A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Preached at Christ the Mediator Episcopal Church
In Allentown, Pennsylvania
The Liturgy of the Word
Saturday, July 9, 2022
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.
et Adonai Elohecha
B’chol l’vavcha, uv’chol nafshecha
And you shall love
The Lord your God
With all your heart, all your soul
and all your might.
After two millennia, I think that it is correct to say that most in the Christian Tradition have lost any real contact with the context of the most famous of all the Parables of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, that most commonly known as “The Good Samaritan.” Having lost that living connection, we often seem to struggle to make sense of this beautiful passage from the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke. It is often enlightening to see how Christians approach this passage—and especially those who are called to preach on it every time it appears in the three-year cycle of readings of the Revised Common Lectionary.
It is especially sad to listen to these preachers who come to the most astonishing, and flawed conclusions about “the Lawyer,” “the Priest,” “and the Levite.” It is also astonishing to hear the way in which Second Temple Judaism is depicted—as something which was antithetical to the ministry and teaching of Jesus. Such approaches are quite harmful, unintendedly anti-Jewish, and fail to acknowledge that essential truth that Jesus was Jewish—from his first breath to his last. He had far more in common with either the Pharisees or Sadducees than things which separated him from them. And, the power of the story which he shares in the Gospel today will only make sense if understood in the Jewish context in which it was first shared.
One of my favorite Scripture Scholars, Dr. Brant Pitre, suggests that “lawyer” is not an accurate translation of the Greek word “nomikos.” When we hear the word, we tend to automatically think of someone we hire when we have a brush with the law—or of someone we pay to help us prepare a will. The law referred to here, is the Torah, or the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. And so, it would make more sense, Dr. Pitre tells us, to think of someone who is a biblical scholar.
Interestingly enough, this interaction between Jesus and the biblical scholar suggests an interaction of mutual interest, and even amical collegiality, rather than disagreement or hostility. That is important to note. This scholar is not trying to trip up Jesus, or to embarrass him. Rather, he reached out to him as a colleague—asking an open-ended question. Despite the language of eternal life (which in itself is a progressive theology supported by the Pharisees—in opposition to the Sadducees—who were the biblical fundamentalists of that age), I think that a good way of paraphrasing the question in a more contemporary way would be something like, “Jesus, how are we supposed to go about living out a loving, covenantal relationship with God?”
Jesus, of course, turns the question back around and asks the biblical scholar, “Well, what do the Scriptures tell us?” The scholar could have responded in any number of ways, and I suspect that the conversation might have well taken any number of different paths thereafter. But, the answer which the scholar gives focuses on what he perceives as the essential element of the Jewish Faith. The teaching Moses “our Rabbi, “Moshe Rabbeinu,” is that it is all about love. We are called to love God, and to love our neighbor!”
His quote is taken directly from the most important prayer in Judaism—the Shema. It is a prayer which was, and is, prayed three times each day by observant Jews. The prayer begins with an invitation—and an affirmation of faith. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord, the Lord our God is one.” But then it spells out that the observant Jew is not only called to listen, to hear, and to believe, they are called to love! In a way that summarizes or recapitulates the very essence of the ten commandments, humans are called to be in relationship, in community, with God, with others, and with creation!
To cut to the chase, I think that we can ask an important question. What does it mean to love others, to love our neighbor, and who is it, in fact, that we are called to love anyway? It reminds us of that devastating insight from the Book of Genesis. We are our brothers’ and sister’s keepers! We can not actually love God, if we refuse to love others! And here is the difficult lesson which Jesus wishes to teach us. We are called to love, treasure, value, affirm and care for every single person—without exception! We don’t have to agree with them, we don’t have to like them, but we do have to love them!
As shocking as that is, the parable which Jesus shares goes even further! The kind of love that Jesus speaks about is not an abstract theoretical emotion. It is made real, present, and effective through concrete actions.
- We love the hungry by feeding them.
- We love the homeless by helping them find a safe place to live.
- We love the naked by providing them clothes.
- We love the foreigner, or stranger, by welcoming them.
- We love the enslaved by liberating them from the chains and shackles that bind them.
- We love the abused, neglected, and exploited by caring for their physical, emotional, and personal needs.
- We work for justice, for equality, and for dignity.
- We allow ourselves to be inconvenienced by serving and caring for discarded human beggars lying in our streets and on the side of the road.
- We listen to those who have not been heard, and we help those who do not have a voice, to speak their truth.
- We do all of that without expecting anything in return.
In the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict of Nursia, challenges us to love, to serve, and to welcome every person as if we were welcoming Christ. That is what it means to love God! That is what it means to love our neighbor! And the words of Jesus are as clear to us today as they were to the scripture scholar two thousand years ago, “Go and do likewise.”
Dear Friends, may our hearts and ears be open today, to hear this invitation to love and to serve God, and to love and serve anyone whom God sends to us. In so doing, we will make the promise of Beloved Community a reality, and not just an impossible dream!