Today marks the one-year anniversary of the day that Gov. Jared Polis announced the first confirmed cases of coronavirus in Colorado. No one will bake a cake to celebrate this day. Ever.
What we can celebrate is the way our community has come together to get people vaccinated and thereby hope to return to normal. Whatever that may be.
It has been a taste of citizens helping citizens, of genuine sacrifice in the cold and wind to serve our fellows as volunteers at vaccine clinics. Turns out, helping people is what Christians (and most other faiths) are supposed to do!
In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, a lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” Then the lawyer asks the question all of us in America want answered: And who is my neighbor?
Jesus then tells the tale of the Good Samaritan, who cares for an unknown victim of assault and robbery, when two “religious” folks passed by on the other side of the road. Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Looks like a clear-cut answer and no mystery. But, when we look at the characters who populate this story, we begin to see its impact. Priests were the highest religious leadership among the Jews, a Levite was the designated lay associate of the priest. In contrast, the Samaritan was a foreigner and unclean, and considered an enemy of the Jewish people. I’ll bet the lawyer wasn’t thrilled by Jesus’ answer.
Then there is the rich young man found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 19: “’Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these; what do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’”
Jesus is pretty sneaky here. We all hold on to our possessions, I guess because we are not perfect and like the questioner, we might also miss the short phrase: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That is not one of the big Ten Commandments that used to decorate the back walls of the sanctuary in many churches, along with the Lord’s Prayer.
We find in Mark’s Gospel a scribe who asks Jesus which is the first commandment. Jesus quotes the Shema: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Seems simple, but I wonder.
I am reminded of a quote from the Catholic lay theologian G.K. Chesterton. “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
The Rev. Dr. Mike Fay is rector of Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Salida.