An Unwelcome Conclusion: Nearing the Radiance of God

Originally posted at:

by the Rev. Tad de Bordenave

Allow me the liberty of conflating the dialogue of the lawyer and Jesus with the parable of the Good Samaritan. That places the lawyer and the Samaritan side by side. I have written about the insights the lawyer gained from the Samaritan and his compassion. Here I take the tale one step further to the full radiance of the kingdom of God.

As will be clear, that would only come with the love of the one for the other.
That is the unwelcome conclusion: The lawyer must build a friendship with the Samaritan – a trusting, honest, open and accepting friendship with this man whom he was raised to hate.

For these two men, loving one another meant facing differences not just on the surface – one a Jew, the other a Samaritan – but all those crouching below. For it is down there where the differences harden to hostilities.

They must look squarely at them all — accent, skin color, habits, clothes and foods, social customs, background to the faith each has. Not a welcome task, but the more that is uncovered, the closer the two become.

One thing must be clear. All the admonitions to deep fellowship are meant for members of the Body of Christ. These are not about fixing up a bad relationship in town. What needs repair are the relationships of fellow Christians. That is where God intends to show his glory.

St. Paul speaks to this in a simple and straightforward statement: “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).

How did Christ Jesus receive us? In full knowledge of our sins, prejudices, hatreds, and pride. Whom did he receive? The Roman stooge, Matthew, and the revolutionary, Simon.

If he has accepted us, who are we to not accept people we don’t like? And so we identify the Samaritans in our lives, in our prejudices and hostilities, and we remember how Christ received them. We are to live in open harmony with others – all others – in the body of the church. Each and every one of them.

Our preference is to build walls around those others; we want no part with them, don’t like them, don’t want to ever need to interact with them. But Paul claims that Jesus has broken down those walls that divide, and with them we are declared fellow citizens of heaven. Those people we keep at a distance, those we wish won’t be with us in heaven, those are the very ones that Jesus Christ has made to be fellow citizens with us.

The key is, as Paul wrote, “for the glory of God.” The glory of God is discerned in how we all live together. There is no way I could kindly position myself beside some of my chosen despicable acquaintances but for the grace of God. Then it follows, Christ’s love shines through in the way we come close and blend.

Paul has this in mind with this description of the church: God’s Holy Temple. The temple is not just made up of people, believers in Christ, but the temple has joints, mortar, parts placed together, into a design. In that design the grace and goodness of God radiate. What other explanation could there when we sinners actually enjoy mutual companionship?

Often, at funerals I have heard the desire that the deceased be with another deceased member of the family — like mother and father reunited. May it be so! I have godly grandparents I look forward to meeting and enjoying. But the communion of the saints deserves a wider scope than just our acquaintances.

I envision the real possibility of being given assigned seating for decades with a family well beyond my time and geography. Maybe a family who were victims of Tamerlane’s terror. He slaughtered about 17 million people, many of whom were our brothers and sisters in Christ. So quite possibly there I find myself with a family of these saints. Then would begin the challenge of learning and loving these fellow citizens – talk about strangers! — in Christ’s Body.

This challenge is one that we largely escape. We inhabit a monochrome lifestyle. All is the same in our churches, also movies, schools, book groups, neighborhoods. That is our preference. While we find comfort in these relations, they make lousy preparation for the society that awaits us on the other side.

Some are better prepared. Certainly among them I would place those who have a cross-cultural marriage. I imagine for them the questions just keep coming. New things appearing, behaviors needing explanation, patterns and habits don’t make sense, ideas that surprise. All that and more, much more, deeper efforts to understand, to reconcile, to accept and respect, and to appreciate. For them, sitting with a family from Tamerlane’s day would be just one more discovery to appreciate.

If the Holy Temple comes later in heaven, then its shadows, its beauty, must be evident now. And that is exactly what Jesus says. He declares the earthly Holy Temple as the centerpiece of Gospel presence and power on earth. The unity of the people in the church is the most visible way of showing the Gospel. “Because of the way you all live together, the whole world will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:25).

My hunch is that he made this tight connection because he anticipated that unity would be elusive. The apostle John made numerous references to the need to love one another. In his short letters he makes more mention of the need than Paul does in his massive collection. As John’s letters came much later in the life of the church, again my hunch is that division within the church caused John to repeat warnings and encouragements: “A new commandment I give you – that you love one another.”

And today? We bring to the Body of Christ a bland tapestry of monochrome lives. Nevertheless, the spiritual disciplines of building trusting and honest friendship still call us. If we respond rightly, we must first look inside and identify our grudges and resentments, our prejudices of politics or color or accent, and then acknowledge, repent, and draw closer.

The preparation will end. Then we will join the lawyer and the Samaritan and countless others. Our joy will be the fellowship of grace and mercy shared with fellow citizens. Our light will be the majesty and the radiance of the eternal God, with the love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All will seem natural, just the way the Lord ever intended.

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