Keep on Going, Keep on Doing
15th Sunday Ordinary time, 7-10-16 HT Deut 30: 10-14, Ps 19, Col 1: 15-20, Luke 10: 25-37
We have to start today back in the Old Testament, specifically in the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Deut 6: 4-9 is part of the Shema, one of the most fundamental prayers of the Jewish faith. Verse 5 says: “… you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Jesus may have heard this on the day of his birth, as it was traditionally said twice each day.
That verse was linked- long before Jesus’ time – with Leviticus 19:15-18. Verse 18 says: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Scripture scholars saw these two verses drawn together like magnets, because they used the same Hebrew verb form for the command to love: we’ahabeta, which is used only 1 other place in the OT. Any disagreement between Jesus and the lawyer was only over the application and the boundaries of these commands, not the significance of the command to love God and neighbor. So many difficulties arise not with ideas and ideals, but with making them become reality!
So, Jesus had a history of association with the “wrong people” – remember the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. He touched and healed the “unclean” – lepers, the bleeding woman, and the widow’s dead son. He ate without the hand wash ritual, he allowed his hungry disciples to pick wheat on the Sabbath. If the lawyer had any plan to trap Jesus into teaching contrary to the religious Laws, Jesus was prepared, skillfully redirecting the discussion to the intent of the law. The discussion starts with that curious dance of questions that began any formal Jewish scholarly debate on the Law – but ends with “Go and do likewise”. It was no longer a debate but a call to action.
Two weeks ago, in the previous chapter of Luke, we read about the disciples wanting to call down fire from heaven to consume a Samaritan village which would not welcome them. The breach between the Jews and Samaritans was of long standing and firmly entrenched. There was a constant attempt to insult and demean each other. The disciples got a swift rebuke, not fire, for Jesus was very tolerant of being turned away. Again, when Jesus encountered the Samaritan “Woman at the Well”, it was a time of forgiveness and healing.
But this is not a lesson about the Samaritans. Neither is it an attempt to criticize the priests. This is a parable, not a diatribe of negativity; it is teaching to a specific point. The Samaritan is cast as the stereotypical “bad, stupid guy” who is –undisputedly -doing the right thing – in contrast to the stereotypical “good and smart guys” who clearly are not doing what God requires. The startling contrast gets our attention.
Where is the pivotal point in this parable? The priest sees, and passes by. The Levite, a Temple assistant, sees, and passes by. The Samaritan sees, and was moved with compassion at the sight. Compassion: the deep feeling of sharing the suffering of another, together with the inclination to give aid or support, or to show mercy. I looked it up – and found on the next page of the dictionary the word “compel” – to necessitate or pressure. I think Jesus is saying that the Love which God wires into us makes us feel the need to be compassionate. Sharing the suffering of each other is a necessary part of living. Paraphrasing the words of our first reading today, “(Compassion)….is something very near to us, already in our mouths and in our hearts; we only have to carry it out. For it’s not too mysterious and remote for us. It’s not up in the sky, nor across the sea.”
Simply asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?” assumes there are limits on compassion. Jesus, of course, does not teach a boundary, a limit, on love, and will not permit us to say, “We have loved enough”, nor choose who we will love. In mathematical terms, nearness + need = neighbor; love creates neighborliness. To love God with all of one’s being and loving neighbor as self is living out our relationship with God.
One writer called this parable “a little annoying, for it will not let us look away or excuse us from being compassionate”. Some people are put off by the insinuation that we must exhaust ourselves and our resources over every possible instance of need that we hear of. If you leave these doors today resolved to help everyone, your wallet will be empty and you will be disgruntled and discouraged by the time you reach home. But, the point of the parable is to identify what Christian character is, not prescribe particular action. And we don’t need to always love our neighbors by ourselves. Community efforts are generally more effective and longer lasting. We sometimes respond better to needs when we are challenged as a group.
Still, knowing how to implement this parable is not that easy. So, my message is not “Go and do likewise”, but “Keep going, and keep doing” the outstanding outreach to your community that you’ve already established. This church has found neighbors at an Elementary school close at hand. You have been the wise people who brought gifts to area families at Christmas through the Jessie Tree project. You were the ones who responded to a call for laundry essentials at the nearby housing units last December. And I believe I heard a resounding “YES! They Heard Me!” from the heavens.