Sermon and Reflections For Ordinary 15 - Proper 10 - Year C
Amos 7:7-17: Psalm 82: Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
"Only Those Who Cry and Those Who Pass By"
From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada). Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way". Contact Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
Ordinary 15 - Proper 10 - Year C
Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
"Only Those Who Cry and Those Who Pass By"
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers..." Our words give us away. Something terrible happens. A sickening accident. Malicious behaviour resulting in the destruction of someone's life. Maybe we know the people who are involved in a personal way. Maybe not. Maybe it is just one more recital of the daily news blasted into our living rooms or blaring forth in the headlines for us to look at whether we want to or not. "Young mother and child die in a four car pile-up". "Out-of work husband turns gun on family and then himself". The kind of tragic events that happen almost everywhere everyday. And if we are sympathetic souls, having not become so anesthetized by the daily onslaught that we no longer feel some ounce of sorrow for human suffering, we find ourselves saying, or thinking, or maybe just feeling something like, "There, but for the grace of God go I." "There, but for the grace of God go I." And, of course, we say it or feel it without thinking about it, reacting more or less to something that is happening to someone else, someone we do not really have to care about, do not really know - if we can stand at some distance from them, which, of course, is exactly what we are doing when we say, "There, but for the grace of God go I." There. Not here, where I stand and see the world. And maybe that is precisely the problem - that we are not able to see. + As you may have noticed from time to time, there is a kind of strange silence about Jesus. It is a silence that invariably takes place just when somebody wants him to say something, like Pilate at that moment Jesus' enemies have him right where they want him. Or when somebody has a question for him like the many who came to him. Not that they came with questions so much as with pre-conceived notions of what they already believed and with what they expected him to say, or hoped he would say, like the man in this week's gospel reading. A lawyer, says Luke, who stood up to test him; because the kind of questions that lawyers ask are never really questions. So Jesus does not answer him directly. His silence takes the form of a parable about which he makes not a single value judgment. What I mean by that is that, popular assumptions aside, Jesus never calls anyone good or bad in this week's well-known story about the man who went down to Jericho. Never tells us what the story means. Never wraps it up in a three-point sermon for us take home and discuss over Sunday brunch. Nothing that sentimental or trivial. He simply tells a story the way he sees the world. Then he is silent, leaving us to see if we can see for ourselves. And precisely what does Jesus want us to see about his famous story? Better said, how did Jesus want us to see? From the point of view of the central character in the story - the one who became a victim. That is the narrative focus of the story. He is the one who is there in every scene. He is the one to whom everything happens; and if we hear the story rightly we hear it from his point of view. There is no other perspective that matters. In his brilliant retelling of Jesus' parable, John Shea catches, it seems to me, exactly what Jesus seems to have in mind - which is to place you and me, the listeners, in exactly the right seat. Shea portrays the lawyer, to whom, Luke says, this story was told, seeking Jesus out on behalf of the religious establishment in Jerusalem in an effort to build a case of blasphemy against Jesus. Armed with superior legal tactics and knowledge of the Law, the lawyer proceeds to set a clever trap for Jesus. At first, the conversation goes swimmingly. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the Law? What do you read there?" He answered, "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 neighbour as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." Two good questions and two good answers. A case of too good men agreeing. What more could one ask? Except that we know something is wrong. Questions that are asked merely to gain advantage over another is not a kingdom exercise. Neither is asking questions with no intention of implementing the answers. Up until now, Jesus and the lawyer are sparring, with neither giving an inch. The lawyer knows the Law and so does Jesus. What more is there to say? But, then the lawyer tips his hand. "And who is my neighbour?" It is a question that reveals much. It is spoken arrogantly, cynically. It reveals one who thinks he can be selective. Some are neighbours and some are not. "Who are the ones I am to love?" So, instead of answering the man, Jesus puts him there. Puts him precisely where he can see. He came across to where I stood. He grabbed both my shoulders, steadying me on my feet, squaring me off like he was readying me for a blow. He locked my eyes into his. "A certain man went down from Jerusalem and Jericho," he began. He did not let go until he saw in my eyes that I knew I was that man. Then he moved away from me to tell everyone what happened to me on that journey. First the robbery, then the stripping and beating, then being left for dead by two of his own countrymen. Jesus has him where he wants him - wants us all - in order to see. I now had nothing, so nothing came to me. Even through my blood I could see he was a Samaritan. But in his eyes were my tears. The damnable thing about it was that it took so long. If only he would have cursed, thrown me on his animal, dropped me in a heap at an inn and went on his way with a slur, "More than you would have done for me." But he cleaned me like a mother bathes a child, rubbed oil in my wounds, tore his own robe for bandages. He put me on his donkey and walked beside it, steadying me. At the inn he laid me on a cot and placed blankets over me. I could hear him paying the innkeeper and saying he would be back to take care of me if it was needed. All that time, that endless time, he never spoke to me. Except for the tears. The next thing I knew Jesus had me by the shoulders again. He, too, had my tears in his eyes. "Who proved neighbour to the one in need?" It was the only question I have ever heard that was not a test. And for once I just spoke, not worrying right from wrong, not breathless for approval. I uttered sounds that were not recitation. My sounds, halting, like a child speaking for the first time, "The one who showed mercy." It is the moment of sight for the lawyer. He suddenly sees the world the way Jesus does from the perspective of the man in the ditch; and when that happens there is no more need for questions or answers or traps because, as he subsequently reflects on this parabolic assault upon him by the silent Jesus, the lawyer observes, "At the time there were no Samaritans. Or Jews. Or Gentiles. Or priests. Or Lawyers. Only those who cry out and those who pass by." - John Shea, An Experience Named Spirit + There is only one thing we truly need to see, something beyond our precious principles, sophisticated theologies and cherished opinions. It is what Jesus wants us to see: that every last one of us is that man in the ditch because every last one of us, no matter how little we look it or no matter how surprised we might be to realize it, is half dying for need of both treating and being treated the way people who are truly alive treat one another - which means both giving and receiving mercy, binding up each other's wounds, taking care of one another and going to hell and back for one another if need must be. Not because we should, but because that is the way things are. Not because, "There, but for the grace of God go I", but because there is no "there" for those who are truly alive. Because it is the only way to see and truly live. + Amos 7:7-17 - The aim of biblical faith has never been the avoidance of conflict at any cost. Called to deliver an uncomfortable message to the royal house of Israel and its ecclesiastical prophets, Amos runs smack into a religious expert in conflict management, Amaziah, a 'prophet-priest' in the employ of the king. The passage is a clear contrast between prophetic preaching and ecclesiastical yes-sayers, a warning about the risks involved in faithful preaching and an encouragement for criticism of both society and religious systems that have become corrupt. 1. What "dual" roles does Amos play in verses 1-9? 2. How does Amaziah try to "manage" the conflict with Amos? 3. What does the story remind you of in terms of faithful preaching that has caused conflict in your ministry or your church? Colossians 1:1-14 - Paul is writing to a relatively young church threatened with the danger of false and speculative teaching that would undermine the supremacy of Christ. He starts off in an encouraging way, thanking the Colossians for their faith, their love for the church and their hope. He then encourages them to continue to grow in the faith and in their capacity for spiritual wisdom and discernment. 1. Speculate about some of the probable dangers for a young church like Collosae struggling to keep the faith in a world literally teeming with religious practices. 2. With what similar dangers does your church struggle to stay faithful to the gospel? 3. Is there a parallel danger of "fortress mentality" for both Paul and people in your church? Luke 10:25-37 - Jesus tells a story, which Luke sets in context for us. The story would have been jarring to fellow Judeans - the very thought of being at the mercy of a Samaritan, who would have been regarded as a member of a bastard Jewish race by most of Jesus' contemporaries. The story is not about a stick-up on the Jericho road but about a new order of reality where help comes to those who least have a right to expect it and from a quarter from which it is least expected. 1. Who would have responded negatively to such a story? Why? 2. Who would have responded positively? Why? 3. In what way has this week's meditation changed your perception of reality? FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - James Breech has this to say about Jesus' parables: "... he is the opposite of most contemporary storytellers who say, "An interesting thing happened to me on the way to..." Jesus does not organize his experience in the re-active mode, in terms of what happens to him. Rather, the perspective that comes through in all of his parables is that of someone who is intensely observant of what happens in human life, quite apart from any reference to this own ego." (James Breech, The Silence of Jesus) What clue does this give you in order to be better able to listen to the parables? HYMN 359 He Came Singing Love (Voices United)
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