Proper 10. Year C
By the way, I'm redesigning my sermons site, so new sermons haven't been going up for a while (I'm a biblical scholar, not a web designer, so it takes a while for me to do something web-ish with a quality worth doing). My sermon from July 4 (delivered at my home parish, Memorial, in Baltimore) took a tack that you might appreciate if you liked the blog entry. Please look for it once the new sermons site is up!
Luke 10:25-37 - link to NRSV text
This is going to be a short one, with a longer couple of footnotes.
"Who is my neighbor?"
It's a question most asked, in my experience, by people in a position of privilege and relative safety who are seeking to be selective about with whom they share their privilege, for whom the question boils down to, "on what grounds can I avoid responsibility for someone else's welfare?"
In the end of the gospel passage for this Sunday, Jesus does one thing that completely turns that dynamic on its head. His closing question is what does it:
"Who is the neighbor to the man in the ditch?"
Right then, Jesus asks the questioner to identify with the person in the ditch, who is in need of help from the first willing person -- not with the others on the road, who can elect whether or not to help based on a cluster of totally passable reasons.
This is a twist, and a pretty healthy one. Think about it: how much of our discourse about choices people SHOULD make is conducted among a small set of very privileged people who, because of their privilege, actually HAVE a choice?
So in the "who's my neighbor" question, Jesus asks us to place ourselves in the shoes (or the ditch) of the most desperate person we can imagine before we answer. I'd like to see what would happen to our discourse as Christians and/or Americans if we did this on a regular basis before determining policy with respect to any question.
The woman or man in the ditch would want any person passing by to think of her/himself as neighbor.
Here come the historical footnotes:
1) The non-Samaritans passing by probably had perfectly good (by reasonable standards) reasons for not wanting to help. They were en route from the provinces to Jerusalem. A priest or a Levite passing along that route would likely be on the way to service in the Temple -- service commanded by God. Touching a corpse (and how could you know whether the person in the ditch was a corpse or someone in need of CPR without touching the body?) or bodily fluids (as were certainly in evidence) would render the priest or Levite unclean, and therefore incapable of serving God in the manner commanded by scripture. Before we blame the passing priest and Levite for a lack of compassion, we need to think long and hard about the ways in which our views of what we are obligated to do by virtue of our status -- as fathers or mothers, as spouses, as priests or executives or teachers, as dutiful sons or daughters, as vestry members or clergy or aspirants or anything else -- has presented us with obligations we thought at some point took precedence over what our heart of hearts knew was what compassion demanded.
2) The person in the ditch had a substantial set of reasons to decline help from the Samaritan. There was Scripture (or what a substantial number of folks accepted as scripture, anyway -- and we as Christians are among those folks) to suggest that Samaritans were defined by their defiance of God's will and their flaunting of God's guidance that led to the captivity of Israel's elite in Babylon. People like Ezra and Nehemiah thought that men [sic] of God were called to abandon their foreign wives, to avoid cultural influence from "the nations." They thought that it was Israel's acceptance of Gentile influence (via romantic partnerships with the wrong people) that led to the Captivity. Jesus seems to think that, when it comes to human need, historical wrongs -- even historical wrongs backed up by scriptural prohibition -- take a very, very distant back seat at best.
If you were bleeding and near death in a ditch, from whom would you refuse help?
Jesus begs us to think of everyone whose CPR would be good enough if we were unconscious as our neighbor when it comes to advocating for their full humanity, citizenship, and membership in the people of God.
I think I finally fit in.
Thanks be to God!