13 Sep 2015
“The commandment we have from [God] is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (1 John 4:21) In the name …
For Christians there is an awful lot packed into that one word love. And that reminded me of a joke told to me by Fr. Sen. Krusienski a little while back. Back in the early 1900’s, two brothers owned a ranch together. They had plenty of cows, but only one bull, then one day the bull died. The older brother heads into town to buy another bull and tells the younger brother that he’ll have to come and pick it up if and when he finds one. The older brother goes to the auction with $500 and finds the perfect bull for $499. He has one dollar left and heads over to the telegraph office to send the message to his brother to come with the trailer to get the bull. He asks how much it costs to send a message and the telegraph guy tells him it’s a dollar a word. The older brother explains to him about needing to get a message to his younger brother to come and get the bull. The guy says there’s nothing he can do. It’s a dollar a word. Then the older brother gets an idea and says, “Hey, send my brother the word comfortable.” “Comfortable?” the guys asks. “How’s your brother going to know and come with the trailer by sending the one word comfortable?” The older brother tells the telegraph guy, “My younger brother – not such a good reader so as he’s sounding out the syllables he’ll hear: come-for-the-bull.” And just like that older brother got a whole lot packed into the one word comfortable so does Christianity when it comes to the word love. It means so much.
Take this morning’s Gospel parable of the Good Samaritan as an example. I think this may be the most famous of all of Jesus’ parables. But the church is careful and makes sure to include the introduction to this parable as well. A lawyer comes up to Jesus and tests Him by saying, “What must I do?” His question is couched in legal terms. He’s basically asking what somebody else demands of him. Jesus won’t let him settle for this. It’s not about law; it’s about love. Jesus’ parable is going to try and help the lawyer see the difference. Nobody gives a testimonial or writes a eulogy and says the person is or was law-abiding. Staying out of jail is not a huge moral or humanitarian accomplishment. It’s the things we do from the heart, the acts that are selfless, the kindnesses shared, the help offered, the empathy we show, the donations offered – these are the things that define the good.
Let me try to explain the difference by a comparison. I met a person who was willing to make a contribution of about half a million dollars, but only if the contribution would be counted as a tax write-off that he could then use for his own benefit. No write-off, no donation. I saw another person quite literally take a winter coat off his back and give it to a person in need. He did this so quietly and without a word ever said afterwards that I almost missed the whole thing. The first act is so much larger in size than the second, but it is the second act that shines so much brighter as a true act of charity and of brotherly love. “What must I do?” cannot inspire the heart-felt motive of “What should I do?” and this is what Jesus wants the lawyer and each of us to think about today. What should I do?
There’s a second crucial message that can be found only when we read the introduction along with the parable. The lawyer lists the Two Commandments of Love, to love God and to love our neighbour. I think a lot of people would expect Jesus to then take this as an opening to talk more about God. That seems like the logical place to go to answer the question about “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Instead, Jesus tells the beautiful story of the Good Samaritan, the beautiful story about brotherly love. Mary Ellen gave me this tee-shirt. It says, “Smile, God Loves You!” What I really like about the shirt is the smile face. It’s looking to the side. Smile, God loves you – so now go and share that blessing with the person next to you. Smile on them so that they can smile too. Or, as John says to us this morning, “Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” Sure, Jesus convinces me that God loves me, and I love God, but the parable of the Good Samaritan points us away from the religious sentiment that says God is only satisfied by the stuff of theology and liturgy that deals directly with God. The choice of Jesus’ answer in this parable teaches us that God is as selfless as the Good Samaritan. God is honoured not only by what we do for Him directly. God appreciates as an act of our faith what we do for each other too. Again, it’s all about love.
The introduction to the parable of the Good Samaritan is important, but equally important is what Luke tells us after the parable. It’s the heartwarming story of Lazarus’ sister Mary seated with the other disciples listening to Jesus’ words, taking in everything that He has to offer. Her example of religious contemplation is praised by Jesus who then promises, “‘It will not be taken from her.’” (10:42) He appreciates it too. What we do as worship, what we do to praise God, has to be seen as a blessing. Lazarus’ sister Mary counted her time with Christ as a privilege that nothing else could surpass. She wouldn’t have given up that opportunity to be with Jesus for anything. What we do in church, in prayer, in all things spiritual, we do as a blessing for us. It is one of the most unfair corruptions of worship to call this an obligation. This is a place of spiritual renewal, and some would even say physical. This is a place to feel peace, maybe even joy. Brotherly love is not the whole story. It’s not able to replace worship. Instead, the two complement each other. It is from this place that we then derive the power to go out into the world renewed so that we can show God’s sidewise smile at the people around us. God loves us – this we feel here. So let us take that love with us wherever we go from here and share it with whomever we meet, but especially those most in need. May this be our Feast of Brotherly Love prayer, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
In the name …
Fr. Randolph Calvo