Lent Day 5. #LentenDeepThoughts
Based on Luke 10:25-37
When I was in university, my philosophy professor gave all the students a choice: we could write three-six-page papers and take two written exams or we could write one 25-page paper and take an oral final exam, the only exam of the whole semester.
I am clearly a glutton for pain, because I chose the long paper and the oral exam. It must have been at least 50% harder–even the total number of pages we wrote were more–but I did it anyway. And, I might add, scored rather low in the class.
Same way with preaching the parables. Teaching Jesus’ parables is like writing that 25 page paper and taking an oral exam every week. How can I bring a fresh light to passages that we all know and love? How can we look at these teachings of Jesus in a new way, when we all have the voices of previous preachers in our minds telling us what they mean?
I’m going to try. I hope you don’t score me too poorly.
Lawyer comes to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus responds, “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 love your neighbor as yourself,” quoting two passages from Deuteronomy. Then the lawyer, wanting to “justify himself,” asks “Who is my neighbor?”
I said to a friend yesterday, “Love your neighbor,” and he answered, “Which one? On the left of my house or the right?”
So Jesus tells this story. Man gets robbed on the road. Priest walks by and ignores him. Levite walks by, ignores him. Samaritan walks by. Stops. Administers first aid. Takes him to a hotel, pays for his stay and checks on him until he’s well.
We look at the priest and make excuses for him. He can’t help the man because he’s going to make himself unclean. But did you notice that he’s not going TO Jerusalem, but leaving it? That means he doesn’t need to actually be ritually pure right now. Then we look to the Levite and we say that he can’t help, because he’s probably too busy. Levites were busy, you know. Then we have the Samaritan. The ethnic enemy of the listeners at Jesus’ feet. The Samaritan is moved with compassion (which is a better translation than pity in the Greek).
All of this to answer the lawyer’s question: Who is my neighbor?
And we automatically say that the Samaritan, the most hated character in here, is the neighbor. But look closer. Do you see what Jesus did in this question, though? He doesn’t actually answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” What he actually answers is who is loving like a neighbor should? The answer to that question is the Samaritan.
But the question still remains… who is my neighbor?
The person who is the neighbor… drum roll please… is anyone who evokes your compassion. It is, simply, another human being. And our job, our calling, is to be loving to our neighbors, to love our neighbors as ourself.
So I will ask you this morning. Who is your neighbor? Is the the gentleman who lives next door whose constant horn beeping keeps you up at night? Is it the orphan down the street? Is it your taxi driver, your grocery checker-outer, your employee, or even the person sitting next to you today in church? Who is your neighbor? Is it your boss? Your sister? Is it your landlord who lays offerings in the temple in your yard? Is it the warung owner down the street? Is it the Hindu man who shuffles past your house each day? Is it the Muslim woman who crosses your path each afternoon?
The person who is your neighbor is anyone who evokes your compassion. It is simply, another human being. And the truth is that if we are open to God’s leading, then all people will evoke compassion in us.
Pema Chödrön writes:
Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.
Who is your neighbor? And how well are you treating them? Are you moved to compassion when you see them? And then let me ask you… Are you moved, even slightly, by compassion for yourself?
I’m going to close today with a poem by Theresa of Avila, a mystic who lived in the 16th century.
Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
While the words may be new to you, that’s what the Psalmist cried out. Create in me a clean heart.
And that’s what I want… A clean heart. A heart that does not harbor resentments. A heart that does not shy away from love. A heart that does not remember its hurts and its pains. A heart that is open to all and loving to all. Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Have you ever wished yourself a clean house? Have you ever just continued on your normal way, and suddenly, through no work of your own or work of anyone else, the house was clean? No! Houses, like our hearts, follow the law of entropy—that the natural tendency of the universe is to fall into disorder—and become messier and messier if they are not attended to.
I have a messy heart. I’d like a clean one, please.
So I have to do the work of a clean heart. What is that work? First, I have to recognize that my heart is messy. Next, I ask God to create in me a clean heart. Next, I attend to my heart. How has it gotten so messy? What sin in my life is leaving in me such a mess in its place? Is it my arrogance? Is it my willful need to be right? Is it my unwillingness to see the mess I am creating? Next, I sweep out the cobwebs and the dust bunnies. Maybe that means forgiving myself. Maybe that means saying I am sorry. Maybe it means forgiving others. Finally, it means ordering things so that it doesn’t get so messy again.
Last week, I cleaned out my closet. You would think that in such a short time, my closet could not be such a mess. But it is! So as I’m folding neatly my shirts and my pants into neatly sorted piles, I realized that keeping it neat would be easier. Keeping a clean space clean is easier than cleaning a very messy place.
How do you order things so that they don’t get messy? With practice. Have you ever thought about that word? Doctors and lawyers have a practice. We practice our crafts (like piano). It means simultaneously to carry on a profession and to perform repeatedly to acquire a skill. In other words, it means the one who practices is both a novice and a professional.
And with our hearts, we are both novices and professionals.
Jesus tells us how to practice. Giving alms, praying, fasting. Not so that others will applaud us, but so that our hearts will strengthen. We are both incompetent and experts having hearts. We must practice.
And Jesus told this parable:
“No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new one will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’”
You know, I always wonder why we’re not asking for a new heart. One that hasn’t been broken, hasn’t harbored resentments, hasn’t failed at loving, hasn’t failed at forgiveness. And I think it’s because of another really important reminder of Ash Wednesday and Lent…
We don’t ask for new hearts because our old hearts are okay. We don’t ask for new hearts, because these are fixable. But we believe that something NEW can fix our hearts. A new love. A new home. A new location. A new job.
The truth is that putting a new love on an old heart to fix it will burst the skins. Putting a clean patch over our worn hearts will cause them to have an even bigger hole.
We need clean hearts, so that we can see our lives in a different way, see our relationships with a new eye, and leave ourselves open to loving and to being hurt by the same people, those with whom we share life and love. We don’t need a new job, we need a new way to see our jobs. We don’t need a new location. We need to grow where we’re planted.
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
This evening we ask for a clean heart. Because our hearts have become worn and chipped, hurt and hardened by life. But this is the human condition: our hearts are worn and chipped and hurt and hardened, not because we are sinful and bad, but because we are human. It’s what our hearts do.
We come here tonight to be reminded that we are human. Human beings who through sin and hardship have hearts that need to be cleansed.
I’ll be posting a photo each day of a small watercolor painting and quote I like throughout all of Lent. Enjoy!