Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Delivery "Salvation."

We live in a marvelous time, not only can one get Chinese and Pizza delivered to one’s door, but you can also get delivery “Salvation.” The doorbell rang early this afternoon and, of course, the dogs went berserk. Fortunately, the front door has a glass door that opens permitting me to speak to people without the dogs leaping up all over them.

Two young men stood at the door and my first thought was that they were collecting for their college fund. I have had a few young people come by for that express purpose. They politely greeted me and asked if I would not mind answering a few survey questions regarding religion. “Sure” I said, relieved that they were not asking for money since that is in short supply these days.

“Are you Jewish?” the spokesperson of the two young men asked. “No” I answered, at first I thought this question odd; however, I quickly recalled that many of my neighbors are Jewish.

“At death, there are two possibilities heaven or hell and only Jesus can save you from hell.” I now appreciated why they had asked if I was Jewish. “That is an interesting take on God,” I said. “In the sixteenth century Teresa of Avila wrote, ‘If there was no reward of heaven, I would still serve thee and if there was no pain of hell, I would still fear thee. The hope of reward or the fear of punishment denotes an immature relationship, at best. Just apply that to any other relationship in life, e.g. friendship, family, or romantic relationship. How would you feel if someone close to you viewed your relationship in terms of obtaining a reward or fearing retribution? That attitude itself would constitute an offense and serve to undermine the relationship.

The two young men were processing all of this and I decided to illustrate what God wanted from us, and so I cited from the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus was asked about the afterlife in the Luke 10: 23-37. “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” The question, by a lawyer, was prompted because there were 614 laws that an observant Jewish person was expected to keep. To break one law, was to break them all. In the rabbinic tradition of questioning/discussion this question was posited, “What does God expect of me?” “What is essential, or central?”
This question is applicable to contemporary people as well, regardless of one’s religion (or lack thereof), “What must I do to achieve my full potential, to be truly whole and at peace?”

In the rabbinic tradition, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with two other questions. “What is written in the law [Torah/Bible]?” In addition, “How do you read it?” Incidentally, that second question is of critical importance, because our motive in reading any spiritual text, will determine its spiritual value/harm in our life.
The lawyer responded by citing a passage from Deuteronomy 6: 4-5 “Hear, Oh Israel!” that is prayed by observant Jewish people to this day, as Christians pray the “Our Father.” And Leviticus 19: 18, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus approves the lawyer’s quotes and says, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you shall live.”
Luke notes that the lawyer, “because he wished to justify himself” asked, “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus then tells the story of the Good Samaritan.

Interestingly, Samaritans were regard as being beyond any hope of eternal life since; they had comingled Judaism with pagan beliefs and practices. Their theological beliefs and religious practices were seen as flawed, heretical and impious. Jesus deliberately selects a suspect minority group who were believed beyond hope of eternal life to illustrate what God expects from us. I suppose that if Jesus told this parable in the USA today, it would be the story of the Good Faggot.

The Samaritan is “good” not because of what he believes, but because of how he treats others. He encounters a man who was mugged and left to die, unlike his “pious” contemporaries; the Samaritan compassionately tends the victim’s wounds and provides for his practical needs. To underscore the importance of practical love, Jesus concludes by directing the lawyer, “Go and do the same.” In essence, this is what God wants, bottom line, from each person.

God does not demand that we learn a dozen dead languages, obtain a doctorate degree in dogmatic, or moral theology. God does not expect that we follow a set of laws with unerring precision. God does expect that our relationships (with God, others and self) have as their hallmark practical love.

The two young men at my door thanked me politely, even though I could sense that they did not appreciate what I had said. I smiled as they walked on to the next-door and recalled a time in my youth when I, like they, had all the answers. The answer is not as important as the question. “What must I do?” Not what must I believe and how many people can I manage to impose my beliefs on.


Joe said...

Father Geoff,

Your anecdote illustrates one of the fundamental differences b/t Catholicism & Protestantism - as you surely know, the former believes that faith + good works leads to salvation, whereas the latter believes that faith alone is enough. Perhaps I'm biased, being a Cradle Catholic, but I always found the latter's approach to be empty, as well as intellectually & most importantly, morally lazy.

Unfortunately, our own church hierarchy has done very little if anything in the way of good works. Sure, there are lay people & religious who are doing so, but I don't see the institutional Church tackling poverty, injustice, etc. with nowhere near the same vigor as it does with opposing LGBT rights.

Father Geoff said...

Dear Joe,

Thank you for your intelligent and thought provoking comment. Rather than answering your points here, I've decided to write a post on these matters. I hope that's OK.

Thank you again, for your thoughtful comments.

JCF said...

Great answer, Fr Geoff!