9 March, 2014

Who Is My Neighbor? a sermon

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.

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