8th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, 2016
first reading: Deuteronomy 30:9-14
second reading: Colossians 1:1-14
gospel reading: Luke 10:25-37
*I was guest preaching at another congregation this day.
A few weeks ago, right after the Orlando massacre, I began my sermon by saying, “It’s been one hell of a week.” I sadly find that description accurate again today. It’s been one hell of a week.
I also found myself saying to my pastoral colleagues a few weeks ago how strangely relevant our worship texts were to what was going on, and what a blessing that was. And I gladly find THAT description accurate again too.
Today for our gospel, we read one of the most well-known stories in the whole Bible – “The Good Samaritan.” Problem is the meaning of it has lost a LOT of its “oomph.”
More than 2,000 years after its original telling we’ve come to see it as a nice story about a good man who helped someone in trouble. Well, yes, perhaps. But that’s only a small part of it. I think we need a refresher.
There was this lawyer – which in Jesus’ culture meant someone who studied the religious law – the Torah. He knew his stuff and engaged Jesus with a question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus put the question back to him: “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer gave him an answer which we can find in Deut. 6:4-5 and Lev. 19:18b – and was widely accepted as the summation of the Mosaic Law. Jesus praised his answer.
But the lawyer went one step further. He wanted to make sure he was doing “it” right. So he asked, “WHO is my neighbor?” We often ask this very same question. We make judgments every day about who is worthy of our attention and care. We make judgments every day about who is “good” and who is “bad,” and what “good” and “bad” people deserve. We make judgments every day about who our enemies are, and who are friends are.
It seems like a legitimate question. Who is my neighbor?
But Jesus is an annoying Savior sometimes. He CHANGES the question altogether. And he does it with a story.
A Jewish man was a victim of violence, laying half-dead by the side of the road. Two Jews from respectable upstanding groups saw the man and passed him by. Then a Samaritan came, saw the man, and “was moved with pity.” The Samaritan tended the man’s wounds, brought him to help, paid the bill, and promised to pay for whatever else the man might have needed.
In order for us to “get” the weight of this story, we have to understand one very important detail: Jews and Samaritans DESPISED one another in the 1st century. It’s hard to describe the loathing and contempt that they had for one another.
Jesus purposefully makes the “hero” of this story a person the lawyer can’t stomach.
Then Jesus backs the lawyer into a corner by asking, “Which of these three… was a neighbor to the man…?” And the lawyer was forced to say, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus responded, “Go and do likewise.”
In our day and age we might conclude this interchange with the comment, “mic drop,” or “BOOM.”
In this story Jesus tells us we shouldn’t be concerned about who our neighbor is, right or wrong, deserving or undeserving. Don’t worry about who our neighbor is – BE A NEIGHBOR. We no longer have a question, we have a command. Don’t look out and make a judgment, look IN the mirror and act accordingly.
Jesus challenges the lawyer to see that pity and mercy – loving – knows no human boundaries or division.
Right now, in our country and in the world, we have created SO many barriers between people. Jesus challenges us repeatedly, but most especially in this story, to get rid of them.
After Orlando, our national presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, wrote, “We live in an increasingly divided and polarized society. Too often we sort ourselves into likeminded groups and sort others out.” Also, “We are killing ourselves. We believe that all people are created in God’s image…. Those murdered in Orlando were not abstract ‘others,’ they are us.” And this week she repeated, “We are killing ourselves.”
Jesus forced the lawyer to see that the Samaritan was not an “other.” In his act of mercy the Samaritan refused to see the beaten Jew as an “other.”
Jesus says, “Don’t worry about WHO your neighbor is, go and BE a neighbor.” And BEING a neighbor means LOVING your neighbor as yourself. Not warm fuzzy love, not even love that means “liking.”
BEING a neighbor by LOVING our neighbor means making sure through words and deeds that they are seen, heard, respected, valued and cared for. Love your neighbor as yourself.
What groups would Jesus challenge US to love today? Who are WE called to be neighbors to right now? Who are we called to LOVE?
I don’t know you all very well, so I feel free to give all kinds of suggestions. Some of them may not be a problem for you, and others may make you gasp. Actually, the ones that make you gasp should be where you start. After all, that’s what our gospel today is all about – the GASP. “Lord, you want me to love WHO????”
- Love your Jewish neighbor.
- Love your Muslim neighbor.
- Love your atheist neighbor.
- Love your NRA neighbor.
- Love your gun control neighbor.
- Love your gay neighbor.
- Love your straight neighbor.
- Love your Clinton supporter neighbor.
- Love your Trump supporter neighbor.
- Love your communist neighbor.
- Love your Hispanic neighbor.
- Love your Indian neighbor.
- Love your white neighbor.
- Love your Black Lives Matter neighbor.
- Love your All Lives Matter neighbor.
- Love your protester neighbor.
- Love your law enforcement neighbor.
- Love your rich neighbor.
- Love your poor neighbor.
- Love your neighbor who is sitting next to you right this very minute.
Jesus asked, “[Who] was a neighbor?” The lawyer said, “The one who showed… mercy.”
Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”