Friday, June 16, 2017

Proverbs 14:21 --- Loving the World and Christ's Family

Proverbs 14:21
Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.

There are two contrasts in our proverb.  "Whoever despises his neighbor" is contrasted with "he who is generous to the poor."  "Is a sinner" is contrasted with "blessed is."

If the two great commandments are first to love God with all our heart, and second, to love our neighbor as ourselves, then we cannot despise our neighbor.  The word "despises" in Hebrew "means treating with contempt, discarding one as worthless."[1]   Kitchen adds that the verb includes belittling or ridiculing our neighbor.[2]

Our Lord teaches us who our neighbor is in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Before we get to the parable, we need to see what leads up to it:
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And 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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10)

This lawyer asks Jesus a question that contains a contradiction.  One does not "do" anything to receive an inheritance.  An inheritance is a gift.  Jesus answered the question of the expert in the Old Testament with a question.  This expert answered Jesus' question correctly.  If one keeps God's Law perfectly, then one will have eternal life.  But, of course, no one has ever kept God's instruction perfectly, except Jesus.  This led the man to ask a second question, which leads to the parable of the good Samaritan:

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

The lawyer wants to justify himself, to get God's approval, by doing good.  But in order to do this, he must make the Law doable!  This means he must narrow the scope of the word neighbor.  So he asks Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus' answer flows from the parable.  Essentially our neighbor is whoever comes across our path in need.  Neighbor, therefore is a broad term.  We don't get to pick and choose our neighbors.

The parable, though, has another dimension, which was seen by early church fathers like Origen, Ambrose, and Augustine.  They believed that the Good Samaritan was a symbol for Jesus.  I agree.  Jesus came in great compassion from the heavenly Jerusalem to the low point of Jericho.  Jericho is located near the aptly named Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on earth.  Jesus was the ultimate neighbor to the human race, coming from heaven to earth to offer himself as the supremely costly sacrifice, which alone can heal us of the fatal wound of sin.

Therefore, as Christ's disciples, we must love the inhabitants of the world.  We must go into the world and make disciples of all nations.  We proclaim the only answer to the fatal wound of sin.  We must love, not despise, the world by bringing our unbelieving neighbors the gospel.

But we must also love in an even greater way "the poor," who have come to Christ from out of the world.  For such believers are in the family of Jesus, and we are all brothers.  How we treat these brothers, Jesus teaches, is how we treat him.  Great blessing and beatitude comes to those who treat his family members well, for Jesus is united to them.  Thus, our Lord will say on the last day:

"'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40 And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'" (Matthew 25:34-40)


[1] Ross, Proverbs, 988.
[2] Kitchen, Proverbs, 314.

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