THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Deuteronomy 30: 9-14
Colossians 1: 1-14
Luke 10: 25-37
“A man was going…“
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.[a] “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 neighbor 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 neighbor?” 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 traveling 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,[b] 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 neighbor 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.”
On Thursday of this week, Mike Pence, the Vice President of the United States visited a federal detention centre in the border town of Donna, Texas.
For two weeks, stories had been coming out of this and other border detention centres that not only were children being separated from their parents, not only were people sleeping on concrete floors, not only were people waiting weeks to be processed and sent back to Mexico and Central America, but that they weren’t receiving even the barest necessities necessary to preserving dignity in a difficult political situation:
Children were going without soap and toothbrushes while outbreaks of lice and other communicable pests ran unchecked.
As Vice President Pence arrived at the facility in Donna, inmates crowded against the chain-link fence to try to persuade him and the media that the stories were true. They shouted two words over and over again to name their condition and their inhumane frustration:
“No shower, no shower, no shower…”
Friends, no matter your stance on an issue as difficult and complicated as human migration along the US/Mexico border, I think we can all agree that (even in a prison) all human beings created in the image of God are entitled to a certain degree of dignity and care.
We may disagree about the particulars, we may disagree about the amount of care required to safeguard human dignity, but I think we can agree that the images and the videos that emerged on Thursday do not make the grade of what “Jesus would do” for his neighbours.
But, before we commit the very Canadian sin of looking at the United States and deciding that we are doing it better, let us remember that at the same time there are people chanting for showers in Donna, Texas, there are people with at least as much hardship and without even the media attention to voice it within our own borders.
At this very moment…
There are First Nations communities across Canada that have been under years-long boil water advisories.
At this very moment…
There are Inuit communities in Canada that have infant mortality, drug addiction, and suicide statistics nearly identical to the very poorest countries in the world.
At this very moment…
On the streets and in the alleys of every city and town in Canada there are people sleeping in the cold air, there are people victimized by sex trafficking and prostitution, there are people embroiled in opioid addiction who will not live to see another new year.
“Who is our neighbour?”
Is it the cold and filthy refugee child?
Is it the hungry and terrified refugee mother?
Is it the First Nations child who lives in a third world country within the borders of our first world country?
Is it the youth who grew up in the security of the suburbs and later found themselves living in the streets?
“Who is our neighbour?”
A question we would all like to understand. And a question asked of a certain Rabbi by a certain lawyer many years ago.
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.[a] “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
27 [The lawyer] 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 neighbor as yourself.”
28 And [Jesus] said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29 But wanting to justify himself, [the lawyer] asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Going line-by-line through this brief exchange between the clever lawyer and Jesus (the teacher), we begin to understand how it is that someone (a lawyer, a lawmaker, an average everyday Canadian) can get distracted from what is truly important (faith, justice, peace, the Kingdom of God) by shifting just an inch or two to the side and focusing on the how of what is truly important.
At the beginning of the conversation, the lawyer stood up and tested Jesus, asking “What must I do to inherit eternal life” (x2)
Truly an important question. None of us wishes to die, we all want eternal life, tell us, Jesus, how do we attain it?
Jesus, knowing full-well that He was being tested replied back “What is written in the Law? What do you read there?”
The lawyer, knowing his Torah, correctly quotes a combination of Deuteronomy 6: 5 (love the lord your God will all your heart) and Leviticus 19: 18 (love your neighbor as yourself).
Hearing that the lawyer has correctly answered his own question about eternal life, Jesus is satisfied: “do this, and you will live.”
And yet, even though the lawyer has discovered the key to life eternal already in his own pocket, he is too distracted with the need to be right that he cannot help himself asking another question:
“And who is my neighbour?”
How often have we been that lawyer?
How often have we read the commands and Scripture and couldn’t help but push back against the grace offered to us?
What is it in us that makes us unable to accept the key that is in our own pocket?
What is it in us that makes us change the subject when we receive the greatest good we could ever hope to receive? (Assurance of eternal life)
What is it in us that won’t just “be quiet and listen” when Jesus is speaking in our hearts?
Knowing that we are saved by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross:
Every day should be a party and a parade
Every day we should wake up by falling on our knees and thanking God for his graciousness and every night we should fall asleep with praises to God on our lips.
And yet, we do not.
We jostle for position
We try to prove our righteousness
We try to justify ourselves, as the lawyer in this story did
We try to signal others to our virtue while at the same time forgetting why we were looking for virtue in the first place.
We are distracted.
We are distracted by our politics
We are distracted by our need to be right
We are distracted by our opinions, and even more insidious, our obsession with broadcasting our opinions so that everyone knows how right we are.
We are distracted by fear
We are distracted by compassion fatigue
We are distracted by this world’s story of hopelessness that tells us there was never any eternal life to begin with
We are distracted by stories of escapism we have invented to distract us from the story of hopelessness we invented
We like stories in which we have a part to play, even if it is fiction, and yet, for some reason, we don’t recognize this story (the one we’re living right this moment) as one in which we do have control: far more than we think we have though far less than we think we need.
The key is in our pockets. The key has always been in our pockets, since God chose a people and called them Israel. We have had access to this key ever since Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of all of humanity; effectively placing the key in each of our pockets!
We may believe that we will never be truly whole or happy until we have “just a little more”…
Just a little more money
Just a little more stability
Just a little more assurance
Just a little more control
But as we toil in pursuit of more, we forget that that key to eternal life is still waiting for us to reach into our pockets and accept it:
Love the Lord your God, and Love your Neighbour as Yourself
For the literal love of God, why can’t we help ourselves from poking holes in our own salvation?
Love the Lord your God, and Love your Neighbour as Yourself. Do this and you shall have eternal life!
But Jesus: who is my neighbour?
But Jesus: surely you don’t mean my political opponents?
But Jesus: surely you don’t mean those people trying to enter my country illegally
But Jesus: surely you don’t mean the people we make a point of not talking about?
But Jesus: surely you don’t mean “those people”?
Yes. He does. Jesus does very much indeed mean “those people.”
That’s the whole point of the Good Samaritan.
The Samaritans were the historical enemies of the Judeans.
The Samaritans were the ones who were allowed to stay when Babylon took over Israel and sent the governors and kings of Israel scattered across the empire.
To the Judeans, the Samaritans were not “real” Israelites. They hadn’t been through the diaspora. They hadn’t been through the Babylonian captivity. They hadn’t “earned the right” to call themselves the true people of God – they were just, neighbours.
“They live nearby, sure, but they’re not like us”
“Make no mistake. A Samaritan would step over your mother and his without a second thought. Samaritans weren’t worthy. They couldn’t be trusted. “
And this is who Jesus uses to tell his story about “who our neighbour is”
A Judean was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. He was stripped, beaten and left for dead.
A temple priest came, but he crossed the road to avoid the man
Then a Levite came, but he too crossed the road to avoid the injured man
Finally, a Samaritan came along and he was “moved with pity”
The Samaritan bandaged and dressed the Judean’s wounds, he put the man on his animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
Even though the Samaritan had to keep going on his journey he payed the innkeeper two denarii to look after the man, promising to pay more if needed.
Friends, what strikes me most of all in this story, after being so upset by stories of mistreated migrants in Texas, and being reminded of how badly Canada has mistreated First Nations and Inuit people for so many years…
What strikes me most in this story is the simplicity of the acts of care.
The simplicity of the Samaritan man bandaging the wounds and treating them. Of carefully placing the injured Judean on his animal. Of taking the injured man not to a more pleasant part of the ditch, or to a reasonably clean back alley, but to an inn, to a place that was good enough for this wealthy Samaritan to stay, himself.
Of digging in his own pocket and finding not only some strange key but also some money and some time to spend on his historical enemy, those are the details that have really broken my heart and mended it again this week.
My friends, I have likely spoken with more urgency, more passion, and more personal pain this week than I normally do and that is because, for me, those withheld showers, those withheld bars of soap, those withheld toothbrushes are not the items themselves but a powerful symbol of how we—as a society—have gotten to a place where we just don’t seem to care about our neighbour.
These items, as well, are personal for me because, during my time doing street mission and ministry in the Calgary Beltline before coming out to minister in Saskatoon, these were objects that my team and I regularly collected and gave to young people living on the streets of that city.
I have seen fifteen- and seventeen-year olds, deep in the throws addiction, reduced to tears when offered something as simple as a toothbrush or a fresh pair of socks.
(I’m sure our friends at Saskatoon Native Circle Ministry know this as well)
I know that these things do not fix addiction or poverty or even hopelessness, (they don’t fix the “big problems”) but they do convey something very important: the assurance of one human being to another that “I see you as another human being, as a neighbour created in the image of God, as someone worth spending a minute or two or a dollar or two on.”
Hearing desperate human beings shout “no shower, no shower” broke my heart this week. The story of the Good Samaritan broke my heart this week. But as one of my professors taught me in seminary: “until you have had your heart broken and mended by the Bible verse you are preaching on, you can’t expect to preach it well.”
My heart, as well as being broken, has been mended this week.
It has been mended, not by the story of the Good Samaritan, but by the story around that story:
It is the story of a clever lawyer asking Jesus (his enemy) to define his terms.
It is the story of Jesus taking the time to explain God’s Kingdom to one who wanted nothing more than to see him crucified.
And it is the story of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, Our Lord, reminding this lawyer that he has within his pocket the key to everlasting life, if he will only obey the great commandment: Love God and Love Neighbour.