6 December 2020
Have you seen the Bell tea ad, a most unAnglican vicar doing cartwheels across the front of the church with the choir bopping behind him and two elderly ladies in the front saying "Whatever he's got, I want some!".
I suppose that is the question of the lawyer at its heart. How can I be saved? How can I inherit eternal life? How can I live fully and participate in the life of God. How can I serve God? How can I be fully satisfied, do things that matter, that last forever? Isn't that what all the advertisements try to sell us? We are told we seek pleasure. That how we are made. But experience tells us that pleasure is often used to lure us, like taking P, sex with anyone as gratification, seeking power and wealth and control - if we have that opportunity. Great to begin with, until we find we are in the most terrible and destructive place, we can lose ourselves and often destroy others in the process.
Its the question of every religion, every advertiser, asked in different ways and in every age.
"What is written in the law" says Jesus.
The Lawyer gave his own answer, Love God totally, love your neighbour as your self. It comes as a complete package, God neighbour and self.
"That's right" says Jesus - "Go and do it and you shall live.."
The Lawyer pauses. The God and me I can understand but what about this extra person or group - "who is my neighbour?"
Then Jesus tells a story about a dangerous journey, a robbery and a man beaten into a bloody pulp and left for dead naked on the roadside, and a stranger who stopped to rescue him.
This is a life and death story. It answers a life and death question. The listeners know that road and its dangers. They put themselves in the victim's place. He's going to die unless someone helps him.
The priest hurries by, God is all important, the Levite hurries by, but a Samaritan, well they don't even worship properly, he stops and has practical compassion for the man and places him in a safe place where he will be cared for. O there was an innkeeper who took him in. Innkeepers don't usually get a good press either.
I've never seen one of those little booklets on how to become a Christian tell this story.
But Jesus did. "go and do this, this is the way to follow me" The lawyer didn't need a set of beliefs he could quote them anytime, the rules and regulations, the bible verses.
He'd identified with the victim too. Who is your neighbour? Receive help from a Samaritan! He mumbles reluctantly "the one who showed him mercy" Now you know who your neighbour is - the one who shows you compassion.
We are all going to die by the side of the road if we only will accept help from a select few. We need to accept help from others who are different from us to keep us from losing our humanity and getting caught up in ourselves. This story critiques some of the ideologies current in social services, where assumptions about ethnic and religious backgrounds erect barriers to compassion.
The story is about God as well as our neighbour. We can?t have life on our own. If we only rely on humans we will end up dying by the road.
But wait a moment isn't this salvation by works? "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved" sounds much more Christian. [William Loader Pentecost 6]
But remember this is Jesus speaking, showing us the way to follow. Loving God and loving one's neighbour and one's self goes together, they aren't an either or option. Its far more than let's all get along together. Jesus is revealing God to us as linked through our neighbour.
In many religious communities, including Christian communities, there is a tension between the two. "I want to care , but my prior loyalty is to uphold what I believe". Or worse, my devotion to Christ leads me to behaviour that is destructive for others.
In other faiths where there are intense prejudices against Christianity which do not allow acceptance of Christians especially into your own family, often you will find an intense devotion to the God concerned.
Jesus tells us that there is no option of God or neighbour or self . Loving God means the rest follows. It isn't helpful to resolve this by saying I love my neighbour because I am commanded to do so by God. That is at the worst using my neighbour as a means to an end.
Some evangelism has this at its base, and often our suspicion of it is the instinctive knowledge that no matter how kindly meant it is at the end a means to an end. We are asked to love our neighbour freely, as God does, not with conditions attached. People always sense when there is a catch.
So why do we have so much difficulty putting neighbour, God and self together. Maybe Jesus is telling us something about our image of God.
If our God image is more like a pagan image of God. God is the one at the top of our projections of a human power pyramid and where power and control in the human sense are primary values, then this will be in conflict with loving our neighbour and ourselves. If we take the commandment as being like a loyalty to a army commander, where we have to trample over others to follow orders then we have missed what Jesus is teaching us about God.
We need to remember the language of the court and kingship is metaphorical. Ways of speaking about the glory of God using the human examples of glory and power.
Jesus gives us another picture of God.
God does not tell us to destroy any of God's own creation, that would not make sense. Jesus was sent into the world not to condemn the world but to save it, heal it, bring it into wholeness that every who believes in him will have lasting life.
Jesus by his whole life shows us God whose being is loving and whose life is the creative and redeeming outpouring of that costly love. If we see God when we see Jesus. then loving one's neighbour is not just what the King requires" but an invitation to participate in the life and being of God. He says "this is the way, I am the way."
In the story the priest and Levite as so busy keeping pure, loving God that they are blocked from being a neighbour to the dying man. The systems they are in prevents them them from having the very life they are there for.
[Anne Gordon ]
We have often tended to assume that loving your neighbour is about imitating the Good Samaritan and helping those less fortunate than yourself. That's a role we like, helping others. We have power if we choose that role. But if you read the story Jesus told, rather than the story we would like him to have told, we have much more difficult a challenge. Loving your neighbour in the context of this story is about having the humility to realise that it is you who needs help and being open to the possibility that it might come from the most unlikely sources. It means accepting that sometimes other people are right and we are wrong, other people have wisdom that we do not, that we may be the ones who are naked and bleeding by the roadside.
I have heard people say to me, "I?d rather die than accept help from him?" - the relative they have fallen out with, the rival who beat them to a job or a girlfriend, even the member of a different faith or racial group. There are stories from hospitals about people who refuse to be treated by nurses who are from a different country, ambulance people who are beaten up when they come to help. Its crazy, but there are people who would rather suffer and risk death than put themselves in the subordinate, dependent position of receiving help from someone whom they despise.
My guess would be that the lawyer who asked Jesus the questions that triggered this story was used to striving for power, always trying to win the arguments. He was used to having the answers, having right on his side or at least sounding as if he did. I suppose that's fine in a court of law but it isn't the way we are called to be in the rest of life, with each other and with God.
"What must I do," asked the lawyer, " to inherit eternal life?" He expected an answer that demanded something costly or clever from him. Instead Jesus tells him that it is only when we have learned to receive even from those whom we thought had nothing to give and from Jesus himself, that we really start to live the lives that are eternal and full.
Healing God, you seek us out to tell us of your love for us, do not ever let us forget the love you have for your people, your longing for humanity to be drawn into your life and loving , for a transformed world where bandits no longer have reason to roam and destroy.
Let us be willing to allow you to tend to us, let us be willing to allow others to help us where we are weak and give us the love to love others as the neighbours you give us.
May we never be so tired or so preoccupied with purity or bound up in our systems that we discard people who are willing to serve you.
Forgive us if we use loving you as an excuse not to love our neighbour.
but help us to love you as a community and as individuals.
William Loader Pentecost 6 Gospel passages from the Lectionary
Anne Gordon PRCL - List serv
[For ending] full text http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/l/l26brf/]
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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