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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 15, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
July 11, 2010

Luke 10 25-37

Law and Gospel’

At the Theological College we had a very learned Lecturer in Liturgical Studies by the name of Graham Hughes, and one of the important distinctions Graham was keen to impart is the distinction between “law” and “gospel”. Students, it was hoped, would grasp the distinction as one pertaining to grammar – and thus learn to preach the Gospel, the Good News, as opposed to mere laws/rules. The distinction is made, wisely, in terms of grammar – rather than, say, in terms of Jewish-Christian or Catholic-Evangelical polemic.

As I recall, the examples went something like this. When a preacher employs the grammar of law, he or she says, “This is what we should believe”, or “This is what we should do”, or “This is what we should not do”. When a preacher employs the grammar of gospel, he or she says, “Because God has done such-and-such, we are invited to do such-and-such” or “As God is a God who wills such-and-such, therefore we are created/saved/sustained according to God’s will”.

(The grammar of gospel, we might add, tends to avoid legalistic language like “such-and-such” in favour of concrete examples from daily life!) And the grammar of gospel is theological – it affirms God’s being, God’s initiative and promise, as grounds for life and hope … Our life together, here and now. Our earthly hopes of a heavenly commonwealth to come.

In today’s Gospel from Luke 10, Jesus transmutes law to gospel.

The question concerning eternal life is put by a lawyer. And at first, it seems, the lawyer and Jesus are pretty much in agreement. Eternal life, full and everlasting life, life abundant, life worth living, centres on love of God and neighbour (Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18). But the lawyer wants to know the limits to neighbour love. He seeks to clarify a point of law: “Who is my neighbour?”

Assuming a comprehensive theological awareness – he knows, of course, all about God (he’s very well read!) – he seeks to clarify a point of law: “Who is my neighbour?”

Jesus is not interested to argue who is and isn’t deserving of neighbourly love. Instead, he tells a story. And the story is a story of neighbourly love in action. The lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbour?” The parable of Jesus is a model of neighbourly love – of non-discriminating, compassionate or unconditional love. The parable is presented in terms of Good News: Here is unconditional love – shocking, amazing, yet accessible. “Go and do likewise” has the effect of “Join in”, or “Get involved”, or “Take part” or “Don’t miss out on this”. The Good Samaritan is a divine figure – and that’s not at all to undermine his humanity. On the contrary, the Good Samaritan is a divine figure because of his humanity.

And here, Graham Hughes would encourage me to joyfully employ the grammar of gospel. In the ministry of Jesus, which the Church continues, God offers extravagant, life-giving hospitality to wounded and half-dead humanity. The way to eternal life is to allow oneself to become an active instrument and channel of that same boundary-breaking hospitality (see Brendan Byrne). God offers life, and so we may share life with others.

Today’s Gospel invites us, most deeply, into relationship with God – invites us, that is, to pray. And not so much prayers of political concern – though lessons with regard to care for poorer neighbour nations and vilification of desperate neighbours seeking asylum seem all-too obvious – as silent, patient, open-hearted prayers in the presence of the One who is Compassion. In the Spirit of the One who is Compassion.

Accept that you are accepted. Know it and feel it – God is Love. Experience that, says Jesus, and you’ll never again be asking, “Who is my neighbour?” You are the neighbour. And you won’t be worrying about eternal life, either. You’ll be living it.

Open to God at work in the world, to whom are you drawn as neighbour?

… Amen.