covenant and "neighbor"

I had some good, long conversations with Becky yesterday (only briefly interrupted at times to run and see why one of the kids was being "too quiet").

One interesting thing that came up was the idea of covenant. Becky sees covenant as a much better model for our relational commitments and responsibilities than the more common concept of "contract." Covenant is a much deeper and fuller commitment (more like what you see between parents and children, for example), not limited to narrowly-defined, legally enforced, contractual terms.

And I agree that covenant is a better model for our commitments than contract. But I tend to think that even covenant is not broad enough, and not adequate for Christians for two important reasons: (1) because it defines our commitment too narrowly, diverting our attention from "outsiders" who we should also be serving, and (2) because it obscures our view of the wider community (the Body of Christ), which we are truly a part of, and which we need to be aware of to fully experience and serve God in peace and joy.

The parable of the Good Samaritan (in Luke 10) illustrates this well, I think:

And [the lawyer] 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."

And [Jesus] said to him, "You have answered right; do this, and you will live." But [the lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 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.'

"Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?"

He said, "The one who showed mercy on him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

Looking at this first from the perspective of the Samaritan, we see him looking beyond his own community, his obvious responsibilites to his own family and people, and demonstrating a committed love to someone who was "foreign" and even an (assumed) enemy to him. This goes far beyond contract and even covenant to demonstrate the unbounded generosity of the love Jesus spoke of and demonstrated.

On the other hand, from the perspective of the Jewish person, we see a disappointing picture. Two Jewish leaders ignore one of their own in need. Which is disheartening, discouraging. If we identify ourselves merely with the Jewish community, with this covenant people of God, we might conclude that the covenant doesn't mean much, that the "community" is not much of a reality (as we also as Christians may conclude when looking at our churches).

But what if we can recognize that this particular inspiring Samaritan (or this particular inspiring Catholic, or that prophetic Baptist, or even this heroic Buddhist) is also "one of us"? Though he may not be "of the covanent," he demonstrates by his living Love that he too is part of the one Community, a member of the one Body with us. And to see this is encouragement and a powerful experience of brotherhood.

Isn't this what Jesus calls us to (or invites us into) by his powerful answer to "Who is my neighbor?"

I see a similar radical transcending and broadening of relational commitments (even specifically addressing the family commitment) in this little story:
[Jesus'] mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you."

And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother." (Mk 3.31-35)