Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 25 or 25:3-9
"May we ask the Lord to grant us peace, that the day will soon come, when the peoples are unified in love and when Christ is the Lord; the day that fulfils all the prayers of the holy."
(Nathan Söderblom, Archbishop of Uppsala, a prayer for peace, 1914)
In high school P.E. class I heard this story – so it must be true: somebody riding his new motorcycle had a breakdown at the side of the road. Up roared a gang of bikers, who stopped, came over, and – fixed his bike. As they left, one handed him a nice white business card, with a big greasy black thumb-smudge on it, announcing, “Your emergency roadside assistance was provided by your local motorcycle club.”
The Samaritan is not who you would expect. Then, neither is the man who was robbed.
As we begin to listen to the story of the Good Samaritan and the man who fell among thieves, we hear a lawyer asking a telling question: Who is my neighbor? We might well ask him or ourselves: Who are you? Responses could include, I am an individual, a person, a human being, a child of God; – or, we are a people of God.
Augustine made the analogy: that the man who was robbed was Adam – any one of us, Augustine, you, or me; that the Samaritan – the outsider – was Jesus, and the inn, providing shelter for healing, was the home of the Holy Comforter, the Church.
What however was Jesus’ response to the lawyer, and what question did he ask in his turn? “Who was a neighbor of the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The one who showed him mercy.
We often think of ourselves in the place of the Good Samaritan, but Jesus has the lawyer put himself in the place of the man who was robbed. Before we put ourselves in the superior position, the “helping” role, first we find ourselves in need of a little traveler’s aid ourselves.
As preacher Fred Craddock points out, this is the first of two stories about the reign of God, about hearing, but not really listening, to the good news of what the reign of God means, who Jesus is, and who we are called to become. In this week’s story we learn about a lawyer who wanted to know what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Next week, we will hear about a woman named Martha who was anxious and distracted about many things, so busy doing that she forgot to be – just to sit at the feet of the Lord Jesus and listen to what he is saying.
Action – going and doing – and contemplation – sitting and listening – are both important in the life of the faithful, but either one points beyond itself to the call to conversion, the change of heart, that comes when we acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior and begin to take our place under the reign of God. To “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” is part of a process, a transformation that is a continuing action of grace throughout the whole of your life. Hearing who Jesus is and what the reign of God is, and being changed by that Good News, whether you personally need to “go and do” or to “sit and listen”, is what matters.
The lawyer wanted to ‘get it right’, but getting it right is not the point: whether we need to become clearer in what we know of God, or whether we need to become better at doing God’s will, or whether we need to learn better how just to be in God’s presence – listening with an open heart; the point is to become transformed by the Good News into the people of the kingdom of God.
The lawyer didn’t get it – he thought he could ‘justify himself’ by getting it right: by winning an argument about what God really wants. Jesus was more concerned with – the coming into being of what God really wants – the work of grace in creation, in the lawyer, in you and me. This is not a game about winning, the prize ‘eternal life’: this is reality.
God really does want you to love your neighbor as yourself. And when you begin to see with God’s eyes, when you begin to live into the kingdom of God, you see who your neighbor really is. Jesus tells the lawyer a parable, the parable of a man who fell among thieves and the stranger who rescued him, which ends with the famous admonition, “Go and do likewise.” But before we go, he has already revealed to us something uncomfortable: our condition and the condition of our neighbor are in some ways interchangeable.
Who is my neighbor? Who was neighbor to the man who was robbed? The one who showed him mercy: your neighbor is the one who shows you mercy. If we could find ourselves in the place of the man who was robbed, before we cast ourselves in the role of the Good Samaritan, we might begin to understand what the kingdom is, and what God really wants. And what it is to inherit eternal life.
As pastor Barbara Crafton teaches us, faith is not subscribing to a list of propositions: it is a living relationship with God and with the world. It is a living relationship of love. Eternal life is not something locked away that you need a key or a secret entry code to gain access to – it is freely available. It is the opportunity to love, to live as a lover of God and neighbor. “And the Christ, who lives in you, also lives in each of them.”
The opportunity to love actually is all around.
“Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away… No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe… Choose life.” (Deuteronomy 30: 11, 14, 19)
And Jesus identified himself with this: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” and he will tell them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:37-40)
When did we find you by the side of the road, naked, beaten and bleeding, and treated your wounds and carried you to a safe place where you could be healed? When did we find you wandering through the desert, abandoned and alone and dying of thirst, and give you water and a way home to the homes of men?
During the week of the Fourth of July, in Tucson, a leader and elder in that community received a visit from a new member of Congress. She talked with her about immigration and our need for a new approach – not confronting each other but working together.
She held up her hands as if to push away The Other, and then moved them, turning them around to face each other and interlacing her fingers, to show that we must work together. Speaking practically, she suggested training for employment could begin across the border, so that people who live there could have a future and a hope. Remember this is God’s promise to us, to his people, fulfilled through Jesus and through Jesus’ hands in the world: our own.
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Serving Jesus as we serve the least of these we see around us is what we do: not just so that we can all get along, but so that we can all go forward together into God’s kingdom, where peace and righteousness embrace.
Join me in reciting Psalm 85:7-13, found on page 709 of the Book of Common Prayer:
Show us your mercy, O LORD, and grant us your salvation. I will listen to what the LORD God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him. Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him: that his glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven. The LORD will indeed grant prosperity, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. AMEN.
Nobel Foundation (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1930/soderblom-bio.html)
Uppsala Domkyrka (http://www.uppsaladomkyrka.se/setupups/local/engelsk/pdf/Ecumenism.pdf)
Luke for Everyone by Tom Wright (SPCK, 2001)
The Word Today: Reflections on the Readings of the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Volume 3 by Herbert O'Driscoll (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 2001)
"Living by the Word: Who we are" by Patrick J. Wilson, The Christian Century, Vol. 124, No. 13, June 26, 2007, p. 19. (www.christiancentury.org)
Patrick's Well (www.herbodriscoll.com) Herbert O'Driscoll
Geranium Farm (www.geraniumfarm.org) Barbara Crafton et al.
The Word in Time by Arthur J. Dewey (New Berlin, Wisconsin: Liturgical Publications, 1990)
Luke by Sharon H. Ringe (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995) Westminister Bible Companion series.
Luke by Thomas W. Walker (Louisville, Kentucky: Geneva Press, 2001) Interpretation Bible Studies series.
Luke by Fred B. Craddock (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1990) Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching.
The Gospel According to Luke by Michael F. Patella, O.S.B. (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press) The new Collegeville Bible commentary, New Testament; v. 3.
Preaching the Gospel of Luke: Proclaiming God's Royal Rule by Keith F. Nickle (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000)
Common Worship (Church of England, 2000) http://www.cofe.anglican.org/worship/liturgy/commonworship/
The Book of Common Prayer (Church of England, 1662)
Oremus Bible Browser http://bible.oremus.org/