10 July 2022
Year C (Proper 10)
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Church of the Province of Uganda
Iglesia Episcopal Jesús de Nazaret, Orlando
Iglesia Episcopal San Cristobal, Orlando
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Who is our neighbor? Everyone: For there is no one out of God’s scope of mercy and compassion. Back in 1967, a small Pittsburgh studio launched a new production.
A children’s television show with a low budget, a simple set and an unlikely star…An unexpected star who, over the next 33 years, taught young children and their parents and grandparents and perhaps some of us here this morning about some of Jesus’s most important life lessons. “Who is our neighbor?” and “How are WE to be a neighbor to others in need?” And I suspect you remember of whom I speak. Fred Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, who with his red zip-up cardigan and blue Sperry tennis shoes, embodied with his words and actions what Jesus meant by being a good neighbor without ever speaking the word “God.”
On his show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Rogers emphasized the importance of breaking down the barriers between us and the prejudices within our hearts; to embrace all people with kindness, compassion and friendship. In his day, Fred Rogers ‘focus was considered quite radical for he courageously addressed highly charged issues for children and families, racial discrimination, violence, sibling rivalry, and divorce in a biblically grounded way without quoting Scripture directly. Rogers believed, and I quote, "All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we're giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That's one of the things that connects us as neighbors—in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver." And he went on to say “What really matters is helping others, even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.”
This morning’s Gospel lesson of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan enlightens us about the choices we have when confronted with people who are suffering. We see the robbers, the priest and the Levite’s and then the Samaritans’ response. Do we stay the course and continue along our way? Or do we slow down and change our course to help our neighbor? What does the Good Samaritan, a most unlikely neighbor, have to teach us about first receiving and then sharing generously God’s deep, wide, and broad compassion with those most vulnerable?
Our Gospel lesson begins just as the Seventy Missionaries return from offering the peace of God in nearby towns. They are filled with joy as they realize, and Jesus reminds them, that by God’s grace, they have seen and heard God’s love diffusing to Christ and diffusing from Christ into their very hearts and diffusing from their hearts to those they encountered. Suddenly a lawyer, an expert in the Torah law, stands up in their midst to TEST Christ. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Like a good therapist, in typical rabbinic fashion, Jesus puts the question right back into the lawyer’s lap. “Well, what is written in the law?” A faithful Jewish man, the lawyer quotes the Shema, that sacred Deuteronomic passage the Jewish people recite twice daily, confessing their love for God in response to God, choosing and loving them FIRST. But, Jesus knows this lawyer’s heart and his story, while he has the right answer, the Lawyer’s walk on earth does not match his talk. “You must go and do.” says Jesus. Well, the lawyer becomes defensive and looks for a loophole to justify himself; to see whom he might exclude as his neighbor, “But who is my neighbor?”
Now Before I go pointing a finger at the lawyer, looking for loopholes is a perfectly human response because many of us, much of the time prefer clear guidelines and boundaries.
In or Out - Yes or No - Us or Them. Ambiguity challenges us to discern a new answer, to discern with our head and our heart, to take a risk to challenge what we know and believe; uncover new information about ourselves, another, or a situation, to unearth Christ’s truths we may not want to or to be ready to hear. For the spiritual journey is about learning and embodying that all others and we ourselves are in the deep, wide, and broad embrace of God’s mercy. All of God’s children are good created in God’s image, loveable, worthy, and forgivable. No one outside God’s mercy and grace. So, Jesus tells the parable to help the lawyer, and to help us discern who our neighbor really is.
Jesus’s parable’s is set on the “Way of Blood”, a 17-mile winding road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Travelers faced both environmental challenges, hot days, cold nights, and limited water supply and also the risk of violence on this road. Especially for those who were walking alone behind every rock and around every corner thieves could be ready to pounce, stealing possessions, assaulting innocent people and leaving them half dead by the road side. Without a neighbor’s help, these victims would quickly succumb to their injuries. A man is travelling alone from Jerusalem to Jericho…It is unclear if this man is Jewish, for you have heard in the last few weeks that the Samaritans and the Jewish people were quarreling cousins who both believed in the worship of one true God, who had chosen them as a people with expectations of a glorious destiny. But over the years, the Jewish people developed purity laws to keep their distance from Samaritans and Gentiles, laws we know Jesus broke to embody his way of love. But if the man is Jewish, the ante is upped for the Samaritan. Not only does he risk becoming a victim himself but also, he himself breaking the cultural, purity laws. This man travelling was alone, exploited by robbers, stripped, beaten, bloody, perhaps indistinguishable; a human being lying vulnerably by the side of the road.
And yet we hear first a priest, and then a priest’s associate at the Temple, a Levite, see the man’s lifeless body on the side of the road and pass by on the other side of the road. How in the world could they ignore his needs and stay their course? What we do know is that the priest and the Levite faced both the danger that the robbers were setting them up to be their next victims and/or that they would break 1st century Jewish purity laws to remain clean to serve at the Temple for they would be defiled if they touched, let alone, came even close to the possibly dead man. But then along came the Samaritan, the unlikeliest of heroes, who demonstrates that to be a neighbor. We are to draw near to others to see with our eyes wide open the breadth and depth of their pain and vulnerability, to see their humanity and to allow OUR hearts to be filled with compassion so that we bind wounds, share our resources as we are able and ask for the support of others just as the Samaritan did with the innkeeper, to offer Jesus’s way of love to all others.
As we have seen in the priest and Levite’s responses it is all too easy to stay our course or to focus only on our own achievements or to try to find a quick fix to end others’ suffering. Because to be compassionate means to suffer with others and to be compassionate. To call and act towards all others as a neighbor is not for the faint of heart and with our limitations, we cannot be present for all people, everywhere, at all times. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. But being compassionate, as we see in the Samaritan means accompanying people to places where they feel weak, vulnerable, lonely and broken. Holding hands, praying, sitting quietly and listening, taking action where needed. And that means that we ourselves have to be willing to go to those weak, vulnerable, lonely and broken places in our own lives and hearts.
For when in prayer and silence, worship and fellowship we go hand in hand with Christ to name and claim our own soul’s brokenness. We embark on the journey to embrace our own full humanity, to let go of the yardstick of measurement we mercilessly judge ourselves and in turn others so that we can receive God’s deep, broad, and wide gift, compassion for us which Jesus modelled to all. So that over time we come to realize in spite of our own brokenness, what we have done and left undone, God loves us as God’s own. God forgives us and God empowers us with the gift of compassion; to receive Christ’s gift of love, to see Christ at work in us so that we can then see the face of Christ and our common humanity in the lives and faces of others. So that our response to others’ suffering is one of love and mercy in action. As Fred Rogers said, “When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong with the fearful, the true mixed in with the façade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way."
And so this week I invite you to consider where are the broken places in your life which need to be healed and to receive God’s broad, wide, and deep compassion. Jesus stands beside you. Have the courage to take his hand to love yourself as God loves you, all of you, so you can share God’s compassion with all your neighbors.