Year C, 5thSunday after Pentecost (Proper 10)
July 14, 2019
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The Good Samaritan is the most familiar of all of Jesus’ parables. That makes it hard to preach, but more importantly, it makes it hard to make use of in our lives because we know the story and what it is about, and nearly all of have already located where we are in it: we’re all the good Samaritan! (Obviously). Actually, at least for me, I am more often than not in the role of the lawyer: pondering what I can get away with. But we oughtn’t single out lawyers, or me, perhaps, because we all weasel around for loopholes. I fear that too many of us will do whatever it is we can get away with. One of the common things we try to get away with is defining our own, giving tight definitions of who we need to care for, who we need to care about, or in Jesus’ terms, who is our neighbor. Those are just the positive ways of defining who we can exclude. The deserving poor. Homeless people who are sober or disabled or veterans, not able bodied folks, “Get a job.” Even here, all are welcome here, right? I don’t know… you should have seen the kerfuffle at vestry about praying for President Trump. But it didn’t end there. I have mentioned that a few times… not a single person has come and said, “We really should pray for him.” Including myself! I’ve been too busy to deal with the complaints that would come, so I pray for him in silence at the Prayers. But really, who is our neighbor? Who are we supposed to love as ourselves, as much as we love our children? It doesn’t get much more right here, right now than that. Who deserves our love and attention? How are we to express it? Who is in and who is not?
The Good Samaritan is the authoritative teaching on who we are supposed to care about and how. Who was the neighbor n the story? “‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” You know the story and the answer. But it being so familiar can make it hard to learn from. So today I am going to do something different. I am going to read you a story that gets us to the same place as the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” The story is The Three Questions. The original is by Leo Tolstoy. It is part of a collection of short stories published in 1885. I’m going to read an adaptation by Jon Muth, one of my favorite children’s book authors and illustrators. This version isn’t better than the good Count’s original, but this version is distilled to a parable-like stature.
So there is a tool for you, those three questions, a tool to discern not if to be like the Good Samaritan, but how. When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Neighborliness is not a quality in other people, it is simply their claim on ourselves.” And that is how it is. AMEN