Summary: The mandate to love our neighbor does not originate at all in his worth or our own virtue, but in the value of the image and likeness of God that is imprinted on him.
We have great children here at Holy Trinity. On July 1, on VBS Sunday, the kids made an offering to God for the education of Ellen and Anna, the daughters of ****, ****'s’ daughter-in-law, who had just passed away. The children gave generously, breaking their own piggy banks, in order to help others. What possible pay back can they expect to receive? What was done previously to have indebted them to the *** family? Our wonderful children saw people who were in need, who had fallen into the hands of that dread robber, death, and been stripped and beaten. They came and saw what had happened, and they had compassion. They became like the good Samaritan. They were neighbors, as were the other members of Holy Trinity who also assisted.
Talk about love, by itself, is cheap. We could say, “Yes, we love the *** family.” And it’s just “Blah blah blah”, unless it really means something. If in fact is does mean something, we will do something. St. Paul rejoiced over the Colossian church because he heard of their faith and love. How did he know that it was genuine? Because it was made manifest in action. His blessing to them that they continue to do this is powerful. He prays that God help them “live a life worth of the Lord” and “bear fruit in every good work.”
Jesus shows us in our Gospel lesson today that God calls us to love our neighbor for their worth to Him and for the health of our own souls, not for our neighbor’s usefulness to us. Turn in your Bible to Luke 10:25.
An expert in the law, a lawyer, asks Jesus a legal question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Sounds like an excellent question. But what is this inheritance of eternal life? The inheritance of the Israelites was Canaan. The inheritance of Levi was YHWH Himself; this was the higher calling of Israel. Abraham saw his inheritance not only as an earthly land, but also as the Kingdom of Heaven. “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). Eternal life is not simply being “out there.” Eternal life is dwelling in the Heavenly City; it is coming into our possession of the true Promised Land. Notice, also how the lawyer asks, “What must I do.” Our inheritance is not guaranteed, unless we abide by the terms of the contract, of the covenant.
Jesus responds by asking him for his own answer, instead of giving the lawyer the answer that he already knows. Some people can learn lessons by being told. Other folks need to see, feel, touch, to learn it for themselves. So Jesus answers the lawyer in familiar language: “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” Jesus asked the lawyer for legal precedent, and for the interpretation of that law.
The lawyer responded with the Great Commandment. He ties all the objects of our love all under the same verb, to love; that is our deed. He understood that love of God is primary and involves complete and undivided love in heart, soul, strength, and mind. Yet this is not separable from love of neighbor. For no love of God can exist except love that expresses its fullness in love of neighbor. We have a personal relationship with God, but He has placed us in a community, the Church. He has put all men into societies and governments, where we must live together. We cannot live our lives as good Christians separated from other men. Did I give myself birth? Did I baptize myself a Christian? Did I teach and instruct myself in God’s ways? No! My neighbors did all these things for me, and for what benefit of their own? They were my neighbor because they loved God.
"No man is an island, entire of itself / Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main / If a clod be washed away by the sea Europe is the less,/ as well as if a promontory were / as well as if a manor of thy friend or of thine own were. / Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. / And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls. / It tolls for thee." (Meditation of John Donne)
Our life is not removeable from our neighbors’. When the bell tolls for them (death knell, alarum, call to prayer) it tolls for us. We must love God and neighbor fully in order to fulfill the Law.
Jesus agreed with his answer. There really wasn’t anything more to add to this. When one loves God, love of neighbor naturally follows. And these two are the basis for all the Law and the Prophets and is the requirement of the Gospel. If we do this, we shall live.