5 Pentecost—Proper 10-C July 14, 2019
Deuteronomy 30:9-14, Psalm 25:1-9, Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 10:25-37
A Bible scholar asks Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus says, what is written in the Bible: What do you read there?” He answers, “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 he says to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” Let’s stop here and notice three things:
First the lawyer asks about inheriting eternal life but Jesus doesn’t tell him what is required to go to heaven when he dies. The lawyer wants to know how he can experience the flow of God here and now, which is an experience of heaven on earth. Jesus’ proclamation of the presence of the Realm of God is precisely about the arrival of capital “L” Life, eternal life, appearing in this mortal life. This kind of life can’t be touched by death, in either this life or the next.
Second, notice Jesus doesn’t tell the scholar what he must believe in order to step into God’s Flow. The scholar already believes the right things, so Jesus doesn’t say to him, “believe this and you will live”, but rather he says, “do this” and you will live.
As Jesus says earlier in Luke, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and not do what I tell you?” Luke 6:46
So, if we today want to experience the living flow of God in our lives and beyond, Jesus tells us what to do: Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as you love yourself.
If I could ask Jesus a question about this, I’d ask “What does it mean to love with my whole being that which I can’t see, touch, taste, hear, or smell?
But the scholar asks, “Who is my neighbor?”
Is my neighbor those of my own neighborhood. Those down the street who live in nice houses like I do?
Is my neighbor those who share my political neighborhood, watching the news shows I watch and voting for the same people I vote for?
Is my neighbor those who share the same history, skin color, ethnicity, region, and standard of living, or could it possibly include folks who are very different from me?
After all, Jesus, my heart is only so big.
These are questions we all need to struggle with once we get over ourselves thinking it’s easy to love everybody.
But Jesus doesn’t give a straightforward and concise answer like “every human being on the planet is your neighbor.”
Why is that? Why does he tell a story?
Because he loves this man, Jesus gives an answer that has the possibility of saving him from his cramped, judgmental life and transforming him into a person living in the flow of God.
A story is like the Trojan Horse used by Odysseus and his fellow soldiers to get inside the walls of Troy. A good story can get inside and do all sorts of good things to us, even though they may be counter-intuitive and disturbing.
That’ why we are careful about the stories we are willing to hear. It is much easier to judge someone from a distance than to listen to their stories of who they are, which might have the power to change our attitude toward them.
Of course, since Jesus’ stories are written in India ink and read to us on a regular basis, churchgoers have found other ways to defend themselves against them. One way is to assume parables like the Good Samaritan are meant for bad Jewish people, like this scheming lawyer, and not for us good Christians. And two, they assume a parable is only asking them to be nice to people, something they already believe.
One man who got deeply changed by the stories of Jesus is Clarence Jordan. Born in 1912 in Talbotton, Georgia, Jordan, with a BS in Agriculture and a PhD in New Testament Greek, was the founder of Koinonia Farm, a small but influential Christian inter-racial community in southwest Georgia. He was also instrumental in the founding of Habitat for Humanity.
As you might imagine the farm and those living on it were often subject to attacks from their neighbors.
In the 1950s the farm’s peanut stand was blown up by the KKK, and then rebuilt. And then blown up again. So Jordan started selling the peanuts through mail order, with the tag line, “Help us get the nuts out of Georgia.”
When Jordan wrote his N. T. paraphrase, the Cotton Patch Gospels, he had those who passed by on the other side as a Baptist preacher and a church song leader, while the Samaritan hero was a Black man–but that was in the racist south of the 1950s.
Today we might tell the story this way: A man is going down from Boston to Lowell and gets mugged and left for dead in a ditch. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry walks by and sees the man but he’s running late to catch a flight to London to preach at the Royal Wedding, so he keeps on going. Next our bishop Alan Gates walks by but he is on his way to a deanery confirmation, so he keeps on going.
From the beginning we should be getting uncomfortable, because those are our leaders, our heroes Jesus is putting in the role as failures who are falling short. And it can’t help but remind us of all the times we’ve been too busy, too self-involved, to help suffering folks right in front of us. We, too, can hear the cock crow, just like Peter, when we deny our Lord.
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and not do what I tell you?” Luke 6:46
Of course, it gets worse because the person who does stop and helps the bloody person into his car and pays for his hospital bill up at Lowell General is an unemployed, illegal Muslim immigrant from Somalia. This person who is of another religion and nation and ethnicity—this is the hero of the story.
The lawyer rightly says that the one who was the neighbor is the one who shows mercy. And Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”
Make mercy your default setting and not your fear of the other, then you will be in the flow of God’s Life which is Eternal.
One question remains: who, in today’s telling of this story, would be the person in the ditch?
Is it the immigrant held in a cage in Texas? Is it the homeowner flooded out in New Orleans? Could it be the street person who has been mugged by opioid by addiction?
Yes—along with countless others who are in desperate need this morning.
But there is more: sometimes you and I are in the ditch, unable to help ourselves.
And if we can’t recognize our despised rescuer as our neighbor who in that moment is Christ for us, then, we might just get left for dead and miss the Life. Paraphrased partially from N T Wright, Luke for Everyone, page 128