Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Beyond Fear, Love" (11.22.15)

A Meditation on Luke 10:25-37


The Good Samaritan by Dinah Roe Kendall
I want to speak this morning on the subject of fear, because fear is the greatest obstacle to the spiritual life, the most cunning temptation for people of faith.  Faith has to do with seeing clearly and living freely.  And when we’re afraid, we do neither.  I want to speak this morning on the subject of fear, because fear is pervasive in the world this week, on every news channel, in just about every casual conversation.  Who should we worry about?  What will they do next?  How can we shut them out?

On this it almost seems to me like the terrorists and the major news outlets are working hand in hand: maybe fear sells advertising; maybe fear stokes the ratings; maybe fear is what mass media does best.  But is there any doubt about this: that fear just about incapacitates human creativity and empathy?  Frightened politicians build awful walls and turn refugees away.  Frightened kids in frightening cities turn to xenophobia and violence.  But Jesus comes our way this morning with a counter-narrative, with a gospel story, with a reminder of who and whose we are.  I want to speak this morning on the subject of fear, because we Christians have a particular way of speaking to fear and responding to fear.  Not just the preachers.  Not just the teachers.  But every one of us.  Every one of us must bear witness, must give testimony, must shine with love in anxious times like these.  Every one of us.  It’s our calling.

So it’s this point—that fear so effectively incapacitates creativity and empathy—that proves so decisive in Jesus’ teaching and especially this morning in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  The parable’s familiar.  It’s timeless.  But it’s so dang relevant this week.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and it was a dangerous road to begin with.  And he fell into the hands of robbers, of mercenaries; maybe they were politically motivated, maybe they were just desperate and greedy.  But they stripped him, and they beat him, and they terrorized him, and they left him there for dead in the road.  A grizzly sign for the rest of the world to notice.  A way of striking fear in the hearts of all the other travelers.  Now by chance a priest was going down that same road, and when the priest saw the beaten man, bloodied and scarred and terrorized, he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, he too passed by on the other side.”

Now these two men, the priest and the Levite, they’re probably not bad men; they’re probably not callous men or scoundrels, certainly not robbers.  But they are anxious men.  They’re so very anxious about crime in the area.   They’re so very anxious about the terrorists lurking who knows where.  And given all that: who’s to judge them for crossing the street, for avoiding the mayhem, for hustling off to their families, their jobs, their obligations?  They're anxious men.  And to be honest, their anxiety is stirred a bit by their faith, by their tradition, by their sacred texts.  Jesus is kind of sneaky on this point, but it’s not to be missed.  Literalism makes us antsy.  Rigid religion makes us rigid people.  The Bible says don’t get your hands bloody when you’re off to serve the Lord in holy places.  The Bible says don’t go near a dead man when you’ve got sacramental duties to fulfill.  The priest and the Levite are decent men, certainly religious men, and Bible-toting men to boot.  And they’re playing by the rules, it would certainly seem.  Conventional wisdom and the rules.

But all of this makes them antsy and anxious.  All of this leads them to turn their faces and their lives from the beaten man in the road.  All of this incapacitates creativity and empathy.  And they pass by on the other side.  No, they’re not bad men, they’re not cruel men; but they’re afraid.


“But a Samaritan,” Jesus continues.  “But a Samaritan came close to that same beaten and bloodied man.  And when he saw him, he was moved with pity, with feeling, with love.  And he went right to him and bandaged his wounds, and then he poured some precious oils and wine on those wounds.  And he took care of him.”  A Samaritan took care of him.

Now here’s a little exegetical tidbit, that is, some context for Jesus’ using a Samaritan as the hero in his story.  Because Jesus isn’t fooling around.  You see, just a chapter ago, that would be Luke’s Chapter Nine, Jesus was traveling through Samaria, and he sent some of his friends ahead to find him a place to sleep.  This was apparently how he rolled in those days: he’d move around the countryside, or he’d set out for Jerusalem, and he’d send some friends ahead to make preparations.  Town by town.

But in that town, in that particular Samaritan town, the people refused to extend themselves; they refused to offer Jesus a place to sleep; they turned Jesus and his friends away.  The text says, “They did not receive him.”  And in ancient times at least, that was a huge affront.  That was a maddening slap in the face.  “They did not receive him.”  Because he was a Jew, apparently; because he worshipped his God in Jerusalem, apparently.  Bigotry won out.

Now this infuriated Jesus’ friends, his disciples, understandably.  And they asked Jesus, then and there, if he wanted to destroy them, if he wanted to call God’s wrath down on the inhospitable, unreceptive Samaritans.  Seems clear that the disciples were rankled and ready to rumble.  If that’s what Jesus wanted.

But Jesus turned, Luke says.  Jesus turned right then and rebuked them.  “We do not respond to fear with fear,” he might have said.  “We do not respond to judgment with judgment,” he might have said.  “We do not respond to hostility with more hostility.”  And that’s in Chapter Nine.

So in Chapter Ten, after the priest passes anxiously by on the other side, after the Levite passes anxiously by on the other side, it’s a Samaritan (in Jesus’ story) who sees the beaten man.  Who stops and bandages his wounds.  Who cares for him.  Remember how we said a minute ago that faith has to do with seeing clearly and living freely?  Remember how we said that when we’re afraid we do neither?

So who’s the faithful one in Jesus’ story?  Who’s the one who sees clearly and loves boldly and lives freely?  It’s the Samaritan.  We know it’s the Samaritan.  It really doesn’t matter which God he worships or which mountain his people identifies as their sacred home.  It really doesn’t matter which set of scriptures he reads or how literally he reads them.  It doesn’t even matter that some of his countrymen are jerks.  What matters—at least to Jesus Christ, the Son of God—is that the Samaritan sees the beaten and bloodied man, that he sets aside his own fears, and that he stops to bandage the poor guy’s wounds.  He sees clearly and he lives freely.  “Go and do likewise,” Jesus says.  In the end, the antidote to fear, the only antidote to fear, is love.


Think about the parable, for just a minute: think about the parable from the perspective of Jesus’ disciples.  They’ve just had this miserable experience with some Samaritans, in that Samaritan town.  Who knows how poorly they were treated there?  What kinds of hostilities they encountered there?  We know they were rejected there.  The disciples were rattled by the Samaritans, rattled enough to suggest that Jesus do some serious damage and send a serious Son of God message.

But instead, and ever the contrarian, Jesus goes ahead and uses a Samaritan as the hero of what might be his greatest story.  As the shining example of neighborliness and mercy and love.  And you’ve got to hand it to him.  It’s gutsy story-telling.  It’s like going to Paris this morning and telling a story about a Salafist, a fundamentalist warrior who stops to bandage the wounds of a schoolgirl who’s been attacked and left for dead, outside the Cathedral of Notre Dame.  When the local bishop and the respected rabbi have passed by on the other side.  What Jesus is doing in the Parable of the Good Samaritan is turning, turning, turning our attention to the power of love and capacity for compassion in every human heart.  The Salafist has it.  The Samaritan has it.  You have it and I have it.  We all have it.  The power of love and the capacity for compassion.  And only these can change the world.

“So which of the three,” Jesus asks the somewhat anxious lawyer in Luke’s narrative.  “Which of the three was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”  And the lawyer says, maybe getting the point at last, “The one who showed him mercy.”  The one who showed him mercy.

There’s no doubt that we’re living in fearful times.  What happened in Paris last weekend, and in Beirut a day before that: it’s grim and it makes so little sense and it’s scary.  Whether you’re getting on a plane this afternoon, as I am, or whether you’re watching the news from Europe and the Middle East as so many of us are.  Whether you’re raising children in the age of global warming, and wondering what their future holds, or whether you’re trying to finish grad school and wondering where the jobs are going to be.  We’re all living in fearful times, the anxiety is palpable.  And sometimes it’s stifling.  But it’s not all there is.  We’re here this morning to say that it’s not all there is.

Friends, we who walk in path of Jesus, in the footsteps of Jesus, we are called out beyond the suffocating boundaries of fear and despair.  This is not where we live.  We are called to live in the holy space of grace and mercy and love.  Especially now.  Most definitely now.  And I want you to hear the call clearly and resoundingly this morning.  Because it’s directed to you, and to you, and to you, not just to some vague and abstract church, but to you, and to you, and to you: to young and old, to gay and straight, to black and white, to rich and poor.  You are called to live in the space of grace; you are called to meet the world’s pain with your love and kindness.  You are precisely and exactly the witnesses, the servants, the lovers God needs in a time like this.

You see, we inhabit a tradition that celebrates God’s love in the most expansive, the most liberating, the most radical ways possible.  Because God loves the world, the cosmos, because God cherishes us so completely and so deeply, we live beyond fear, we live beyond anxiety, we are not shackled to our worries and our fears.  Do you hear that?  Do you get that?  Jesus lived and died and rose again to free us from those fears, to free us for loving and serving and stopping and bandaging and caring and forgiving.  That’s what this whole Jesus thing is all about.

So wherever you’re off to this afternoon: if you’re staying for our workshop with Muslim and Jewish allies, if you’re heading home to hike the golden hills with a friend, if you’re off to the library to work on a project or study for a test.  Wherever you’re off to this afternoon, however you spend your time this week, I want you to know that Jesus is calling you to partnership in his cause.  He needs you out there, as his friends, as his lovers, as his ministers of grace and peace.  So, don’t be afraid.  And don’t hold back.  Isn’t that the message, always the message, of the angels and the muses and the poets in scripture?  Don’t be afraid.  And don’t hold back.  Let yours be the laughter that brings hope and strength to the weary.  Let yours be the song that lifts the spirits of the sad and lonely.  Let you be the one who stops for the beaten man by the side of the road.

Because this is who you are.  This is what it means to follow.  And this is what Jesus is saying, when he says, to you and to me, “Go and do likewise.”