THE ORIGINAL GOSPEL IS GOD’S UNCONDITIONAL LOVE AND MERCY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ GAL 1:6-12; LUKE 10:25-37 ]
One of the greatest downsides of established churches, particularly the Catholic Church, is that the institution can become an obstacle to the Good News. Whilst every human organization needs institution to perpetuate its identity and beliefs, institutionalization can also hinder the power of the Good News because of bureaucracy and routine. This was surely the case of the Galatians. St Paul reprimanded them saying, “I am astonished at the promptness with which you have turned away from the one who called you and have decided to follow a different version of the Good News. Not that there can be more than one Good News; it is merely that some troublemakers among you want to change the Good News of Christ.” The Gospel was preached to them but instead of living by the freedom the Gospel gave them, they were tempted to return to Judaic practices, especially the observance of the Law of Moses and the rituals.
Indeed, the primary meaning of the Good News which St Paul preached is the unconditional love and mercy of God in Jesus Christ. This Good News, as St Paul reiterates, “is not a human message that I was given by men, it is something I learnt only through a revelation of Jesus Christ”. Indeed, the basis for conversion and rejoicing in the early Church is the concrete experience of the love and mercy of God in Christ. That we are saved from condemnation for our sins is not by our merits but purely by salvation through the gracious gift of God’s mercy and love received by faith. Salvation is by faith alone and not from anything else.
Consequently, St Paul was alarmed when some Jewish Christians tried to mislead the Christian converts in Galatians by imposing on them Jewish customs and traditions. For St Paul, this was tantamount to changing the Gospel to another version that is based on laws rather than on the grace and mercy of God. To forget the prior love and mercy of God and reduce the Christian life to one of simply obeying laws for St Paul is to return to the old way of life. The truth is that salvation is neither found through observance of the laws in the Jewish religion nor with a particular ethnicity. Salvation is not found through observance of the laws. lf that were the case, there would be no real freedom. What the Law does is to serve as a guide to an examination of our conscience and so indicate to us what we need to be forgiven for. Laws can only reveal to us our sinfulness and misery but cannot save us. Only Christ can make us right with God through His death and resurrection.
The gospel passage of today seems to contradict this truth, as Jesus apparently agreed that obedience to the law is the way to eternal life when He answered the lawyer by asking him, “What is written in the Law? What do you read there?’ He replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.’ ‘You have answered right,’ said Jesus ‘do this and life is yours.'” It appears that love of God and neighbour is a command. In itself, this is true.
Indeed, the scribe had the answer to where eternal life could be found. He knew the truth that love of God and neighbour is an inseparable bond, as Pope Benedict in his first encyclical, “God is Love” tells us. Yet, this bond can be lived out only when we have a prior experience of God’s unconditional love. Otherwise it is impossible to live out these two commandments. This explains why the scribe needed to justify himself and he tried to evade this truth by asking, “Who is my neighbour?” He knew the way but he did not have the power or the capacity to love his neighbour. Hence, Jesus told him the parable of the Good Samaritan. Having understood who his neighbour was did not mean that the scribe could now love as he should.
The truth is that the parable of the Good Samaritan must be understood in the context of one who has already experienced the love of God. The command to love God and neighbour is not so much an external law, but an inner law that comes from within one who has experienced the love of God. So it is not so much an obligation, but a love that springs from one’s personal encounter with God as an event and as a person. Such love is given in freedom, not as a duty but because we see Christ in others. Unfortunately, the scribe had not yet recognized Christ as the Good Samaritan.
We, too, can fall into this same predicament of the Galatians and the scribes. We know the way to eternal life. We have studied theology and scriptures. We know the laws in the bible and that of the Church. We know all the moral laws, of what we can or cannot do. Yet, we find that to maintain the bond between the love of God and neighbour is an almost impossible task. Like them, we have not yet come to realize that only the love of Christ in us can urge us on. Undoubtedly, many of us have chosen to serve in Church, or help the vulnerable in our midst because we have had a conversion experience or a personal encounter with the Lord. But over the years, we have forgotten the love of God for us. We forget this personal revelation given to us. Instead, we reduce our Christian life to one of fulfilling the laws. This explains why the initial zeal of serving the Church dies off after some time, because we have forgotten the gospel and rely on the laws instead. We are serving the Church now more out of duty, obligation and commitment rather than out of love. This is true also in marital life. Although it is true that love is not mere emotions alone but a commitment, one cannot live out this commitment purely out of duty without any experience of love. Only love can give us the capacity to endure to the end.
The scripture readings challenge us to reexamine the basis of our Christian identity. Are we still excited about the Lord? Do we get passionate when someone asks us about our faith, especially our relationship with Christ? Are we treating life as part of our vocation and an expression of our love for God and the Church, or are we simply waiting to live out our life span? We must do everything out of love for God, whether we live as children, parent, spouse, colleague, friend or as a religious. Indeed we must always bear in mind what St Paul extolled, “So now whom am I trying to please – man, or God? Would you say it is men’s approval I am looking for? If I still wanted that, I should not be what I am – a servant of Christ.”
Hence we must return to our prior experience of God’s unconditional love for us, the basis of the Good News that St Paul preached. Indeed the gospel exemplifies this truth in the story of the Good Samaritan. The Good News of God’s love is given to all, even to our enemies. It is not curtailed by laws which prevented the priest and Levite from coming to the assistance of the injured man. Jesus the Good Samaritan comes for everyone who is in need, injured or helpless. Jesus was truly a free person who was not limited by the laws, otherwise, he would not have been able to reach out to sinners and those marginalized by the Laws. Jesus who appreciates the Father’s love comes to extend His Father’s love to all, irrespective of the situation they are in. With the love of God in our hearts, we will have the compassion and strength to continue loving despite encountering rejection and even injustice.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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