July 08, 2019
By Kevin Williams.
Kevin Williams is the Director of Congregational Care at Westfield Church, UCC, in Killingly.
A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to gain eternal life?"
Jesus replied, "What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?"
He responded, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus said to him, "You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live."
But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
Jesus replied, "A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’. What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?"
Then the legal expert said, "The one who demonstrated mercy toward him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
Have you ever seen one of those images where if you look at it, two different pictures can emerge? Many I’m sure are familiar with the classic “old woman/young woman” image where, depending on where you place your focus you see something different in the same picture.
Like many, there is an inherent danger in this week’s Gospel reading from Luke. We’ve heard it over and over and over again. And maybe when the first few words are uttered, we already make up our minds and say “It’s the Good Samaritan story. Be good to others. Got it.” And we stop paying attention. We see the old woman (don’t you?), so what’s left to talk about?
Jesus challenges this habit early on here. We start with “What is written in the Law?” But then importantly continue with the question “How do you interpret it?” We’re given a clear reminder that God’s Word is not static. It’s not written once to be read the exact same way by every person who sees it in every time and age. It’s designed to be read, pondered, and applied different ways at different times for different needs. And sometimes, we need to be nudged by the Holy Spirit to do that.
So how do we interpret our neighbor? If we do it in the same way as the Priest and the Levite in the story, we interpret it as either those who see the world we do, or those who need the world to be the way we see it. And we’re good at that. Really good. Strong church fellowship. Inspired missions work. It’s all there.
What’s missing? Well, it’s the neighbors who don’t think the way we do. It’s the ones we shake our heads at and scoff at and shout at. When you’re a progressive Christian, it’s the ones walking around in MAGA hats and driving with CCDL stickers in their car windows. It’s the ones who demand their city authorize a “Straight Pride Parade” during Pride month. It’s the ones who shout fake news at every fact you offer, then turn to sources with no journalistic process behind them to back their statements. Yup, they’re our neighbor too. It’s not fair. But Jesus never said “Do this and you will live in fairness.”
So how in the world do we love the neighbor that does the equivalent of mowing their lawn at 4 AM, let their dog poop all over your yard, and blare loud rock music until 1 AM on their back deck? We do exactly what the Samaritan in the parable did. We allow ourselves to be moved with compassion. We take a beat to try to understand what has shaped their views to be what they are today, and seek first to understand - not to be understood. We tend to their wounds with hearing what in their lives developed them into the person they are, and we look to bandage their wounds with a reflection of empathy, compassion, and persistent message of love without boundaries.
Charlotte Bronte once said “Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs.” This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a need to pursue social justice. But what it does mean is justice cannot be obtained without demonstrating mercy even to those who oppose you. It is only successfully achieved when we set aside past wrongs and work exclusively to define a unified vision of a future where every neighbor is seen, receives compassion and is healed.
We are called to love all neighbors. Friend or enemy. Liberal or conservative. Though as a human race we are diverse in body, in mind and in thought, in the bread and cup we are made one. Called to join others with us in the universal love of Christ.
Now go and do likewise.
Unifying and compassionate God, help us to constantly see our neighbor, whether similar or different. In our diversity, help us to see the common thread that connects us all, and to focus us on all that makes us one. Guide us to see the wounds in other’s bodies and souls, to take the time to understand the cause of those wounds, and to apply your light and love as the salve that will heal them. Supply us with all we need to go and do likewise. Amen.
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Union Memorial UCC
United Church of Stonington UCC
Storrs Congregational Church UCC
Storrs Korean Church UCC
First Congregational Church of Stratford
This Week in History:
July 11, 1979 (40 years ago) Skylab, America's first space station falls to Earth after 6 years in orbit. Considered a successful mission, the station housed several astronauts for extended periods of time for 5 years before its orbit unexpectedly deteriorated. A year later, the station broke apart in atmosphere and fell in pieces on Australia and in the Indian Ocean.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”
Starting With Scripture: July 08, 2019 , by Kevin Williams.