luke 18 passage is that wealth keeps the rich man from truly loving God, it becomes an idol in the place of God.

But is this true? Do these two passages teach different things? Have different applications?

It seems to me that the answer in these two passages is the same. The problem in the second passage is not that wealth kept the rich man from loving God. While that can happen, it seems here that wealth kept the rich man from truly loving his neighbor. Wealth was not an idol in place of God, but a wall between the rich man and his fellow man. We are called to give everything to follow Jesus, but the purpose isn’t vows of poverty and desert hermitages in idyllic worship. The purpose is service and love and the Kingdom of God. Every choice filtered through the two great commandments.

Mother Teresa and Love. Along the same lines, one of the chapters in the recent anthology put together by Francis Collins Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith contains excerpts from writings of Mother Teresa. Her reflections put this in perspective. We are not called to give money to the poor – we are called to love our neighbor, the poor, the lonely, the questioning, the young, the elderly … even the neighbor who seems to have it all together.

Faith is lacking because there is so much selfishness and so much gain only for self. But faith, to be true,has to be a giving love. Love and faith go together, they complete each other. (p. 259)

Some weeks back I heard there was a family who had not eaten for some days – a Hindu family – so I took some rice and went to the family. Before I knew where I was, the mother of the family had divided the rice into two and she took the other half to the next-door neighbors, who happened to be a Muslim family. Then I asked her: ” How much will all of you have to share? There are ten of you with that bit of rice.” The mother replied: “They have not eaten either.” This is greatness.

Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but they need your hearts to love them. So spread love everywhere you go; first of all in your home. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to the next-door neighbor. (p. 260)

Abandonment is an awful poverty. There are poor people everywhere, but the deepest poverty is not being loved. (p. 261)

Mother Teresa turns to 1 John 4 … Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

This is a great chapter to include in a book on the reason for faith. The reason for faith is not affirmation of supernatural creation, joining the right club, or getting our doctrine letter perfect. The ‘reason’ for faith, and the best apologetic, is the body of Christ keeping his commandment … “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34

John alludes back to this commandment, these commandments, love for God, love for neighbor, love for one another in 1 John 2:4 …8: The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. … The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.

What this means will vary from situation to situation – as it varied from situation to situation as we see in the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles. It will vary with the gifts of each individual. For some it may mean “sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor.” It certainly includes generosity with money and resource, but it is not limited to this. Plain and simple: every choice filtered through the two great commandments. In my case I think the message may have included a call to stop hoarding time, focusing this resource on a successful career. But the purpose of “freed up” time isn’t leisure or pleasure – rather community, and includes, in my case, time put into thinking through the issues of science and faith on this blog.

What do you think? What is Jesus teaching and how does that relate to the way Christians should live?

How does it color the way you think about health care or immigration or education or work or family or …?

No debates on specifics please (I’ll delete them on this post) – just how does the commandment to love one another affect your thinking?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If you have comments please visit belief … What is the point? at Jesus Creed.

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