Home Opinion Columns Weekly Reflections: Three kinds of spirituality

Weekly Reflections: Three kinds of spirituality



“And Jesus concluded, ‘In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbor toward the man attacked by the robbers?’ The teacher of the Law answered, ‘The one who was kind to him.’ Jesus replied, ‘You go, then, and do the same.’” — Luke 10:36-37

God’s mission in the world

The church is God’s mission in the world. It is not simply a non-government organization or a social institution. That’s why in spite of all the problems and limitations of the church, the persecutions of believers, schisms and divisions throughout history, the church continues to exist even in these critical times. For the church is God’s mission in the world, indeed. Jesus Christ our Lord founded the church. “I will build my church,” he said, “And even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18).

In the Book of Acts, we read about the arrest of Peter and John. Jewish authorities were preventing them to continue preaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. But Gamaliel, a Jewish rabbi and member of the Sanhedrin, stood up and said, “Fellow Israelites, be careful what you do to these men… I tell you, do not take any action against these men. Leave them alone! If what they have planned and done is of human origin, it will disappear, but if it comes from God, you cannot possibly defeat them. You could find yourselves fighting against God!” (Acts 5:33-39). The church, indeed, is God’s mission in the world.

Parable of the good Samaritan

Since the church is God’s mission in the world, there is therefore a kind of spirituality that is appropriate for the church. Our Biblical text for reflections at this point could help us discover this kind of spirituality (cf. Luke 10:25-37). This is about the parable of the Good Samaritan. It was Jesus’ response to a Scribe’s query meant to trap him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Initially, Jesus answered the question also through a question, “What do the Scriptures say? How do you interpret them?” The Scribe responded saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” Then, Jesus said, “You are right, do this and you will live.”

But the Scribe or Teacher of the Law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” In a society wherein people are stratified according to wealth, power, and prestige, wherein people are classified according to race, ideology or even religion; the question, “Who is my neighbour?” will surely be asked. This means that in such a society, there are those who are considered neighbours, as well as, those who are not.

And so, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to the Scribe’s question, “Who is my neighbour?” Let us therefore look closely into this parable and try to discover what kind of spirituality is appropriate for the church as God’s mission in the world. By the way, the word spirituality comes from the Hebrew word ruach and the Greek word pneuma, which simply means life. Hence, spirituality is no other than our way of life based on our treasured values. Each one of us has his or her own spirituality, whether or not we believe in God or whether or not we go to church every Sunday.

We could see at least three kinds of spirituality in this parable: the spirituality of the robbers, the spirituality of the priest and the Levite, and the spirituality of the Good Samaritan.

Spirituality of the robbers

Now, let’s take first of all the spirituality of the robbers. It is not mentioned in the story the names of the robbers or even the name of their group. But nevertheless, we know that in Jesus’ time there were so-called social bandits who were victimizing the rich people, especially the collaborators of the Romans. They would rob them and distribute their loot to the poor.

One of the main reasons why there were so many poor in Jesus’ time was the fact that the Romans who colonized Palestine confiscated the lands and gave them as rewards to the retiring officers of the Roman army. Hence, many were rendered landless, and thus deprived of their main source of livelihood: the land. That’s why many were forced to rob and steal from the rich collaborators of the Romans in order to survive. And so, they were considered robbers in the eyes of the law, but heroes in the eyes of ordinary people.

But actually the real robbers were not the poor, but the Romans and their local collaborators. They robbed the poor of their lands. These were the real robbers.

Going back to mission history in our country, we are painfully reminded that the Spaniards colonized our country using religion as an instrument. In the first Synod of Manila in 1581-86, our Spanish colonizers decided to continue their conquest of our country using the spread of the Gospel as a justification. They claimed that they had to fulfil God’s mission in our country.

But in reality, they were just using religion and mission work to cover up their desire to conquer our country. And so, they colonized us in the name of God’s mission in the world.

This is the spirituality of robbers. It would make use of religion or spiritual things to cover up its vested interests. It would spread the Gospel, not for the sake of God’s Kingdom, but for the sake of their desire for wealth, power, and prestige. As a matter of fact, lots of leaders of new religious movements today became rich enormously using the vestiges of religion.

But, nevertheless, this is not the kind of spirituality that we need for God’s mission in the world today. For this is a selfish, greedy, and deceptive kind of spirituality.

Spirituality of the priest and the Levite

Moreover, let’s look at the spirituality of the priest and the Levite. The story tells us that a priest happened to go down that road; but when he saw the man, he walked on by the other side. Perhaps, he remembered the provision of the Jewish Law that anyone touching a dead body would become ritually unclean for seven days (cf. Num. 19:11). He probably thought that the victim was already dead. And if he would touch him, he would surely lose his right and opportunity to serve in the Temple. He must be cleansed first through a ritual of purification for seven days before he could again serve in the Temple.

What the priest did would show to us a kind of spirituality that would give more importance on the rituals and ceremonies of religion than genuine love and service to people. For the priest, the Temple and the rituals and ceremonies of religion are far more important than the cries and sufferings of people.

There a lot of Christian believers today with this kind of spirituality. For them, helping the victims of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man is not part of Christian responsibilities. This shows us that sometimes doctrines, religions or ideologies could harden the heart of people to the point that they could no longer feel any sense of compassion for their fellow human beings.

The story goes that a Levite also came there, went over and looked at the victim, and then walked on by the other side. Perhaps, the Levite knew for sure that sometimes robbers would pretend to be victims in order to take advantage of people passing that road. That’s why the Levite had to leave the place as fast as he could. Who knows the person might be a robber pretending as victim.

What the Levite had done would show us another kind of spirituality wherein people give priority to their own interest than that of others. They are not willing to risk their own lives for the sake of others.

And so, the spirituality of the priest and the Levite is not appropriate for God’s mission. For instead of leading believers to participate, it would rather prevent them to be involved in God’s mission work in the world.

Spirituality of the good Samaritan

Finally, let’s consider the spirituality of the Good Samaritan. Sometimes, the name Samaritan was associated with someone who was known to be a lawbreaker. During Jesus’ time Samaritans were mortal enemies of the Judeans. The Judeans considered the Samaritans impure in terms of their race as well as their religion. That’s why for the Judeans, the statement “Good Samaritan” is a contradictory in terms, because for them there is no Samaritan who is good.

Nevertheless, our text tells us that a Samaritan passed by that road going to Jericho. He saw the victim, and he was filled with compassion. He went over to him, poured oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them; then he put the man on his own animal and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. “Take care of him,” he told the innkeeper, “and when I come back this way, I will pay you whatever else you spend on him.”

Even if Samaritans were known to be lawbreakers, our text tells us that the Samaritan in the story was a righteous person. That’s why the innkeeper trusted him. And since this Samaritan was not thinking of a doctrine violated, or ideology not followed, it was easier for him to really feel a sense of compassion for the victim.

Sometimes those who find it difficult to forgive sinners and to have compassion for the victims of robbers are those who are so strict in terms of their religions and ideologies. Ironically, those religious people who think that they are the only ones to be saved are the ones who find it difficult to participate in God’s mission in the world.

Moreover, this Samaritan was not discriminating against anyone. He was not thinking whether the victim was a Judean or a Samaritan, rich or poor. For him, the victim was a human being like himself in need of help, whoever he was or whatever his ethnic origin.

What the church needs today as God’s mission in the world is the spirituality of the Good Samaritan. The conversation between Jesus and the Scribe or Teacher of the Law ended with a question Jesus asked, “In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbor toward the man attacked by the robbers?” The Teacher of the Law answered, “The one who was kind to him.” Jesus replied, “You go, then, and do the same.” # nordis.net

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