Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Recognizing the Neighbor" - Reflections on the Parables - Luke 10:25-37

Read the Parable of the "Man who Feel Among Robbers" Here: Luke !0:25-37
Recognizing the Neighbor – Reflections on Luke 10

We have come in our parable sermon series to one of the most well known parables in the Gospels – The Parable of the Good Samaritan – which is found in Luke 10.  Throughout our series several themes have arisen which all of the parables share to one degree or another: 1. The parables that Jesus tells are about what God is doing; how the Kingdom or the Realm of God has come into the world through Jesus and how this Realm of God is abundantly present to all the world. 2. The parables and the Realm of God are not about us.  Try as we might to read ourselves into the parables in various ways ultimately Jesus is telling stories about what God is doing – showering us with grace, love and forgiveness – and not what we need to do in order to earn our way into the kingdom.  3. When we do appear or when Jesus references his listeners he does so in order to try to help his disciples of every age open themselves up to the realm of God which is here; he does so in order to help his listeners to see, to perceive, to recognize that God is here working among us and loving us; he does so in order to invite us to join him in the work of loving the world and reaching out with grace, love and forgiveness to the world – which we cannot do without the Spirit working in us.

This brings us then to this very well known parable about a Jewish man who is beaten, robbed, rejected, thrown into a ditch and left for dead.  Three fellow travelers come upon him – two hurry by without offering help, but the third person (a hated Samaritan) offers abundant assistance.  Now, I know we have all heard countless sermons on this parable and on the face of it, the parable calls to us to reach out like the Samaritan.  What makes this story particularly profound – and probably very offensive to Jesus’ first listeners – is the casting of the Samaritan as the hero.  Samaritans and Judeans hated each other and they were disinclined for a variety of reasons to offer any assistance of any kind to each other.  Jesus final words to his questioner, “Go and do likewise” is thus a difficult lesson to hear.  And in this it is very much like last week’s parable of the weeds among the wheat:  It is not up to us to judge, it is not up to us to categorize people – God loves all and we are called to love others as well, especially those who are most unlike us and those who we are inclined to classify as “the other.”

But of course, it is difficult – if not impossible – for us to do this, right?  We can’t will ourselves to put aside our prejudices and our attitudes and opinions about others over night.  The ability to take baby steps in this direction is as much a gift of God’s grace and is itself a sign of the Realm of God come into our midst.  It seems to me, however, that one of the first steps we can take is first to work on recognition; on seeing.  This is a difficult first step.  And it is often a step we don’t want to take and thus we may be inclined to resist the Spirit’s guidance in this.  But, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, we have to try to recognize this group of people or that person, who is a different race, who holds different religious views, who is of a different religion, or has a different background, or is from a different culture, or has different opinions, or who holds different values than I – we have to try to recognize this group or individual as a neighbor whom God loves as much as God loves me and those who are like me.  This means not being so absolutely certain of my own “rightness” or even righteousness; it means recognizing that I can learn from others and that the needs to others need to be important to me as well.  And it is a call to then do everything in my power to care for those in need; to see that the real needs of my neighbor are taken into consideration – and this is not just a call to charity it is a call to do everything possible.

I have over the years heard various candidates for public office during political campaigns appeal to people’s self-centeredness by asking folks to ask themselves – “am I better off since so and so has been in office?”  This parable says to us in no uncertain terms that “That is the wrong question – the right question is this: is my neighbor better off? Are those less fortunate than I getting the food and clothing and shelter and access to health care that they need? Is this country, state, county a place where all that can be done to alleviate suffering is undertaken?”  And if not then what can I do about it?  What can my church do about it?

Finally, an image from a different parable: The Sheep and the Goats from Matthew 25.  Ultimately who is the man beaten, robbed, stripped, thrown in a ditch and left for dead?  It is none other than Jesus himself.  “Truly I tell you, just as you did it (that is reached out to care in neighborly love and grace) to one of the least of these (those who are poor, who are suffering, homeless, dirty, depressed, alcoholic, even hateful – those who are different than me in many ways) then you have done it to me.”  Go, thou and do likewise – in the grace and love of Christ.  For as we begin to see, as we begin to care, the Realm of God has truly come into our midst.

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