A Lawyer got up to test Jesus. It doesn’t say the attorney is hostile; perhaps it is simply playing to test his reflexes and wit against Jesus.
He begins with a discussion on salvation. Who is saved and how do we get to be one of them?
What do I do to inherit eternal life? What must I do to share in the resurrection of the righteous at the end of time? How can I be sure I am in the will among the beneficiaries?
Jesus as usual doesn’t answer the question but asks one. What is written in the law? The Lawyer is quoted whenever Christians gather for Eucharist Rite I: Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
“Bingo” said Jesus, “do this and you’ll inherit eternal life and live!”
The lawyer couldn’t leave well enough alone. Wishing to justify himself,
Well, who is my neighbor? The lawyer is looking for a definition of “neighbor” – to define is to as a way to limit – to define is to cut off. He wanted something like:
A rebuttable presumption arises that a person (henceforth to be known as the party of the first part) is one’s neighbor (henceforth to be known as the party of the second part) when the purported party of the second part’s real property boundary is adjacent to or contiguous with the party of first part’s real property boundary, provided, however, the two interested parties 1) received respective ownership interests in the real property in question in accord with Judean Code Ann. § 66-5-103; and, 2) inhabit the respective parcels of real property as defined by the Court of the Sanhedrin in Samuel ben Hur v. Benjamin ben Abram 309 S.W.2d 403.
- Traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho he would have gone through the Pass of Adummim, [Hebrew, blood]
- 2,600 feet about sea-level to 825 feet below sea-level over a twisting route 17 miles long, rocky desert surrounded by caves and famous for robbers and terrorists long before the first century.
- He is robbed, stripped, and beaten – left for dead or half-dead. Having set this scene of desperate need with tragic consequences, Jesus now sets about rescuing the man. Who will help?
As almost always in human stories there are three candidates (as always in human stories). By chance (this is hopeful – help is just around the corner) and who comes into view?
- A PRIEST – God’s servant who ministers in Gods’ temple and represents the height of piety. His hearers are hopeful. (I want to be hopeful for my profession, but have already read the punch-line so I hold my peace).
What will he do? He sees the man and “passes by on the other side of the road” = the word is “anti” – against or opposite – There is no help to found here!!!!
Why? We don’t know but the point is not WHY he didn’t help but that he DIDN’T HELP.
The New Decalogue
THOU shalt have one God only; who
Would be at the expense of two?
No graven images may be
Worshipped, except the currency.
Swear not at all; for thy curse
Thine enemy is none the worse.
At church on Sunday to attend
Will serve to keep the world thy friend.
Honor thy parents; that is, all
From whom advancement may befall.
Thou shalt not kill; but need’st not strive
Officiously to keep alive.
Do not adultery commit;
Advantage rarely comes of it.
Thou shalt not steal; an empty feat,
When it’s so lucrative to cheat.
Bear not false witness; let the lie
Have time on its own wings to fly.
Thou shalt not covet, but tradition
Approves all forms of competition.
So the priest scooted on down the road.
- WE HEAR THE SOUNDS OF A SECOND TRAVELER.
A second religious leader – a Levite : Choirmaster Organist as it were. Likewise he passes in opposition to helping the victim on the shoulder of the road.
Again why is not important so much as the fact that now 2 religious leaders have flunked the test of their own faith.
- NOW NUMBER 3 IS HEARD IN THE DISTANCE, THE CLOPPING SOUND OF A MULE.
And who comes into sight but a Samaritan. Jews do not like Samaritans – Eating with them was the same as eating pork for observant Jews. No one hearing this twist of the tale is not disturbed this despised outsider
SIX CONCRETE ACTS: COMPASSION ALWAYS COSTS SOMETHING–
- Comes up to him
- Binds his wounds
- Anoints the cuts with oil and wine – soothing & disinfecting
- Loads him on his own mule
- Takes him to an inn
- Provides care and comfort
- Pays for care and will cover any further costs.
Jesus, “Who was his neighbor?” Notice how the lawyer replies, “The ONE (won’t even say Samaritan) that had mercy on him.
Go and do likewise! One should not seek to narrowly define who is a neighbor so as to limit one’s responsibility. The object is not to see what can be avoided, but to render aid when it can be readily supplied.
That was them there and then. What about us here and now?
Thirty years ago the Episcopal Church’s standard on priestly formation was called “Minimum competency” – the least you could get by with. It was a joke among us as it seems (is) contradictory to the Good News of God in Christ. Shouldn’t our standards be a little higher than that.
Salvation is a gift! However, salvation is a gift that must be accepted. Finally, it is something you do.
Brian McLaren in his book, “Finding Our Way Again” tells the story of being asked, “Why do Books on Buddhism sell better than Christian ones?”
Why is that? He asked the man, “Buddhism is a way of life while Christianity is a set of beliefs.”
What we need is not Orthodoxy (Right Belief) but Orthopraxy (Right Practice). Episcopal Spiritual Life Renewal Process is about this very thing! This fall begins the Year of the Bible Challenge here at Saint John’s. We will read the Bible from Cover to Cover in a year. We will provide lots of resources to make this task possible. It can be done. I learned at my father’s funeral that he was half-way reading through the Bible for the 25th time when he died.
Bibles will be in the pews. What we need from each other is the one thing nobody can do for us: the decision and discipline to do this very thing.
Ignorance of the Bible is no longer acceptable here.
Not minimum competency – maximum commitment, maximum practice, maximum self feeding – when we do this, grace is ours for the having.
Tomorrow marks 10 years for me as your rector. Thank you for the multitude of your kindnesses to Marilyn and me these past 11 years.
As you know, I will be on vacation in August, and then on sabbatical from September 1st until December 1st The day after Labor Day, I plan to travel to Great Britain and stay in York and environs until mid-October. I will keep a blog during this time.
I ask that you pray for me as I will for you as I take this time to reflect, travel, rest, and write. In the New Year we will continue our adventure. I couldn’t ask for better companions for the way.