And who is my neighbor?
This parable is so rich, so densely packed with content that I think we should be unpacking it until the Three Woes (Rev 9:12) are all passed and we are praising God in glory.
The young lawyer is there to test Jesus, and – seeking to Justify Himself – he says, yeah, I get that love God love neighbor stuff, but who is my neighbor?
There are, I think, two ways to read this. So let’s ride this train first: We might – as I have been in many recent meditations – read the question as directed to the Church which is the Body of Christ. Someone, the world maybe, is asking us, the Church, what they must do to be saved and we tell them all the Gospel: Love God, Love Neighbor. I think that is a fair reading, and it might go well with the thoughts from yesterday, where, in proclaiming the Gospel, the Church might be called to martyrdom. I think, however, there is another thing here for there is the entirety of the parable that follows. And, let’s face it, “Justifying Himself” really sounds more like a first-person problem in the Church than outside. Nowadays the outsiders really don’t care about us at all.
So the Church comes to Jesus and says “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus gives us a theological answer… and we got that down, right, Gentle Reader? So we want to rest on our theological laurels, our theolaurels, as it were. We Are Orthodox.
But then Jesus pulls us aside and points at Doctors Without Borders, which has no creed at all but runs around the world – even in war-torn areas – and takes care of people. He points out the Sikhs who feed millions of people in their temples every year simply to celebrate the abundance one has when one shares. Jesus leans in and quietly whispers (in the words of my friend, Ana) “Sometimes the Pagans are better Christians than the Christians…”
Jesus waves that vision away and points at medical ministries and local food pantries, run by Papists and Protestants – even ultra-liberal Protestants, with Ordained Women and Gays! He shows how they give away metric tonnes of food to the hungry, giving them free healthcare at the same time. He says, again, “Sometimes the Papists and Prots are better…”
Jesus notes the actions of a few Orthodox monastics who happily avoid going to where “traditional piety” would assign them and to go live in urban centers, feeding and caring for those around them without bothering to ask about their theology. How Orthodox missionaries are not “preaching” with words, but healing and feeding. How even church door opened in the name of mercy alone can let it thousands of starving souls…
Then he looks us in the eyes and says “Which of these, do you think, is proved neighbor?”