Scripture – Luke 10:25-37 – First Sunday in Lent/Communion Sunday – March 5, 2017
None of us wants to do much more that we really have to. Economizing our energy to minimize our effort starts early and continues on through life. Mom, do I have to pick up all the toys or just the ones I played with? Mr. Smith, How many pages does it have to be? Well, then, can it be double-spaced? I only need 120 credits for my degree; I’m not taking extra courses. Ms. Supervisor, do I have to call everybody on the list or will a significant sample suffice? Good enough, we say. No need to go overboard. Close enough.
My guess is from reading our scripture this morning that this is not a new phenomenon. The lawyer questioning Jesus is trying to find out, “What will get me by?” Now, of course, his overriding motive is to trip up Jesus, to “test” him as verse 25 says. This lawyer is an expert in the Law of Moses, what we know as the first five books in the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament. We could also refer to him as a scribe, most probably a Pharisee, one of the Jewish religious authorities who strictly interpreted the Mosaic Law. He knows his stuff and popular upstart Jesus is, well, “uncredentialed”.
“Teacher,” the lawyer asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Well, you’ve got the law right there in front of you. What does it say? “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.” OK, then, there’s your answer.
But then it comes: “And who is my neighbor?” As New Testament professor Matthew Skinner writes, the lawyer is attempting to limit who rightly qualifies as his neighbor, “to confine the collection of people whom he must love.” Do I have to rake up all the leaves, or just the ones in the front yard? In response, Jesus offers the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan.
Do we have to love everybody, Jesus, or a defined subset? The Samaritan demonstrates Jesus’ idea of neighborly love by his rescuing and tending to an acknowledged enemy. Samaritans and Jews did not mingle, did not mutually respect, did not coexist; instead they engaged in mutual fear, avoidance and downright hatred. Here’s your neighbor, said Jesus, the foreigner, the “other”, the one whose values and practices and ways of life you cannot begin to understand, the one you fear and hate. Here’s your neighbor.
In thinking about this, we might flip back and forth between dueling positions. Some say it’s easier to love the faceless nameless stranger on the other side of the world than it is to love your next door neighbor whose trash always seems to blow over into your yard, or your spouse’s brother who puts a damper on every holiday. Familiarity breeds contempt, some say. But then there’s also the kind of ignorant, excluding love which encompasses only the people who look like us or speak the same language, which leads to fear and hatred of those faraway strangers who do not.
I know this, or at least I have faith in this much, that were any of us to encounter a bruised and bleeding half-dead person on the side of New London Road, we would all stop and call 911 and stay with her until we felt she was in good hands, no matter what she looked like or what she was wearing on her head or what language came out of her mouth. We would not hesitate to recognize that hurting person as our neighbor. Yet, my friends, there are millions of bruised and bleeding people on the other side of the world whom we question and hold at bay in fear and mistrust. There are entire races and groups of “others” within our own borders whom we have left on the side of the road to equality and dignity and access to everything from education to economic stability. “They” – however you define them – “they” are our neighbors.
Technology has expanded our exposure and experience of other people like never before in history. No longer are we interacting only with the people we can physically see and touch. No longer are people on the other side of the world limited to black and white still photos on the front page of the newspaper. No longer can we fool ourselves that what we do to the environment has no affect on our newest recognized neighbors of animals and fish and birds and plant life. The lawyer’s attempt to “confine the collection of people whom he must love” was limited to the class below him and the foreigners on the other side of the sea or mountain less than fifty miles away. We must consider every living human being on this planet and the creatures who walk upon it and fly above it and swim beneath it as our neighbors because we are no longer shielded by time and distance to avoid their inclusion in our collection of whom we must love. Our systems of communication have brought the world closer and have enabled more instantaneous responses to human and environmental crises, so that we can no longer “get by” with just taking care of our own kind and blindly ignoring the rest.
It’s more work but it’s simpler to pick up and put away all the toys instead of stopping at each one to decide if it’s our responsibility. What must we do to inherit eternal life? Love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. And who is our neighbor? Every living thing. Yes, it takes more energy and effort, but it’s a lot simpler. And it’s what God wants. Amen.