The Rev. Josephine Robertson
All Saints, Bellvue
July 14 2019, Proper 10C
Sometimes I think that today’s reading the perennial and persistent question of humanity.
Who do I have to care about, and just how much must I care?
The whole of the Torah (the Jewish law) is meant to teach human beings how to live together with each other, and with God, in a healthy way. But human beings are perpetual toddlers so it is no surprise that despite many hundreds of years of study of the law we have a lawyer still asking questions, still (perhaps) looking for a way around.
My Mother and Grandmother were school teachers so I know what Jesus is doing here, he gets asked a question and he answers it with his own question. He makes his student do the work themselves. “How are we to live fully?” asks the lawyer, and Jesus points him back to the law.
The lawyer gives the classical, rabbinical summary of the Torah: Love the Lord your God with all that you are; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.
And Jesus let’s him know he’s got the answer it has been there in front of him all his life. Essentially Jesus tells him: you know it; go do it.
And because humans are humans instead of going and doing the lawyer quibbles. “Ok, but so who is my neighbor?”
It is like Cain, when God came looking for his (murdered) brother Abel, and Cain asks: Am I my brother’s keeper?
A rabbi friend likes to say that the WHOLE of the Torah is God’s answer to Cain’s question. Yes. Yes Cain you are your sibling’s keeper. That was the point all along!
It is the same question the lawyer is asking Jesus.
Just how far do I have to go?
And the answer is: out of your way. The answer is: all the way. For anyone. Even when it is inconvenient, even when it might be dangerous. But we’re still asking if God really means it…
The Pew research institute did a poll asking folks if they felt that we (the United States) had an obligation to help refugees (not immigrants, refugees fleeing violence and unrest).
The breakdown was pretty shameful. We are still that lawyer quibbling about who our neighbor might be.
Percent of respondents (by religious affiliation) who said YES, we have an obligation to help:
- Religiously unaffiliated 65%,
- Black Protestant 63%
- Roman Catholic 50%
- White mainline Protestant 43%
- White evangelicals 25%
Cain looks up from the blood stained earth and asks God with a shrug: What do you expect me to do?
OK, I’m supposed to love my neighbor but what about…
I believe God means it, God means it that we are each other’s siblings. We are in this world to care for one another, no exceptions. And the ancient, survival oriented lizard brains buried deep beneath our big monkey brains want to tell us that doesn’t include a whole lot of people. People who look different, sound different, act different. Our lizard brains want us to believe that this world is frightening and that people who are different from us our are enemies.
Our lizard brains tells us we must defend ourselves, protect ourselves, form little like minded groups.
God tells us differently.
God says: Love me. Love each other.
God meant it so much that God became one of us to show us what love looks like in flesh. God fed us with God’s own hands. God healed our wounds. Soothed our fevered minds. God lifted us up out of the dust and dirt. Set us in God’s own lap, jiggled us on God’s knee.
And when none of that was enough; God died, rather than harm a single hair on the head of a single one of his siblings on this earth.
The parable of the Good Samaritan never goes out of style, because we human beings keep asking the question: ok, but who is my neighbor and the answer hasn’t changed.
This isn’t theoretical, it never has been. God is talking about real people.
Women, men, children.
There are people dying on our borders. Those are real people. They are who God means when God tells us that we are our siblings keepers.
There are children bullied for their race, their sexuality, their identity. They are real people.
There are hundreds of people living on the streets of Aberdeen, just a few hours drive away. Real people. Whose tents are likely to be bulldozed, belongings destroyed, for the sin of being without a roof.
Jesus has given us the shape of what it means to be a neighbor.
What it means to love.
It is as simple as turning aside for someone who is nothing like us.
For someone who might not like us.
And treating them as a beloved child of God, as a sibling.
This is the wild good news God offers in the story of the Good Samaritan. That human divisions can be surmounted. That human distinctions don’t matter as much as grace, and care, and community.
May we all be crafty lawyers who ask hard questions, and then don’t take the pat answers but keep pushing until we have found the kingdom of God, no matter how challenging, no matter how uncomfortable.
So that together, we might all, finally get safely home.