7/14/13, Yeah but...

Deuteronomy. 30:10-14, Colossians 1:15-20, Luke 10:25-37

Today the gospel reading tells us about a religious expert who intended to test Jesus.  He asked Jesus what is required to gain everlasting life. Aware that the man was very schooled in the Law, Jesus knew he could recite the answer verbatim.  Every good Jew, after all, is required to say the shema in the morning and at night.  It is also repeated throughout Jewish prayer liturgies.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength,with all your soul and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 

“Good man,” says Jesus.  “You got the answer right.  Go do this and you will live.”

But the lawyer wasn’t willing to give up his superiority so easily. Our passage describes him this way: “But the expert in the Law, seeking self-justification, pressed Jesus further.”  The lawyer was looking for a way to one-up Jesus.

This incident reminds me of experiences I’ve had with children. Even though they know what the proper and expected behavioral rules are for family peace and their own well being, they will still seek to one-up authority and justify themselves with a “yeah, but” argument or a decisively rebellious action.  Rather than just do what they need to do, they create the need for argument or an unhappy chastisement. The final outcome is that they still just need to do what they need to do if they are going to be in good relationship with their parents.

The stories of scripture over many years of human history demonstrate time and time again the sad human condition of resistance to Divine Law.  We are well-aware of what is required for us to live in peace and harmony with our Creator and with one another: Love God and love neighbor. Yet, we persist in this obstinate “yeah, but…” resistance. Something in us doesn’t want to fully yield to the requirements of self-sacrificing love. 

Today’s Old Testament reading is kind of a round-up of the detailed Mosaic Law recorded in the preceding 25 chapters of the book of Deuteronomy.  Moses tells the people of Israel that this law is not too difficult to keep because it is already written in the hearts of people.  God’s law- the law of love- resides within humans because they have been created in God’s image. They are meant to become the very means through which Divine love is spoken and enacted towards others.    It’s too bad that the designers of the lectionary shortened this passage because the entire context includes this summary: “See, I have set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity… Choose life, so that you and your descendents may live…” (Deut. 30:15,19)

This is the text that the lawyer already knew and the text to which Jesus was referring when he said to him, “Do this and you will live.”  Choose life.  To which answer the lawyer gave his “yeah, but…”  Yeah, but who is my neighbor? And what is my responsibility to a neighbor?  How far does being God’s love to another person go?

This question, meant to put Jesus in an embarrassing place, simply gave him a chance to do what he often did: tell a story.  So let me tell you a modern version of Jesus’ parable.

A good Samaritan of our day was walking home late one night when he came upon a party-going, intoxicated man on the sidewalk. Wanting to help, he asked the fellow, 'do you live here?’ ''Yep'.

'Would you like me to help you upstairs?' 'Yep'.

When they got up on the second floor, the kind person asked 'Is this your floor?' 'Yep'.

Then the good Samaritan got to thinking that maybe he didn't want to face the man's irate wife.  Perhaps she would think they had been out partying together. So, he opened the first door he saw and shoved the drunken man through it, then returned downstairs.

However, when he went back outside, there was another man in a similar condition. So he asked that guy, 'Do you live here?' 'Yep'.

'Would you like me to help you upstairs?' 'Yep'.

So he did and put him in the same door as he had the first man. Then he went back downstairs. To his surprise, there was a third inebriated man. So he started over to him.

But before he got there, the liquor-lubricated fellow staggered over to a policeman and cried 'Please officer, protect me from this man. He's been doing nothing all night long but dragging me upstairs and throwing me down the elevator shaft!

What’s the point of THAT story, you may say?  Well, we might ponder exactly where this “good Samaritan”, well-intentioned as his heart was, still experienced his own “yeah, buts…”  He was willing to escort the man up the stairs but reluctant to face the unpleasant consequences of encountering a troubled wife.  Yeah, but… what if I get blamed for what happened?  What if there’s a bunch of hungry kids in that apartment- do I have to feed them?  Do I have to report this to the child protective authorities?  What will my own wife say if I get home later than she expects me?

As one reads through the gospels, it’s hard not to notice the many times that Jesus speaks in very directive language to his disciples.  FYI, I’ve made available for your reflection a list of 50 of these commands.  Do these things, Jesus says, and you will live.  It’s not that good works save you from hell.  Rather, you will live in the sense of fully experiencing relationship in the Kingdom of God.

These individual commands are multiple ways in which humans are intended to work out the great commandment: to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.  But have you ever noticed the many “yeah, buts…” that come up in response to these commands?   I know that my own life is replete with many excuses for not loving God and neighbor to the nth degree. 

“Yeah, but…”  this is a topic to be continued with next week’s scriptures and homily.  You know those books kids read where the story goes just so far and then you get to create your personal ending?  This week, I invite you along with me to consider the “yeah buts…” of your own life. Consider where the faith adventure might take you next if you took the Law of Love seriously.

 And we’ll talk again next Sunday. 

By Sandi Demaster 


50 Commands of Christ - Summary List

1. Repent—Matthew 4:17, Luke 13:3

2. Let not your heart be troubled—John 14:27, John 16:33, Matt. 6:25-26,

3. Follow me—Matthew 4:19

4. Rejoice—Matthew 5:12

5. Let your light shine—Matthew 5:16

6. Honor God’s law—Matthew 5:17-19

7. Be reconciled—Matthew 5:24-25

8. Do not commit adultery—Matthew 5:27-30

9. Keep your word—Matthew 5:33-37

10. Go the second mile—Matthew 5:38-42

11. Love your enemies—Matthew 5:44

12. Be perfect—Matthew 5:48

13. Practice secret disciplines (giving, praying,fasting)—Matthew 6:1-18

14. Lay up treasures in heaven—Matthew 6:19-21

15. Seek first the kingdom of God—Matthew 6:33

16. Judge not—Matthew 7:1-2

17. Do not throw your pearls to pigs—Matthew 7:6

18. Ask, seek, and knock—Matthew 7:7-8

19. Do unto others—Matthew 7:12

20. Choose the narrow way—Matthew 7:13-14

21. Beware of false prophets—Matthew 7:15

22. Pray for those who spread the word—Matthew 9:37-38

23. Be as shrewd as serpents—Matthew 10:16,

24. Fear God. Do not fear man— Matthew 10:28 (Also Luke 12:4-5)

25. Listen to God’s voice—Matt. 11:15, 13:9,13:43, Mark 4:23, Luke 14:35

26.Take my yoke—Matthew 11:29

27. Honor your parents—Matthew 15:4

28. Beware of false teaching—Matthew 16:6, 11-12

29. Deny yourself—Luke 9:23 (Also Matthew 10:38 and Mark 8:34)

30. Do not despise little ones—Matthew 18:10

31. Go to Christians who offend you—Matthew 18:15

32. Forgive offenders—Matthew 18:21-22

33. Beware of covetousness—Luke 12:15

34. Honor marriage—Matthew 19:6, 19:9

35. Lead by being a servant—Matthew 20:26-28

36. Make the church a house of prayer for all nations—Mark 11:17

37. Pray in faith—Matthew 21:21-22, John 15:7

38. Bring in the poor—Luke 14:12-14

39. Render unto Caesar—Matthew 22:19-21

40. Love the Lord—Matthew 22:37-38

41. Love your neighbor—Matthew 22:39

42. Be born again—John 3:7

43. Await my return—Matthew 24:42-44

44. Celebrate the Lord’s supper—Matthew 26:26

45. Watch and pray—Matthew 26:41

46. Keep my commandments—John 14:15

47. Feed my sheep—John 21:15-16

48. Make and baptize disciples—Matthew 28:19

49. Teach disciples to obey—Matthew 28:20

50. Receive God’s power—Luke 24:49