The way of life

File:Samariter.JPG

Once more on last Sunday

Luke 10:25-37

25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

I am not ready to leave behind the texts for last Sunday, but I have trouble pulling just a single thread from the thoughts and emotions that swirl around within me.

The whole of Biblical faith is here in this passage where an expert in the interpretation and application of the law rises to a showdown with Jesus. Jesus trumps him with a story we all know as “the Good Samaritan”. But it is never just a smackdown with Jesus. Jesus wants to summon even this lawyer into the way of the kingdom.

The whole of Biblical faith is here in this passage – or, at least, Christian Faith. Here we see the transformative hand of Jesus upon the tradition he inherited. In a world where tribalism reigns, Jesus summons us to live as those who regard all people as members of our tribe, our kinship group, our family. Brothers and sisters. The outcast, the unclean, the Gentiles, even enemies – we are to love them all.

Show fidelity to God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind and show fidelity to your neighbor as to yourself. Allegiance not to tribe but to the God who is creator of all. Allegiance to the God who opens prison doors and blind eyes and gathers all creation to one table. Allegiance to the God who empties the grave to set us all free from our habitation in the realm of death.

The shooter in Dallas became a victim of death. Even as his body lived, death held his mind and heart in its grasp. It promised him relief in killing. In killing cops, in killing white people. It gave him the illusion of power, the illusion that he could affect the world. But it gave him no life, no wholeness, no healing, no liberation, only a bomb attached to the arm of a robot and a name no one wants to remember.

But there is before us another way, a path of life. A way that heals and makes whole. A way that rescues and redeems. A way that is joy and light.

And here is the deep, deep mystery in the parable. We are the fallen wounded. And Christ is the Samaritan who comes to us, who binds up our wounds, who carries us to safety, who pays the price for our healing. For the living. For the dead. For the whole creation.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASamariter.JPG By Mraz (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Live the mercy

 

Thursday

Deuteronomy 30:1-14

File:Musée du Petit Palais Petit Palais n09.jpg1When all these things have happened to you, the blessings and the curses that I have set before you, if you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, 2and return to the Lord your God, and you and your children obey him with all your heart and with all your soul, just as I am commanding you today, 3then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, gathering you again from all the peoples among whom the Lord your God has scattered you. 4Even if you are exiled to the ends of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will bring you back.

These words are not part of the assigned text for the first reading on Sunday, but they should be. They set the context for the promise of prosperity and for the declaration that “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you.”

The story starts in exile. The exhortation begins in mercy. This is a word of hope. When all is lost, there is yet a future. If we turn back, God will restore. And what God asks is “not too hard” for us. It is not esoteric. The life God wants for us is within our reach.

Justice and mercy are simple things. We may not want to give them, but they are simple and straightforward. God’s commands are not like the tax code. You do not need a legal expert to make them intelligible. You do not need a hero to discern them. God’s commands are really pretty modest: He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

At first glance, Jesus seems to make the commands tougher: You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times…but I say to you… But what Jesus is asking is that we keep the spirit of God’s law not simply its outward form. There is a lust of the heart not just of the body, and an anger that rends the human community though it does not murder.

God has commanded us to love our neighbor. Jesus just wants us to stop limiting mercy. Mercy is not hard. Compassion is not hard. It is our hearts that can be hard.

There are a thousand reasons not to stop and help the wounded man. The priest will be defiled and have to return to Jerusalem to undergo purification. The Levite, too, is surely on some important business and has good cause not to get involved. But this is not a situation that calls for nuanced interpretation of legal obligations; this is a situation that calls for us to live the mercy of God. Pretty simple: Live the mercy of God.

11Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 14No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMus%C3%A9e_du_Petit_Palais_Petit_Palais_n09.jpg By jean-louis Zimmermann from Moulins, FRANCE [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A holy revolution

File:Paris - Jardin des Tuileries - PA00085992 - 106.jpg

Watching for the Morning of July 10, 2016

Year C

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 10 / Lectionary 15

Jesus is a revolutionary; he turns things around. He turns us around. And if we don’t like the political associations of that word, the “religious” synonym is repentance. Only Biblical repentance isn’t about moral regret. It is about changing directions. Turning around. Jesus is a revolutionary, bent on turning us around, bent on turning the world around.

The encounter with Jesus in this reading for Sunday starts as an attack by an expert in the interpretation and application of God’s law. Maybe it’s a personal attempt to make himself look good in the eyes of the crowd by upstaging this peasant healer. Maybe he wants to tear Jesus down as a potential threat to the established order. Either way, his question is intended to show that Jesus doesn’t know the scriptures or understand the tradition. But Jesus is a revolutionary; he turns the tables on the expert, showing that this “expert” knows all the right words and nothing of their significance.

The story Jesus tells is full of shock and awe. The Samaritan is an unexpected character in the story and he behaves in a startling way. Since the wounded man is stripped and beaten, the Samaritan cannot know whether he is “one of ours” or “one of theirs”. The touch of a Samaritan, his wine and oil, are all unclean to a Judean, as likely to elicit rage as gratitude.

The expert knows the answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” A neighbor is a fellow Israelite. This expert is not looking for information; he is scrambling to save face, hoping still to show Jesus as ignorant. But Jesus is a revolutionary; he turns the question around from “Who is my neighbor?” to “Who showed himself to be a neighbor?” Now we are not talking about who the other person is, but “Who am I?”

What does it mean to be God’s people? What does it mean to be a citizen of God’s reign? What does it mean to be a human being, created in the image of God?

A Samaritan! A hated Samaritan is the example of our true humanity! Our divine calling! Just like the Roman Centurion was an example of true faith! This Jesus who welcomes sinners…he is a revolutionary, bent on turning us all around.

So Sunday we will be confronted again by Jesus telling this familiar but challenging story. And we will hear the preaching of Deuteronomy call us to fidelity. And the psalmist will pray for God to teach us his paths. And the author of Colossians will pray that we may lead lives worthy of the Lord – reminding us that God has “rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.”  A holy revolution.

The Prayer for July 10, 2016

Lord of mercy,
who gathers up a broken world in the arms of your grace,
teach us to live as you live,
to love as your love,
and to see all people as members of a single human family;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 10, 2016

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:1-14 (appointed: 9-14)
“Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you” –
To a people who have experienced the trauma of exile comes the promise of restoration and renewal and the exhortation to “turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Psalmody: Psalm 25:1-10
“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths” – A prayer of faith for God’s continuing mercy, protection and guidance.

Second Reading: Colossians 1:1-14
“We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.” – The salutation and blessing at the beginning of the letter to the Colossians that anticipate the central concerns of the letter.

Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
“But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”
– Jesus answers a lawyer’s challenge with the story we know as the parable of the Good Samaritan.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AParis_-_Jardin_des_Tuileries_-_PA00085992_-_106.jpg By Thesupermat (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A surprising and unexpected mercy

Sunday Evening

Luke 10

The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijna...

The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijnants (1670) shows the Good Samaritan tending the injured man. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity

Moved with pity.  Luke uses this Greek word two other times in his Gospel.  Jesus is moved with pity for the widow of Nain as she carried her son to burial, and the father of the prodigal son was moved with pity for his hungry and broken son.  Outside of Luke, Jesus has compassion for the crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd, for the crowds who are hungry, for the leper who is cleansed, and for the boy with an unclean spirit that convulses him.  It is a word used of God’s compassion for us, God’s suffering love.

When the Samaritan is moved with compassion, we should see Jesus.

We need to hear this message that we are neighbor/kin to others.  They are not our neighbors, creating an obligation for us; we are neighbors to them, creating an identity in us.  We are those who see others as members of our family.  We are those who, like Christ Jesus, are moved with compassion for the wounded of the world.  We are members of the royal household sharing the love of the king for those of his realm.  We are the body of Christ in the world, the agents of Grace.  It is not about which of my neighbors has claim on me; it is about God who has claimed and inspirited me to live his compassion in the world.

We need to hear this message.  But, in the Samaritan, we also need to see Jesus.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan.  He pays the price to rescue a broken and beaten world.  And he is our Good Samaritan.  He finds us at the side of the road beaten by life, and tends our wounds with wine and oil.  He carries us to safety.  He stays at our side through the darkness of the night.  He provides for our needs.  And he returns for us, paying any debt.

So, we are Good Samaritans not because we should (though we should), but because we have been brought into the reality of the true Good Samaritan.  We have lain at the side of the road and been met with a surprising and unexpected mercy.  We have tasted his goodness.  And he has given us his Spirit.

 

 

Kin

Saturday

Luke 10

The Good Samaritan by Aimé Morot (1880) shows ...

The Good Samaritan by Aimé Morot (1880) shows the Good Samaritan taking the injured man to the inn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

36“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

Notice that Jesus asks which man was a neighbor “to” the wounded man.  Jesus twists the question around so that it is no longer “Who is my neighbor,” but “Who showed himself a neighbor?  Who acted as a neighbor?”

And please understand the assumption underlying Jesus’ question:  they we’re all neighbors, though only the Samaritan acted like one.

They were all neighbors. Though they came from different tribes, though they occupied different social positions, they were bound together by their shared humanity.  They were not enemies.  They were not competitors.  They were not elite and common laborers.  They were members of a single human family.

Love in the world of the scripture is the care and concern and solidarity you show for members of your family, your clan.  You have obligations to family; you don’t have obligations to strangers.  Jesus says everyone is your family – or, more profoundly, you are family to everyone.

There are manifold forces at work in our world to divide us from one another.  Tribalism abounds.  Red state and blue.  Gay and straight.  Religious and secular.  Christian, Muslim and Jew.  Conservative Christians and Liberal Christians.  Creationists and Evolutionists.  Pro life and pro choice.  Vegan, vegetarian and omnivore.  Tree huggers and tree cutters.  And then there are those truly deep divisions over race, culture, language and history.

Twice in the last hundred years the whole world has been at war.  In between have been lots of other proxy wars and revolutionary wars and “ethnic cleansings.”   The death toll makes the bubonic plague look tame.  Into this warring world Christ has planted his little community with the message that you are family to every person you meet, to every other person in the whole world – even the guy who’s pounding the nails into your hands and feet.

If this isn’t a stunning thought you aren’t paying attention.

More than rules

Friday

Colossians 1

God the Father 11

God the Father 11 (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

9For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.

“The knowledge of God’s will.”  My will for my daughters and the rules we had in our household are two different things.  My “will” was that they be honest, responsible, compassionate and cooperative.  The rules were specific things that seemed appropriate in order to help them be honest, responsible, compassionate and cooperative.  But the rules are not the point.  I would not be pleased with a child who was home by curfew, cleaned her room, and always had her homework done if she were also manipulative, deceitful or cruel.  God’s will is more than rules.

Paul doesn’t pray that the believers in Colossae will know God’s rules; he prays they will understand God’s will.  The legal materials in the Old Testament are not simply social mores of a forgotten time, nor are they timeless requirements of the divine will; they are attempts to give insight into the will of God for our existence.  It is not enough to observe the rule about only taking the eggs and not the hen from a nest in the field if we do not see in that law the will of God for humanity to respect and preserve the created world.  It is not enough to observe the rule that you not cut down fruit trees when laying siege to a city if you have laid waste to the cropland to punish the people with hunger long after the war is over.  It is not enough to refrain from adultery if your heart desires what belongs to another – or you fail to desire what belongs to you.

Laws are nice and neat, black and white.  And they are also open to sophisticated parsing – just exactly which neighbors do I have to treat as if they were members of my own household or clan?  Once you have asked that question, you are no longer seeking God’s will; you are seeking something else.

I appreciate the need for rules and for careful thought about their application.  But we cannot use rules as tools to control others, as tools to define “us” from “them” or “good” people from “bad,” as proof of our righteousness or the means of meriting God’s favor.  The rules are there to give us examples of what God’s will looks like.  It doesn’t mean we are free of the rules; it means we are seeking to understand and live God’s will.  We are seeking to understand God’s vision for human life – care for one another, care for the earth, care for ourselves; compassion, justice, peace; love of God and love of neighbor.

“What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

This is Paul’s prayer.  He has not come to Colossae to convert them from one system of religious practices to another; he has come to give them understanding of the will of the one who stands at the beginning and end of time and calls us into the fullness of our humanity.

PS The references above to provisions in the Torah are found in Deuteronomy 22:6 and 20:19

Fruit

Thursday

Deuteronomy 30

English: Fruit stall in a market in Barcelona,...

English: Fruit stall in a market in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil.

This is one of those places where it is important to read the scriptures carefully, especially those of us living in the United States where we worship prosperity and use it as a measure of success.

The prosperity God promises is fruit: fruit of the body, livestock and soil – to which I think we should also add the fruit of the Spirit.

If my fields yield an abundant harvest, no one else in the human community has lost anything.  It is not gained by cleverness in business.  It is not gained by taking advantage of anyone’s need.   A rich harvest is not gained by pushing wages down and moving jobs overseas.  It is not gained by creating obscure derivatives and paying others to rate them highly.  It is not gained by underselling the competition until I have a monopoly.  It is not gained by taking advantage of insider information or manipulating the market.  The Biblical image of divine blessing is rooted in the natural world, not the socio-economic one.

This is not an attack on capitalism, only a caution.  We slip so easily into the worship of wealth and power that we can lose sight of Biblical values.  It’s not good business to leave the margins of your fields unharvested – but it is good for the poor.  It’s not good business to leave your fields ungleaned – but it is good for those in need.  It is not good business to give away the first tenth of your harvest – but it is good for the human community.  It is not good business to pick up a beaten man at the side of the road and provide him free health care (unless you can get good media attention from it) – but it is good for the human spirit.

The market does not care about the well-being of my neighbor.  But God expects me to do so.

9For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1, our second reading for Sunday)

Defenseless

Wednesday

Deuteronomy 30

An illustration of the Parable of the Good Sam...

An illustration of the Parable of the Good Samaritan from the Rossano Gospels, believed to be the oldest surviving illustrated New Testament. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

11Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.

When I was a child the confession at the beginning of the worship service said I am “sinful and unclean.”  When our church body adopted a new hymnal the language was changed to declare that we are “in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”  I understand theologically what the confession was stating.  I also understand why no one wanted to think we were not in control of our own righteousness and salvation.

It is part of my innate rebellion against God to wrench the title “savior” from God’s hands and claim it for myself.  We are all Little Jack Horner wanting to declare, “What a good boy am I.”  The parade of self-conceit in politics, news, business and religion is tiring.  Like the lawyer whose challenge to Jesus prompts the story of the Good Samaritan, we are all eager to claim we are the righteous.  Watch any family argument and you will see a battle of self-justification.  We are not naturally inclined towards the truth but to self-preservation.  And part of that self-preservation is the denial of our sinfulness.  Oh we will acknowledge that we are imperfect, but hiding behind that statement is the conviction that, graded on a curve, we are still better than average, good enough to be welcomed into the eternal habitations.

But the old prayer that we are “unclean,” didn’t mean we were vile; it meant we were unworthy to stand in God’s presence.  We are not “holy.”  And “sinful” didn’t mean we were wholly corrupt, but that deep within we are turned towards ourselves rather than towards God and our neighbor.  The desire to be our own savior, to be the judge who declares us worthy, is prime evidence of that inward turn.  Like a car repaired after a collision, we may look fine on the outside but, hidden from view, the frame is bent.

If we are honest, we must acknowledge that something is off-kilter in the human heart.  Were it not, peace and harmony would be the norm rather than conflict and resentment.  But in that wondrously talented way we have of twisting things, even our “bondage to sin” becomes a rationalization and excuse: “I’m only human.”  And there it is again, our self-justification.  Psychological studies confirm that it is much more important for us to be able to claim innocence than to be innocent.

To this human heart that wants to excuse itself comes this word that God’s commands are not esoteric or difficult.  God’s will for us does not require heroic effort.  The voice of God through this verse from Deuteronomy strips away our excuses.  It is not that hard to be faithful to God and our neighbor.  It is not that hard to be mindful of the poor, to honor our parents and our neighbor’s marriage.  It is not hard to guard the possessions and life of others.  We just don’t want to.  And there is our bondage.  We can’t give up the self-justifying self, so we trim and edit the commands of God to suit our needs.  Like the legal expert before Jesus, we limit our obligation by limiting who is regarded as our neighbor – and labeling some as our enemies.

Between Jesus and Deuteronomy we are defenseless.  God’s commands are not hard, but we are addicted to self.  And so we are back to the core question: who gets to be God?  Who will be Savior?  In whom shall we trust? And, therefore, how will we live?  Mercy, justice, compassion, are not heroic tasks; they are simple deeds – if only we will let God be God.

Watching for the morning of July 14

Year C

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 10 / Lectionary 15

This coming Sunday we will hear the psalmist pray for God to teach him God’s way, not holding against him the folly of his youth.  The “lawyer” who comes to Jesus is not seeking God’s way.  After all, he’s an expert in the application of God’s law; he already knows what God requires.  As a friend of mine says of similar people, he’s “on the answer committee.”  This expert in the application of God’s law to the various circumstances of life comes to show off his knowledge and reveal Jesus’ ignorance.  Unfortunately for him, Jesus wins.  But Jesus is not interested in simply winning the verbal battle.  With the story of the Good Samaritan, he tries to open the heart and mind of this religious expert and call him into the way of God’s kingdom.

Whether we seek God’s truth or not, God seeks us, setting before us the path of life and bidding us to follow.

Prayer for July 14, 2013

Lord of mercy,
who gathers up a broken world
in the arms of your grace,
teach us to live as you live,
to love as your love,
and to see all people as members
of a single human family.

The Texts for July 14, 2013

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:9-14
11Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you” – An exhortation in the mouth of Moses urging the people to abide by God’s will made known in the laws given at Sinai.

Psalmody: Psalm 25:1-10
 “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths” – A prayer of faith for God’s continuing mercy, protection and guidance.

Second Reading: Colossians 1:1-14
2To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae:” –
The salutation and blessing at the beginning of the letter to the  Colossians

Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
“But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”  – Jesus answers a lawyer’s challenge with the story we know as the parable of the Good Samaritan.