14th July 2019 – Trinity 4
Deuteronomy 30: 9-14
and the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, 10 when you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
11 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ 14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.
Colossians 1: 1-14
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters[a] in Christ in Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
3 In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. 7 This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow-servant.[b] He is a faithful minister of Christ on your[c] behalf, 8 and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s[d] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled[e] you[f] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.[g]
Luke 10: 25-37
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.[j] ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26 He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27 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.’ 28 And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 30 Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii,[k] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37 He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
Our gospel reading from Luke starts with the teaching on the two great commandments, that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind, and that you should love your neighbour as yourself. They are also found in Mark and Matthew’s gospels and in Paul’s letters to Romans and Galatians and even in the letter of James.
These commandments don’t just sum up the law and the prophets, they express the underlying essence, the very heart of that deep tradition, which reaches its fulfilment in Jesus. At this point in the other gospels the group around him falls silent. There is nothing more that can be added.
Only in Luke does the questioner open his mouth again, asking a further question, as Luke puts it wanting to justify himself. How, then should we define, “neighbour”? An interesting question, no doubt. One which could be debated at length, as to what it did and did not mean, who was covered and who not?
And so Luke goes on to relay a story of Jesus about the good Samaritan. The story is a direct answer to this question, but it also has its own life. Luke more than the other gospel writers seeks to recreate Jesus’ skill as a storyteller. It is Luke who gives us the prodigal son. Here he delights again in deploying the storyteller’s patterns and rhythms. The repeated passers by build up to a crescendo, first the priest, then the Levite, but then a twist, totally unexpected, a Samaritan.
It’s such a familiar story that perhaps we have lost the impact of this twist, this choosing of a Samaritan as the hero.
For there was a deep enmity between Jews and Samaritans. The Samaritan people originated in the lost northern tribes of Israel, of Ephraim and Manasseh. They built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, near modern Nablus, in the 4thCentury BCE, a rival to Jerusalem. They held to a version of the Torah with large differences over the Judean script. Their very presence undermined the authority of Judean religious institutions.
The rift gained intensity during the occupation of Judea by the Greek King Antiochus Epiphanes in the 2ndCentury before Christ. Antiochus put down a rebellion in Jerusalem with brutal force and then desecrated the temple, outlawing Jewish religious practice. Hatred for Antiochus and his rule resonated down the centuries.
The Samaritans, by contrast, did a deal with Antiochus, offering to re-dedicate their temple at Gerizim to Zeus, and were left untouched. You can imagine how the full force of Jewish resentment was turned on them.
So it seems to me that Jesus was showing some aggression in this story, that it is in part, a put-down. The religious authorities of his day, represented by the priest and the Levite, are below even a hated, collaborating Samaritan.
Jesus spoke harshly on many occasions about the religious leaders of his day – he accused them of “neither entering yourselves nor allowing others to enter in.”
As Richard Rohr, himself a priest, interprets: “The priestly class invariably makes God less accessible instead of more so… For the sake of our own job security, the priestly message is often: “You can only come to God through us, by doing the right rituals, obeying the rules, and believing the right doctrines.”
Jesus stood squarely against this instinct. His teaching, and his life, showed his opposition to any notion of spiritual hierarchy, that closeness to God could be earned or worked out by a privileged few, to then be meted out to the rest. He healed the unclean, he announced the Kingdom of Heaven to the poor and outcast, and when people came to him ambitious for spiritual success and the authority it might bring, they were confronted with impossibility. “Who then can be saved?” was their despairing response.
Paul makes the same point in another way, in his letter to the Romans: Knowledge puffs up, he says, but love builds up.
And this is a story about love as against knowledge. The teacher of the law asks Jesus for knowledge, for a discussion about the nature and limits of neighbourhood. And he receives a rebuke. The hero of the story does not know, he loves.
Luke says the Samaritan is “moved with pity”. There are echoes here of Jesus’ own reaction, to those who came to him seeking healing, to the rich young ruler.
So we are enjoined, to go and do likewise, to show mercy, as we have been shown a greater mercy.
But what if we find that we are not moved as he was?
Here perhaps we enter the relationship between action and contemplation. Contemplation feeds action, our thankful love of God inspires us to love our neighbour. But action also feeds contemplation. We act, sometimes even when, if we are honest, our first instinct is to feel weary or irritated at the sudden challenge to our routine, to our plans. Sometimes it’s best not to look too deeply at our own motives. In acting, our understanding, of the world and of ourselves, is changed through experience, we discover the connections which bind us to the world and to God.
I am reminded of the father of a sick child who said to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief”. We might paraphrase: “I want to love, help my lack of love.”
So let us all, in our praying and in our doing, open our hearts to God, that he might fill us with his love.