Sermon: Proper 10 RCL C – “Neighbors”

The audio version of the sermon can be found here.

You won’t like this story. You may even get mad at me for telling it:

There were two great rivals, both lovers of art and literature, Jerome and Sasha.  One day, while going through an antique shop, Jerome came across what he thought to be an authentic genie’s lamp, so paying for it he took it home.  After hiding himself in his office he began to rub the lamp and call to the genie.  Amazingly enough, after just a few moments a cloud of smoke billowed out of the spout and in the center of the cloud was a genie.  Jerome was elated.  The genie said to him, “I am here to grant you three wishes, but there is a catch, for everything I do for you, I will do twice for your greatest rival Sasha.”  Jerome thinks for a while and then says, “Fine.  For my first wish I would like to have an enormous house and in it the greatest collection of art in the world.”   The genie gives a nod and a wink and poof, all the great masterpieces are suddenly Jerome’s.”  A moment later the phone rings, it is Sasha.  She gleefully tells Jerome about how she has suddenly received a collection more grand than his.  Pieces that were lost or stolen are now hers and so on.  Jerome is furious but calm.  He turns to the genie and wishes for all the greatest manuscripts and writings in the world.  The genie says yes, but reminds Jerome that he will do double for Sasha.  Jerome responds, “Yeah yeah, just give me the writings” and poof he has them and poof the phone rings.  It is Sasha.  She now has manuscripts and writings that no one has ever seen before.  Copies of items that had been lost in the great library of Alexandria.  It is remarkable; however, in mid-sentence Jerome slams the phone down on Sasha and says, “Genie, I have my third wish.”  “Yes, but remember, whatever I do for you…”  “I know I know, twice for Sasha — My third wish… I want you to blind me in one eye.”

I’ve told that story before, but when I did, I thought it was just a bit too harsh. A bit too pessimistic. I thought, surely the world isn’t that mean. I guess I was naïve and I guess I still am. Because even though I witness all the evil, I don’t truly believe it represents who we really are. After all, we were made in the image of God and “God is love.”

The parable of the Good Samaritan, would have certainly stirred up confusion among those listening. The ones we assumed would have helped just kept on walking, while the least likely candidate came to the rescue. To understand the story, we need a short history lesson.

From our studies of the Minor Prophets, some of you will remember that Israel was divided into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Ten tribes in the north and two in the south. One of the northern kings set up his capital on a hill called Samaria. The capital would remain until the year 722 BC, when the Assyrians came in and conquered the Northern Kingdom. Many of the citizens were then carried into exile, never to be heard from again; however, there were a few that remained.

It was then that the Assyrians sent foreigners into the land to resettle it. The Jews that had not been carried into exile would later intermarry with these various people. They maintained some of their religion and worship of God, but it mingled with some of the pagan rituals that had been introduced by the foreigners. In addition, they would go on to build a temple in Samaria to worship God.

Later, the Southern Kingdom would also be taken into exile in Babylon, but it would be Cyrus who would eventually allow them to return to their capital of Jerusalem, and they began rebuilding the city. Those Samaritans who lived in the north asked to help, they considered themselves to still be Jewish, but those in the south considered them to be unclean filth for intermarrying and taking on some of the practices of the foreigners, so they refused that help. This enraged the Samaritans who then began doing all they could to undermine the work of the southern Jews. This enraged the south, so when they were strong enough, in the year 108 BC, they marched north and destroyed the Samaritans temple. North and south, Jerome and Sasha, became bitter enemies.

To say that they did not like each other is an understatement. They detested one another. Jews, having to travel north, would literally go miles out of their way so as not to have walk through the Samaritan region. This is what makes the parable so remarkable.

In reading the parable of the Good Samaritan, we can easily see the lesson of how we are to treat one another. Someone hurt, someone in need, care for them. Don’t just walk past as though you don’t even see them. That is a good moral lesson, but when Jesus told the religious leader the parable, he was not asking him to associate with the Samaritan. When Jesus told the parable, he was asking the religious leader to place himself in the role of the victim, the man who had been beaten, bleeding, and was dying on the side of the road.

The religious leader asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” After telling the parable Jesus asked the religious leader, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” Jesus asked, “You are the man dying on the side of the road, which one of these was a neighbor to you?” The religious leader replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” My neighbor is the one who showed me mercy.

The religious leader, the man dying on the side of the road, prior to the robbers coming along, would not have spoken to a Samaritan. He would not have looked at a Samaritan unless it was in attempt to determine how to avoid him. He would not have walked through a Samaritan village, because even the earth that the Samaritan walked upon was an abomination. And, most likely, had their roles been reversed and the Samaritan was the one dying on the side of the road, the religious leader would have passed him by, thinking that the Samaritan – that unclean filth – had gotten what he deserved. But the religious leader, when all the outward pretenses had been stripped away, when all the rhetoric was silenced, and when even his on people had rejected him, was able to see and understand that the Samaritan would do just fine as a neighbor. He is the one – and only one – who showed mercy.

What is mercy? We can look at it as showing compassion. The Samaritan showed mercy/compassion by helping the injured man. The injured man could have viewed it as only this, but mercy has another aspect: Grace. Forgiveness. The Samaritan showed mercy in that he forgave the injured man, his enemy, of all the past hurts shared between them, and helped him.

“The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.”
(Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene I)

Mercy. Compassion. Forgiveness. Grace. These are attributes of God.

The religious leader asked, ”Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, ”You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

A brother went to Abba Matoes and said to him, ‘How is it that the monks of Scetis did more than the Scriptures required in loving their enemies more than themselves?’ Abba Matoes said to him, ‘As for me I have not yet managed to love those who love me as I love myself.’

Confession: I have not yet managed to love those who love me as I love myself, I have not yet learned to love my neighbor or the stranger, and I certainly have not learned to love my enemies. But I am made in the image of God and God is love, therefore, that love is within me. By showing mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and grace, I vow to discover it.

“Go and do likewise.”

Let us pray: O Dearly beloved Word of God, teach us to be generous, to serve You as You deserve, to give without counting the cost, to fight without fretting at our wounds, to labor without seeking rest, to spend ourselves without looking for any reward other than that of knowing that we do Your holy will. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.

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