Sunday, 11 July 2010

St. Benedict and the Good Samaritan

Rules for the Lectionary mean that today's Feast of St. Benedict has to give way to Sunday observance - not a bad thing when today's Gospel is that of the Good Samaritan.

We managed to bring both into our celebration of the liturgy. I was struck by Benedict's desire to provide a Rule for the sake of orderliness, but with the affirmation that it's a "school for beginners" rather than a straitjacket. And there's the likely problem for the Priest and Levite of the parable missing the point because of rules - and the lawyer doing what he can to fit them to his purpose. Benedict's purpose is to lead people to "eternal life" and it's St. Luke's Gospel which makes the inheritance of eternal life the point of the lawyer's approach to Jesus - unlike the Gospels of Matthew and Mark who have Jesus' questioner simply ask "which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

This is an extract from my sermon, the whole of which you can find by clicking here:

The thing to know about the Rule of St. Benedict is that it was written as a result of his desire to bring orderliness into the way his brother monks lived, at a time when so many thought they could do whatever they pleased. Benedict wanted to establish what he called “A school for the Lord’s service” - and his purpose was so that those entering into it would find their way to “blessings in eternal life.”

That’s something that we must not miss in today’s Gospel reading. Of all the Gospel writers, only St. Luke tells the story of the Good Samaritan. The story has an introduction which Matthew and Mark also record, but with a twist. In Matthew and Mark’s accounts, Jesus is asked, what is the greatest of the commandments? - and it’s Jesus who sums it up: love God with all your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength - and your neighbour as yourself. But it’s a bit different in Luke. Luke tells us that Jesus was approached by a lawyer who wanted to know what to do in order to inherit eternal life. And Jesus simply turns the question round: what does the religious law tell you? And the lawyer gets the answer right:

‘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 neighbour as yourself.’

In the Prayer Book we call these words the Summary of the Law. It’s everything that’s necessary reduced to just these few words about love - do this and that’s the way to find eternal life. That’s the aim of St. Benedict when he wrote his Rule. It’s the whole point of the Scriptures - to get us into God’s kingdom, to share with him in eternal life...

In preparing to preach I noticed that the priest - the first person not to stop and help the wounded man - is very definitely going down the road, so he must be travelling away from the Temple and Jerusalem. I didn't have time to go into this. But, aware of the argument that the priest and the Levite don't stop because they fear becoming ritually unclean, I'd like at some point to explore why the Gospel seems to be so definite that they are going away from the place where they need to be "clean" - and still they don't stop...

Would we?

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