The Faithfulness and Generosity of God, Part VI   Leave a comment

Above:  The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Image in the Public Domain


For the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970


Almighty God, who hast given us thy Word as a lamp for our feet:

keep thy Word ever before us, so that, in times of doubt or temptation,

by the light of thy truth we may walk, without stumbling,

in the way of thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 120


Jeremiah 9:23-24

2 Peter 1:16-21

Matthew 20:1-16


The issue is not, “who is my neighbor?” but “can we recognize that the enemy might be our neighbor and can we accept this disruption of our stereotypes?”

–Amy-Jill Levine in The Jewish Annotated New Testament (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2011), 123


Jesus’ interlocutor, the Jewish lawyer, holds a restrictive definition of “neighbor”:  his question, “Who is my neighbor” presupposes that some people are not neighbors.

–Michael Fagenblat, “The Concept of Neighbor in Jewish and Christian Ethics,” 542, in The Jewish Annotated New Testament (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2011)


…the lawyer…attempted to save face by asking a further question, “Just a minute.  Exactly who is my neighbor?”…He was really asking, “How far does my responsibility go here?  What, in fact, constitutes neighborliness, and who qualifies to receive the love called for in the Law?”  He might have been asking, “What is the least I am required to do to get by?”…Jesus, however, turned in the other direction altogether and said, “You’re to think of yourself as a neighbor.”  The question isn’t, “Is such and such a person worthy of my love?” but rather, “Am I willing to take what I have, what I know, and what I can do and place all this at the disposal of another person’s needs or growth?”

–John Claypool, Stories Jesus Still Tells:  The Parables (New York:  McCracken Press, 1993), 101-102, 105


Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance in the Bible.  God expects much of us and enables us to fulfill those expectations.  We usually experience God as the Holy Spirit, probably.  That, at least, is the theologically approved term, according to Christian orthodoxy.  I, without straying into heresy, note that the Greek word we translate as “person,” as in “First Person of the Trinity,” “Second Person of the Trinity,” and “Third Person of the Trinity,” means “masks.”

Our one acceptable glory is in God, who is generous, according to the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.  The workers must work, of course, but all receive a daily wage, even if they work a partial work day.  The Kingdom of Heaven, we read, is like that employment situation in the vineyard.  Contrary to the ubiquitous Dalman consensus, the Kingdom of Heaven is not a reverential circumlocution, as Jonathan Pennington writes.  No, the Kingdom of Heaven is the fully realized reign/realm of God on the Earth.  No, the Kingdom of Heaven is apocalyptic.

God’s ways are not ours, overall.  They overlap occasionally, by accident, perhaps.  Extravagant divine extravagance, as in the parables, certainly contradicts the corresponding way of the world.  One function of the rhetoric of the Kingdom of Heaven is to point out the ways in which human patterns are deficient.

Go is generous, with standards for beneficiaries of grace to adopt.  We often prefer cheap grace, so we can blithely follow familiar patterns of thinking and behaving, without nagging moral qualms.  We are also frequently stingy certainly compared to God.  Often we are like the lawyer in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10); we ask,

Who is my neighbor?

We really mean,

Who is not my neighbor?

Jesus tells us that all people are our neighbors.  We do not like that answer.  Our ways are deficient.

They can be less so in this life, by grace, though.





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