Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord
and will be repaid in full.
Unfortunately, due to our actions throughout history, people often look at Christianity as a religion of judgment, retaliation, and retribution. To me, this is both ironic and sad; the Gospel given to us by Christ offers salvation to all people. Repentance and the spirit of mercy create the cornerstone of our faith. The actions of Jesus give the entire world an opportunity to be born from above and to live as humans were meant to live—as God’s people who possess the capacity to perform acts of charity promptly, diligently, and frequently.
One of the realities of our Episcopal identity lies in the fact that we are not a doctrinal religion. It doesn’t mean we don’t have rules. We do. Some really good rules. These rules or commands lead us to the foundation of our Episcopal ethos—relational theology. Our love for God can only be manifested by our love for our neighbor.
Therefore, the answer to Cain’s question, am I my brother’s keeper is a resounding YES. When Joseph in chapter 39 of Genesis refuses the advances of Potiphar’s wife, he verbalizes the essence of relational theology by saying, “How can I do this great wickedness [against Potiphar and his wife] and sin against God?” Joseph acknowledges that a wicked deed done against another human being is a wicked deed done against God. In 1 John 4, we hear the author state, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” Matthew 25 reminds us, “When I was hungry, you gave me food.” Therefore, when we give someone in need food, we also feed God.
I have an opportunity to share this world view as a school chaplain. I love teaching scripture to high school students who come from diverse religious backgrounds. They bring unique insights to the many passages we study, and I always learn something new from them. As much as we learn from one another, the major takeaway I hope they gain upon finishing the course centers on their understanding of relational theology. I hope they comprehend the Bible as a book of compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance rather than a book of law and order. I point out that the Bible illustrates how people and God enter a partnership which benefits other people.
For example, Moses entered a partnership with God to bring freedom to the Israelites. Moses resisted God’s call to liberate the captives. However, in the end, Moses demonstrated that his love for God had to be manifested in his love for the people. My students are very open to the concept of relational theology. To them it makes perfect sense that God would create humankind to love one another in order to show love for their creator. In the end, they realize as the Letter to the Hebrews states, we are “holy partners in a heavenly calling,” a calling to simply love God by loving our neighbor.
When we move from the Hebrew scriptures to the gospels, my students point out how Jesus manifests his love for God by loving all people. They observe how Jesus breaks down barriers that society puts in place to keep people separated. They analyze how Jesus embraces the marginalized and invites them into the center. They evaluate how the rules of Jesus’ day form roadblocks preventing people from experiencing a sense of belonging within their own communities. Jesus focuses on relationships with ordinary people to demonstrate that God sent him to “into the world [not to] condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
In the end, my students realize that scripture calls us into relationship with God and with one another. Yes, we are our neighbor’s keeper, and Jesus expands the definition of neighbor to make it universally more inclusive, meaning even our enemies are our neighbors. Afterall, God loves our enemies just as much as God loves us. Therefore, if we are to love God, then we must love who God loves.
[Image Credit: James, Laura. Sermon on the Mount, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.]
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