“…that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way…”
How does a person know they are living a life worthy of the Lord?
Is this the same question as asking “How do I know that I am saved, that is, that I am at peace with God and will live with Him forever when I die?”
Well, it could be the exact same question….
Which might appear to connect with the question that we hear from the lawyer in the Gospel reading, Gospel reading this morningright? “Teacher…what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus says the lawyer is right with his answer: love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself…
The lawyer then asks, “Who is my neighbor?”
And here, frankly, he likely had part of our Old Testament reading in mind! In Leviticus 19:17 and 18, we read:
“Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
“‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
Jesus, however, doesn’t directly answer the man’s question about who his neighbor is.
Instead, He tells this lawyer a parable that is perhaps more famous than any other Jesus shared!
You know it well, right?
A man takes the dangerous path from Jerusalem to Jericho, and falls among robbers, who leave him naked and half-dead.
A man of the upper classes, a priest, then sees his plight and yet passes him by…
There has been much speculation regarding the reasons why the priest may have acted in this way, but it’s probably safe to say helping the man would have been terribly, terribly inconvenient for him to say the very least!
And then, in like fashion, a Levite passes the man by as well! Even if it would have almost certainly been less of an inconvenience for him, he nevertheless passes by too…
Well, the man was half-dead and naked after all… And without being able to identify someone by accent or clothing, one would not have even been able to tell if this was a fellow Israelite who needed assistance!
Finally, as I am guessing the vast majority of us, growing up in the church, learned as children… that there actually is one who is sensible!
There is one who does the good thing, the right thing, the humane and even obvious thing that probably most all of us as children believed should have been done!: the Samaritan (the least likely person!) helps the man.
Just like God in the Old Testament is said to bind up the wounds of His stricken people, this Samaritan cleans and softens the half-dead man’s wounds with oil, disinfects them with wine, and then binds them up! He puts the man on his own animal and brings him to an inn, where he continues to care for him at his own expense…
And then we hear Jesus speak:
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.
Jesus tells him, “Go and do likewise.”
So to the Jews who, generally speaking, hated the Samaritans – and to the Jews, many of whom did not believe that one should give to the ungodly or help sinners (see Sirach 12:1-7) – Jesus told this striking story of the Good Samaritan…
Who is my neighbor? In one sense, the answer is indeed “Everyone!”
Jesus has removed all limits as to who the neighbor could be, is….
And what about how Jesus transforms the Golden Rule here as well?
While at this point in history Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism had all basically said, “Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you….”
Jesus, of course, says that the whole of the law and the prophets is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you…”
So there you have it, right?
If you want to be sure that you will inherit eternal life…
If you want to be sure that you are at peace with God and will know His grace and kindness when you die….
If you want to know that you are living a life worthy of the Lord… then take this parable to heart!
“…be radical and proactive and energetic in doing good to others…” as one man puts it!
Don’t worry about who the neighbor is that you are required to take care of – be concerned about being a good neighbor, a merciful neighbor… and keep on doing that!
Don’t just thank God that you are at least enlightened here… you know, far more advanced than small-minded and racially-insensitive folks like that lawyer and the audience of the parable — but don’t be proud about this of course!
With an eye towards heaven, do good to your neighbor, do more good, and then do some more!
Perhaps you might want to consider giving something to anyone who looks like they might be in some kind of distress…
I live in the Twin Cities area, and I confess that I, cynical to the core, have gotten quite used to ignoring beggars and panhandlers… maybe you could be different though!
I mean, I know lots of reasons that that might actually be a really bad idea — after all, I really have rarely taken any action here and I have my reasons! — but some of the kids in the congregation today might be a bit confused about just why we shouldn’t double our efforts here…
Or think of creative ways that really could be helpful to those who need us!
So, are you thinking you can’t pull this off?
Then let me encourage you with the example of Mother Teresa…
Do you know about Mother Teresa?
Let me tell you a bit about this woman, and the man who introduced her to the world, Malcolm Muggeridge, by way of some quotes from a short article from a Roman Catholic source:
“Mother Teresa of Calcutta is one of the best-known saints today. Even before she was canonized [by the Roman Catholic Church] in 2016, in life she was sometimes referred to as the “saint of the gutters,” because of her work among the poorest of the poor [ – the “untouchables”! – ] in the slums of Calcutta.
But relatively few people know the person who made Mother Teresa so well-known.
In 1971, British writer Malcolm Muggeridge published Something Beautiful for God, a book about Mother Teresa and the work of the Missionaries of Charity. Muggeridge had been an atheist earlier in life but eventually became Christian. He was so impressed by Mother Teresa’s witness that he became Catholic in 1982, at age 79.
…Muggeridge was educated at Cambridge and began his career as a teacher in Egypt in the late 1920s. Shifting into journalism, he worked for newspapers around the world. Marrying Katherine Dobbs in 1927, he had an idealistic view of communism, and when the couple moved to Moscow in 1932, they felt that they would live out the rest of their life there.
But Muggeridge became disillusioned with communism. He and Gareth Jones, the Welsh journalist, were the only two to report on Stalin’s forced famine in Ukraine in 1932. Muggeridge’s reports, however, were heavily censored by the Manchester Guardian, his employer.”
Now, skipping ahead in the piece, more on the woman he helped make famous….
“Something Beautiful for God was based on a film Muggeridge had made for the BBC about Mother Teresa’s work in India. He related how during filming, one scene was taken in a “dark, cavernous building where the Sisters bring the dying from the streets outside.” The scene was “expected to be unusable because of the poor light,” he wrote.
“Actually, to the astonishment of all concerned, it came out bathed in an exquisite luminosity,” Muggeridge said. “Some of Mother Teresa’s light had got into it.”
Toward the end of his life, Muggeridge reflected on meeting Mother Teresa. In his 1988 book Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim, he wrote
When I first set eyes on her, … I at once realized that I was in the presence of someone of unique quality. This was not due to … her shrewdness and quick understanding, though these are very marked; nor even to her manifest piety and true humility and ready laughter. There is a phrase in one of the psalms that always, for me, evokes her presence: “the beauty of holiness” — that special beauty, amounting to a kind of pervasive luminosity generated by a life dedicated wholly to loving God and His creation. This, I imagine, is what the halos in medieval paintings of saints were intended to convey….”
One of the few things I agree with the recent Pope on is his contention that we live, in his words, in “the throwaway society”.
As one put it, Mother Teresa certainly did pick up the throwaways and brought them within the folds of Christ’s love….
I remember well the words one of my own spiritual mentors shared with me:
When we learn how to die, we learn how to live.
When I think of the sacrifices someone like Mother Teresa made – the little deaths she seemingly endured in this world – that phrase takes on increased weight for me.
I remember one of her actions particularly well. In the 1990’s she was involved in some convention about the well-being of children in Washington D.C., also attended by President Bill Clinton. When the topic of abortion came up, Mother Teresa looked everyone earnestly in the eye, and said, “Give them all to me”.
She could have taken care of a bunch of them, given the support she had gained for her work of compassion…
When I think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, it is difficult for me – in spite of the late famous atheist Christopher Hitchens’ attempts to destroy her reputation – to not think of Mother Teresa…
Since I mentioned Hitchens here, I’ll just say that I read his awful book on Mother Theresa, The Missionary Position and so perhaps I should say a bit more.
To get a sense of Hitchens’ overall posture here, in a debate with Dinesh D’Souza where D’Souza suggested that Mother Theresa did what she did for others out of love for God, Hitchens was disgusted by this.
As one commenter who enjoyed Hitchen’s arguments and antics put it: “My favorite part [of the debate] was Hitchens standing the[re] with his drink in his hand snorting dismissive[ly] into the microphone while D’Souza was talking about Mother Theresa’s “love of Christ” for the suffering.”
Hitchen’s argument was similar to Satan’s in the book of Job, even if Satan, unlike Hitchens, would not technically be an atheist.
Satan told God that Job only served Him because He blessed him on earth.
Hitchens said that Mother Theresa only did good because she believed God – who Hitchens did not believe in – would reward her in the life to come.
No, contra such ultimately childish argumentation such as Hitchen’s, one might say that Mother Theresa walked worthy indeed! – perhaps, it seems, even getting close to fulfilling that which Christ commanded the young lawyer in our Gospel reading to do…
Her life, in fact, is in part a salutary refutation of the Belgian humanist and euthanasia doctor Jan Berheim, who spoke of “a philosophy of taking control of one’s own existence and improving the objective conditions for happiness. There is an arrow of evolution”, he said, “that goes toward ever more reducing of suffering and maximizing of enjoyment….”
For Jan, this is all about us avoiding suffering, inconveniences, and increasingly exercising control over our own life and death….
No, again, contra such ultimately childish argumentation, one is hard-pressed to look at the writings, pictures, and films of Mother Teresa interacting with the poor of India and to think that she didn’t know that doing good – particularly by helping others with their most basic of needs and even entering into suffering with them – was certainly in one sense its own reward…
And I personally admire her for what she said about the unborn who she was told were unwanted — and hence were slated for elimination, abortion… — in a major public forum.
This woman called Mother, with the multitudinous resources she had been given by those wanting to support her good work at her disposal, looked her challengers in the eye (which I believe included the American President) and said to all “Give them all to me…”
So she radiated joy, compassion, and conviction….
On the other hand, we do also hear about her struggles….
In her diaries, this indeed saintly woman of Calcutta India cries out:
“I want God with all the power of my soul — and yet between us there is terrible separation.”
Elsewhere, Mother Teresa wrote:
“I want to love him as he has not been loved, and yet there is that separation, that terrible emptiness, that feeling of absence of God.”
“I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.”
Evidently, this kind of thing is not unknown among certain heroes of the church.
Another Catholic man named “St. John of the Cross described [this dark night of the soul that] many saints have experienced – [seemingly] a form of suffering exemplified by Christ himself, when he cried out on the cross…”
As one writer puts it: “In the striking words of [G.K.] Chesterton, this was when God himself seemed for an instant to be an atheist: ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’”
It certainly makes one wonder.
About the book of Job and beyond….
Why was Mother Teresa haunted by such thoughts?
Why was someone who seemingly devoted the whole of her existence to the work of the Lord apparently so unsure of where she stood?
Even if many Lutherans would likely insist that this was because Mother Teresa was relying on her own works to be saved I do not know for sure – and indeed, knowing even the horrible suffering and angst our own Lord knew when He suffered on the cross for our own sins I would not venture to answer such a question rashly or definitively… – but I do know what a good Lutheran preacher would have said to her in her distress…
Riffing off of today’s Colossians reading, something like:
“… [H]e has rescued you from the dominion of darkness and brought you into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom you have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
This forgiveness is for you too. Christ forgives you all of your sins. Do not trust your feelings, but His word of peace to you…You are His… He will never abandon you. ”
And these words would not just be for Mother Teresa….
Because she, for example – and not a lot of you other folks! – deserved it (while you do not)!
Of course not! None of us, not even Mother Teresa, deserve such a gift, even as He is eager to give it to us.
And to follow-up a bit more, maybe if we were given the chance to comfort Mother Teresa with the sweet suave of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we could have also talked about this question:
How does a person know they are living a life worthy of the Lord?
And, again, is this the same question as asking “How do I know that I am saved, that is, that I am at peace with God and will live with Him forever when I die?”
The answer is that it could be the exact same question, but it doesn’t have to be.
Because, of course, the Apostle Paul is in our Epistle reading encouraging we who are saved to walk worthy of the Lord… He is writing from the assumption that the Colossians already know forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ! That they are secure in Him…
As an organization that two of my younger boys are involved with puts it the following way, explaining Colossians 1:10:
“This struggle to walk worthy isn’t what saves us from God’s judgment – He’s already demonstrated His love toward us in providing a means of salvation through His grace – but we are called to live a life which demonstrates gratitude towards Him and shares His good news boldly with those who don’t have salvation (Ephesians 6:19; Mark 16:15; Rom 10:13-17).
So the ideals that we hold as our standard for “walking worthy” stem from learning all about God through His word. Walking worthy of those instructions comes from a proper sense of gratitude for His love, grace and mercy which has been demonstrated to us in the most precious of ways: the sacrifice of His only son on our behalf to save us from our sins…” (Trail life website)
Back to the parable, which, on the face of it, might seem to suggest to us that our salvation is ultimately by our works, that it is our “walking worthy” that earns us eternal life and rescues us from God’s judgment!
Not at all!
It does us well to remember that we are told that the lawyer both wanted to test Jesus and to justify himself.
That is, of course, rather important.
God does not want us to merit the Kingdom, after all, but to inherit it… because of His cross and resurrection…. by grace, through faith… for good works.
And so Jesus turns things around and tests this lawyer.
We can’t miss two points about this Gospel reading.
First of all, as Matt Perman puts it:
“…the point of the [Bible] in teaching the Golden Rule was not simply, or even mainly, to point the way to right behavior [much less tell us how we could do good the right way or enough to be saved]. It was first of all to say: “Look, you don’t live this way. None of you. And that’s a big deal. Israel went into exile for this. So you need a savior. You need to be rescued from your sins, from your hypocrisy in treating others the way you precisely would not want to be treated if you were in their position.”
Second, we can’t miss the true point of the Good Samaritan parable – and I would like to think that even as there are many millions of Christians trapped in a Roman Catholic doctrinal system that would teach them otherwise – most any other Christian who has access to the Gospels would be able to see this too…
That is, Who, ultimately, is the Neighbor?
Who is the Good Samaritan?
Who is the One who comes to not snuff out the smoldering wickick and break the bruised reed?
Who is the One who comes not to tie heavy burdens on our back but to remove them, and to invite us to work with Him in joy and not weariness or fear?
Who is the one who right after this parable in the book of Luke extols not the one who is busy trying to serve Him, but the one who is sitting, resting, at His feet?
Remember Mary and Martha?
Yes, this grace is for you, for me, for all!
Whether we are Mother Theresa, Malcolm Muggeridge, Christopher Hitchens, Jan Berheim, or worse – we must see that our need, the need of us all save none, is for Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan who binds up the wounds of those maimed and robbed by the devil, and who, as God’s True Lamb, takes away the sin of the world!
Be healed, breath easy, be blessed and rest!
And then, indeed….
Walk worthy in the salvation that is yours in Christ Jesus!