Proper X+C 10 July AD 2016 The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
We just prayed these words: “O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Is that not a Christian dilemma? How do we live out our lives as followers of Jesus?
This is not a question that the average High School counselor asks, but this is not an occupational question but a vocational question. To what are you and me called? Today the operative question is “who is my neighbor”? Christians are in a strange position versus the non-Christian. Jesus gives us commandments over things that the world thinks are optional. We are to be miracles in the world. What we call “miracles” the Bible calls “signs.” We know that we may be the only Jesus than anyone in the world sees, so let us keep that in mind as we live each day.
This story begins with a scribe or as the story puts it, a lawyer. For us today, the Bible is not the Law, but a story of God’s work in the world. For the pious Jew, keeping the law was everything.
The scholar of the Law of God was “testing” Jesus, more likely trying to trip Jesus up and show everyone Jesus was not as smart as the man thought Jesus thought he was.
He asks Jesus how to get to heaven. Jesus, especially when challenged, often answers a question with a question. “You tell Me,” he says. He answers with what we know as the great commandment. To love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. AWho is my neighbor?@ Ever ask that question? ConsciouslyCI mean. SubconsciouslyCwe ask it oftenCperhaps even constantly.
When God gave the Israelites the command to love your neighbor in Leviticus 19:18, the Israelites felt confident that they knew who that wasCfellow IsraelitesCof course. They were tribes; all somehow related through their ancestorsCthe 12 sons of Jacob.
Who do we think our neighbor is? I=ve lived in so-called Aneighborhoods@ where I knew absolutely no one. No one spoke to one another. Neighbor apparently referred to a geographic distanceCbut is this impersonal arrangement what a neighbor is? How do you define it?
This gentleman seems to be in his own high regard and is approaching Jesus to apparently show Jesus he's not as 'smart' as the lawyer thinks that Jesus thinks he is! Strangely enough, Jesus lets the man answer his own question by responding to a question WITH a question. Don't you hate that! A pastor once asked a rabbi, "Why in the Hebrew tradition does the teacher always answer a question with a question?" He answered. "I don't know. Do we always do that?"
But as all things with our Lord, he knows how to take the opportunity of a teachable moment. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan as we have come to know it as we have grown up in the Church. What we may not have realized is some of the subtleties of this story. There was a bit of selectivity in the Jewish observance venue of Jesus' day that Jesus had no problem pointing out by again letting the listener answer his own question.
But here comes that selectivity. They only read in practice, the earlier part of that chapter and left out the uncomfortable part that came a few verses later: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God." (Lev 19:33 & 34)
Not content to leave well enough alone apparently, the doctor of the law says: "but who is my neighbor?" Jesus begins what we call the parable, (or literally story beside a story) of the "Good Samaritan".
A man was going down the 17 mile stretch from Jerusalem to Jericho. In that short distanceCthrough a very barren and arid terrainCthe ground drops 3000 feet. It is an ideal place for robbers to hide and ambush travelers. As fate would have it, robbers attacked him and stole his clothing and beat himCleaving him to die. Now is when this gets interesting.
A priest happens byCthen a LeviteCa liturgist, a professional charged with the maintenance of the Temple worship. They both go way over to the other side of the road. What is wrong with this picture? This is somewhat a scandalCsurely these religious men should have done something! I know…excuse! Even today we can always come up with one of those for something we don't particularly want to do! “I don’t want to get involved.” Perhaps they were afraid that the robbers were still near. Perhaps they thought the man was already dead and to touch him would make them ritually uncleanCso they would be unable to serve in the Temple.
A Samaritan comes by. They must have thought: "a who?" "What?" Now this must have been quite a jolt. Jesus always seems to have a Ajolt@ in his stories; a cosmic reversal; an unexpected twist! It must have taken Atemerity@ for Jesus to put a Samaritan in the story! The Jews felt about the Samaritans like the Jews feel even today about Nazis and other "groups" pitted against other "groups" seem to feel about each other: avoidance, distaste, dislike or even unbridled hatred!
The Samaritans were a half breed peopleCJews left in the land during the Babylonian captivity, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple. They had intermarried with the Assyrians from years earlier. They had opposed the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple and said they were the only legitimate heirs to Jewish worship. They had their own Temple on Mount Gerizim. Jews considered them as detestable heretics, apostates who denied the faith.
The Samaritan heretic, the one generally treated despicably by the Jew, takes care of the Jewish manCdisinfects his wounds and takes him to an inn and leaves about two month=s rent with a promise of more if it is needed. And Jesus asks Awho was neighbor to the man?@ The lawyer replies, and you can almost see him gritting his teeth trying to get the words out: Athe man who showed mercy.@ You can almost hear the people thinking: "is it getting warm out here?" Is Jesus hitting a bit close to home for both us and them?
The lawyer had really been askingCWho is not my neighbor? What are the limits to my responsibility? That is a question each person who believes in Christ must ask constantly. It would be nice if we could choose to be neighbor to the people who we like and who could do us some good! But that would make us no different from every other person born into the world without God=s love in them. Jesus calls us to love people we don=t like and people it is of no earthly advantage to know. Indeed, it is the contrast between erosCthe love that demands its own interest and agape the love that is generous in its interest toward others. But love, true love is not some weak sentiment. Song of Solomon (8:6) says Alove is as strong as death@ (NIV) It is able to conquer all other things. Love is the Christian miracle. It is our vocation. We are the lovers of God who are called to love the non-lovers into the kingdom of God.
Sometimes that is tough love. Parents often have to administer tough love. It is very hard on the parent, but is for the ultimate good of the child, although the child may kick and scream at the penalty of his or her actions and say horrid things to the one painfully loving them. Even harder with another adult! A question we must ask ourselves isCAwith whom do we identify in the story?@ I mean REALLY? I think we should be conscious that we are at least in one sense Samaritans. We have by our lives denied the faith in thought, word and deed and yet... In spite of our birth right to be sinners, Jesus has redeemed us and made us Agood sinners@...@good Samaritans@. He has done a miracle in us, with us and through us. In our baptismal covenant we pledge our determination to love neighbor, and to strive for justice and peace among all people respecting the dignity of every human being but honestlyCdo we not often walk on the other side afraid to dirty our hands? Do we need to justify ourselves? Who are the Samaritans in YOUR LIFE? Whom do we feel Ajustified@ in despising, rejecting, pre-judging? When do we side with the priest and the Levite? With anyone different from us? Someone we feel treated us unjustly or a friend unjustly? How can we be God’s miracles, when the miracle He wants to do with us is stopped by US?
Everyone is neighbor for the Christian. The question is will we be neighbor! Martin Luther King Jr said.: "The first question which the priest and Levite asked was "If I stop help this man, what will happen to me?" But…the Good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" The collect petitioned God that we might know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; … Do we really want that? If so, we are called to be a living miracle for others.
If God=s love flows through us, is in usCit must be acted out in the love of neighbor. In I John 4:19-21 we readCAWe love because he first loved us. If anyone says, AI love God,@ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.@ O God, let that sign and miracle be realized in us, through Jesus, your Son, our maker, defender, redeemer and friend.