Sunday, July 11, 2010

7 Pentecost

July 11, 2010

Luke 10.25-37

+ The Reverend Martin Luther King, on April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination, preached his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon in Memphis, Tennessee. Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with that very famous sermon. But what a lot of people forget about that sermon is that King actually referenced the Good Samaritan in it—and in quite a personal way.

King said:

“I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho.And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, ‘I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.’ It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing…That's a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”

It’s beautiful—even now. And today—on this Sunday inw hich we hear in our Gospel reading the parable of the Good Sanritita, it is particualry apt.

But the part of this story that most of us miss is the fact that when Jesus told this parable to his audience, he did so with a particular scheme in mind. The term “Good Samaritan” would have been an oxymoron for those Jews listening to Jesus that day. Samaritans, after all, were quite hated. They were viewed as heretics, as defilers, as unclean. They were seen as betrayers of the Jewish faith. So, when Jesus tells this tale of a Good Samaritan, it no doubt rankled a few nerves in the midst of that company.

With this in mind, we do need to ask ourselves some hard questions. You, of course, know where I am going with this. So, here goes: Who are the Samaritans in our understadnign of this story?

Martin Luther King, in his sermon, described the Samaritan as “a man of another race.”

For us, the story only really hits home when we replace that term “Samaritian” with the name of someone we don’t like at all. Maybe it is “Fundamentalist,” or “Republican” or “Conservative.” Maybe it is “Muslim” or “Foreigner” or “Panhandler.” Maybe it is “Redneck” or “Racist” or Misogynist” or “Homophone.” It’s not hard to find the names.

But it is hard for any of us to put that word “good” in front of any of those names. It’s hard for a good many fo us to find anythign “good in any of these people. For us, to face the fact that the Good Fundamentalist, or the Good Republican or the Good Conservative of the Good Redneck could stop and help us out might not sit so comfortably with us.

We—good progressive Christians that we are—are also guilty sometimes of being compascent. We too find ourselves sometimes feeling quite smug about our “advanced” or “edcuated” ways of thinking about society and God and the Church. And we too demonize those we don’t agree with sometimes.

Brother Curtis Almquist of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, preached the homily last year for the funeral of Br. Paul Wessinger, one of the truly great spiritual leaders of the modern Church (in my opinion). In his homily for Br. Paul, Br. Curtis said:

“We meet Jesus in our baptism where, we believe, Jesus comes to live our heart, to make his home with us, to abide with us. But this is also true for others. They too, are a dwelling place for Jesus. We, individually and corporately, embody Jesus. Yes, Jesus lives in me, but Jesus also lives in you.”

It is easy for me to imagine Jesus living in me personally, depsite all the shortcomings and negative things I know about myself. I know that, sometimes, I am a despicable person and yet, I know that Jesus is alive in me. So, why is it so hard for me to see that Jesus lives even in those whom I dislike, despite those things that make them so dislikeable to me? For me, this is the hard part. Not only recognizing that Jesus lives in others, but actually seeing Jesus alive in those people I have perosnally demonized is really one of the hardest thigns for me to do as a Christian.

The Gospel story today shows us that we must love and serve and see Jesus alive in even those whom we demonize—even if those same people demonize us as well. Being a Christian means loving even those we, under any other circumstance, simply can’t stand. And this story is all about being jarred out of our complascent way of seeing things.

It’s also easy for some of us to immediately identifiy ourselves with the Good Samaritan. We, of course, would help somoen stranded on the road, even when it means making ourselves vulnaerable to the robbers who might be lurking nearby. But I can tell you that as I hear and read this parable, I—quite uncomfortably—find myself identifying with the priest and the Levite. I am the one, as much as I hate to admit it, who could very easily, out of fear or because of the social structure in which I live, crossing over to the other side of the road. And I hate the fact that my thougths even go there.

But love changes this whole story. When we truly live out that commandment of Jesus to us that we must love God and love our neightbor as ourselves, we know full-well that those social and poltical and perosnal boundaries fall to the ground. Love always defeats our dislike of someone. Love always defeats the poltical boudnairies that divide us. Love always softens our hearts and our stubborn wills and allows us see the goodness and love that exists in others, even when doing so is uncomfortable and painful for us.

Now I say that hoping I don’t come across as naïve. I know that my love of the racist will not necessariuly change the racist. I klnow that loving the homophobe will not necessarily change the homophone. But it does change me. It does cause me to look—as mucha s I hate to do so—into the eyes of that person and see something more. It does caus eme to look at the person and realize that God does love this person despite their failings and their faults—just as God love me despite my failings and my faults.

These are the boundaries Jesus came to break down in us. And these are the boudnaires Jesus commands us to break down within ourselves.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the lawyer asks Jesus in today’s Gospel.

The answer is love. We must love—fully and completely.

“You have givne the right answer,” Jesus says. “Do this, and you will live.”

Jesus doesn’t get much clearer than that. So, love God. Love your neighbor. Who is your neighbor? You neighbor is not just the one who is easy to love, but also the one who is hardest to love. Love them and you too will live.


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