parables as subversive act: “God! a Samaritan?”



Responsive Call to Worship
Division and divisiveness are easy.
denunciation, and vilification are easy.
Exclusion is easy.
Blame is easy.
Enemies are easy.
Not easy to deal with, of course.
Easy to allow,
and then to blame and exclude—
denounce, vilify, reject.
We, as those who follow God in the way of Jesus,
are not called to easy.
And what seems easy
is often only so in the short term.
We are rather called
to transformation and possibility.
We are called to grace.
We are called to love.
It’s not easy,
but this way lies hope.

Love is the only force
of transforming an enemy
into a friend.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

It takes a great deal of bravery
to stand up to our enemies,
but just as much
to stand up to our friends.
— J.K. Rowling

If you want to make peace with your enemy,
you have to work with your enemy.
Then he [or she] becomes your partner.
— Nelson Mandela

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.

Reading from the Old Testament
Exodus 23:1-9
You shall not spread a false report.
You shall not join hands with the wicked
to act as a malicious witness.
You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing;
when you bear witness in a lawsuit,
you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice;
nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit.
When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray,
you shall bring it back.
When you see the donkey of one who hates you
lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free,
you must help to set it free.
You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor
in their lawsuits. Keep far from a false charge,
and do not kill the innocent or those in the right,
for I will not acquit the guilty.
You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials,
and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.
You shall not oppress a resident alien;
you know the heart of an alien,
for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Reading from the New Testament
Luke 10:25-37
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.
‘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 neighbor as yourself.’
And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer;
do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus,
‘And who is my neighbor?’ 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.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road;
and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him,
passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him;
and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
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. The next day he took out two denarii,
gave them to the innkeeper, and said,
“Take care of him; and when I come back,
I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor
to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’
He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Witness of the Open Canon
Sting, “Russians,” 1985

In Europe and America there’s a growing feeling of hysteria.
Conditioned to respond to all the threats
In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets.
MIster Krushchev said, “We will bury you.”
I don’t subscribe to this point of view.
It’d be such an ignorant thing to do
If the Russians love their children too.
How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy?
There is no monopoly on common sense
On either side of the political fence.
We share the same biology, regardless of ideology.
Believe me when I say to you,
I hope the Russians love their children too

There is no historical precedent
To put the words in the mouth of the president?
There’s no such thing as a winnable war,
It’s a lie we don’t believe anymore.
Mister Reagan says, “We will protect you.”
I don’t subscribe to this point of view.
Believe me when I say to you,
I hope the Russians love their children too
We share the same biology, regardless of ideology.
But what might save us, me and you,
Is if the Russians love their children too

Witness of the Living Word
It’s a familiar Jesus story—
one of the most familiar.
And it’s been absorbed into culture like none other—
assimilated into the vernacular.
There is legislation named after it—
not to mention hospitals.
Ben Rodriguez just had surgery there this past week—
at Good Sam, as it’s called,
over there on Loch Raven Boulevard and Belvedere.

It’s a straightforward story—
really doesn’t need much in the way of commentary.

Other than maybe a little context—
much of which many of you already know.
And we’re not even going to consider
the frame of the story this morning, just the story itself.
So we could note that it’s a certain anthropos,
we read in the Greek—
which could mean a specific man,
but could also mean a human being.
Because anthropology is not the study of particular men, is it?
but of human beings.
There was a human being in the ditch.
We could remind each other of the specifics—
of that road from Jerusalem down to Jericho—
18 miles through the desolate Judean mountains—
dropping from some 2500 feet above sea level
to some 825 feet below.
We don’t really need to remind each other of how dangerous life can be;
we know all too well what human beings do to each other.
We could note that the priest and the levite passing by
set up an expected third passer-by,
whom we expect to do what the others, for whatever reason, did not.
We could call into question interpretations
that call Judaism into question
rather than two men who didn’t live up to the teachings of their own faith.
We could explore all that—
and more,

but the point of the parables
was … well, less that they made some point,
as that they made their impact felt.
Parables were and should be less about the head
and more about the gut.

And so this story’s not about robbers—
about the dangers of life—
what we all too easily believe people do to each other.
It’s not a story about the priest and the levite—
the Jewish religion—
its purity laws.
Nor is this a story about a samaritan, good or otherwise.

None of that’s what gets us in the gut.

Now there are … what shall we call them?
gutty dimensions?
to all of that:
to the dangers of our lives—
what we do to each other
(and depending on what’s just happened somewhere—
what’s in the news—that can hit hard,
but we forget it’s always somewhere).
There’s a gutty dimension to religious leaders
who don’t do what they’re supposed to—
don’t live in the way you would expect them to—
who focus on money or judgement or anger—on small—
and let their own faith down.
And we’re all moved by acts of unexpected goodness—
exceptional compassion.
Not what the story’s about.

Here’s another clue as to what it’s really about:
if the story were to go on,
how would it—how would it go on?
We wouldn’t follow the priest, the levite, or the samaritan, would we?
The narrative trajectory is into the reaction and response of the one
who was beaten and robbed.
So this story is clearly about a person who was in a ditch, a Jew
who wakes up
to discover—
Not just what happened while he was unconscious,
but also that he now faces a critical decision—
to keep living as he had been—ignoring what happened,
or to make a fundamental change to his own perspectives and views—
to reorient his reality.

Because he wakes up confronted with the fact,
that he was saved by someone he wouldn’t want to admit saved him—
saved by someone who would make him think,
“It might be better if he hadn’t saved me—if I hadn’t been saved.
I can’t believe what he did to me.”

It is, you see, a misnamed story.
Commonly called the good samaritan,
it might better be called, as our sermon title this morning,
“God! the Samaritan?” (with just such an intonation!)

The trick is to reclaim some of the absolute shock
of those first hearers—
and of that human being who wakes up to wake up—or not.

“Yes, I know what human beings do to each other.
Look what some did to me—
taking my possessions, my dignity, almost my life.
But you’re telling me a samaritan did this?
Look what they do to us—
what they have done to us.”

“According to the Bible, Samaria had an earlier name, Shechem.
It was at Shechem that Jacob’s daughter Dinah was raped….
The second reference to Shechem/Samaria
is Judges 8-9, the story of the false judge Abimelech,
who murders his rivals…
(Amy-Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus:
Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi,
[New York: HarperCollins, 2014] 96).
Rapists and murderers.
And, you all probably know this,
Samaritans and Jews each had a temple—
the one in Jerusalem, the other on Mt Gerizim.
128 years before the birth of Jesus,
the Jewish king attacked Samaria and burned down their temple.
Samaritans and Jews both considered themselves
true to the Torah and the other as having deviated from it.
Throughout the gospels we get indications of this division—
Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John.
In Matthew Jesus warns his disciples not to enter Samaritan towns.
“In the chapter preceding our parable (Luke 9:51-56),
Luke recounts that a Samaritan village refused Jesus hospitality”
(Levine, 99). James and John suggest raining down fire.
Josephus recounts both stories of Samaritans killing
Galileans on their way to the pilgrimage festivals,
and of Jews plundering Samaritan villages (Levine, 100).

So this human being confronted with what had been done to him
must decide what to maintain—
and not so much just the same close-minded prejudices
as the accepted, taken for granted cultural norms.
Because here’s another thing to consider:
from what I can tell—
from what I’ve read,
this deep-seated animosity would have had less to do
with just personal experience in the present
than with those cultural norms
rooted in the stories of history and tradition.

So what we have here
is a cultural, national, systemic racism.
Well well well.

We looked, as you might imagine,
at a lot of images for a bulletin cover.
There are lots and lots of good samaritan images.
Most of them are of someone helping another.
But the help is not what’s most important.
It’s who’s offering it.

So in the image on your bulletin this morning,
note the different ethnicities of the characters.
Notice that the person in the ditch
looks like a cowboy,
while the person extending help looks native.
Notice how the one dressed like a cowboy
(cowboy boots—cowboy hat)
is wrapped in a bright, colorful native looking blanket.
Imagine a cowboy saved by an indian
in a culture in which the only good indian, don’t you know,
is a dead one.

The best stories lure us in
to thinking they’re stories about them
until we realize they’re stories about us.

And then we don’t just feel those stories in our gut,
they hit us in the gut.

Too much, we watch Star Wars and the dark side,
Harry Potter and the death eaters,
the fellowship of the ring and Sauron,
and never see the story in which we live—
never identify the empire in whose shadow we live—
the deep resonance with Revelation—with Scripture.

Whether it’s the Marvel universe
or Independence Day,
we look at aliens
and don’t see ourselves.
Can you believe what we do to each other?

Our fiction seduces us into processing stories as about them
until we realize they are always about us.

Now why is this so important?
Why so important to remember they’re about us?
And why are we thinking of parables as subversive acts?
Why would the subversive element be so important?

Because we are the resistance—
or not.

We are those who recognize the danger
in the stories of our culture.
We are those who recognize how different
the stories of culture are from the stories we tell.
We are those who confront the discrepancy.
We name the risk—
or we don’t.

If we hear the parable aright,
we are undone
to be remade.
Our world is undone
to be remade—
raised to newness of perspective—
newness of wonder and relationship,
commitment and possibility—
to be being redeemed.

Now we can pretend—
the church has historically done a great job pretending—
we can pretend the stories Jesus tells
don’t undo us—don’t undo our culture.
But what we then accept
is what the Jesus stories warn us of,
not what they invite us to.

And it’s not practical.
It’s not even necessarily what we call realistic—
or pragmatic—or safe.
But we are not called to practical
to what’s called realistic—
to pragmatic—to safe.
We are called to love—
in all its extravagance—
its grand gestures—
its hope—
its risk.

I remember proposing to Susie.
We were in Taos, New Mexico—the town square.
And I had planned this—
knew I was going to ask,
and yet I was shaking.
My voice quaked.
Because this was momentous
This question and this answer would change everything.
And it did.

There are moments.
There are moments—
particular questions and answers
that change everything.

The task the calling and the challenge of the church today
is to be a momentous threat to the status quo—
to the powers that be—
to the assumptions and categories and justification of our world.
Not to endorse—promote—approve—justify our culture,
but to question, confront and undermine it—
to sabotage it—
to resist.
To change everything.

And lest you’re overwhelmed or feeling argumentative,
no, we don’t have to resist everything
for everything to change.

And it’s not a call to anarchy I sound—
though you know as well as I,
there are significant parts to our culture
that run counter to our faith affirmations.
Ours is, however, a call to resistance,
not rebellion—
working transformation from within—
but clearly—indubitably
working for change—
to undo what is
that what may be
is other than what is.

We start by acknowledging the critical decision we face—
either to keep living as we too often do—
pretending Jesus is not relevant to our day-to-day living,
or to make a fundamental change to our own perspectives and views—
to reorient our reality.
And not just at a personal level,
but also at a cultural, national level.
We could start with—
oh, I don’t know …
our cultural, national, systemic racism?
There is a danger to our culture
by its very nature and being
that puts us at risk—
that puts at risk who we are called to be.
And so in response
we call ourselves to risk—
to risk who we are called to be.

You are the resistance.

Go with God.

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Luke 6:27-36
‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also;
and from anyone who takes away your coat
do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you;
and if anyone takes away your goods,
do not ask for them again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?
For even sinners love those who love them.
If you do good to those who do good to you,
what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
But love your enemies, do good, and lend,
expecting nothing in return.
Your reward will be great,
and you will be children of the Most High;
for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.


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