theunfamiliarname

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 15C

In Uncategorized on July 12, 2010 at 11:44 pm

The parable of the Good Samaritan
is one of the best known of Jesus’ teaching stories.

What the hearer is supposed to understand from it
is so clear, so accessible:
we are neighbours to those who are in need,
and we should express the love that is in us through service to those people.
That is second only to our love of and loyalty to God.

Everybody “gets” that.

There’s a biblical studies metaphor that views Scripture as an onion.
Peal off one layer, and there’s something else underneath.
And the parable of the Good Samaritan is a good example.

A little bit of awareness gives the story more “oomph”.

Let’s begin with the term that’s entered popular speech:
a ‘good Samaritan’.
For the Jewish audience of Jesus’ parable, there was no such thing.
The term is an oxymoron.
Jews and Samaritans did not get on.
They hated each other.
Samaritans were seen as the half-caste legacy of Assyrian conquest,
or in their own history as a rival political, priestly and religious entity.
The “Good Samaritan” is, to all intents and purposes,
the enemy of the man who lies wounded on the road.

The analogy today would be between uncompromising Israelis and Palestinians.

So, a little more meaning as we peal the onion.
There’s a clue as to other elements in play
when we note that it is a lawyer who prompts the parable,
asking: “who is my neighbour?”.

Another detail we might notice in is the description
that the wounded man was half dead.

The argument is about Torah, the Law, over and against compassion.
The Law says one thing, and the spirit of the Law says another.

Levites and Priests, the ministers in the Temple at Jerusalem,
needed to keep themselves ritually pure.
Any contact with a corpse would put them out of action for weeks,
unable to do their duty because of the “unclean” status of dead bodies.

The Levite and the Priest are all too well aware of this body
on the other side of the road,
and it is not that they are necessarily without care or compassion.
What we have here is the conflict between duty and compassion,
between being single-minded, keeping safe and keeping things simple
and the messy, complicated, risky world of getting involved.

The Priest and the Levite are right on the money
in terms of part ‘a’ of the summary of the Law:
love the Lord your God with all your heart…, .
They know their duty, and they know that by even getting close enough
to investigate a body that might well be a corpse – even if they don’t touch it –
will compromise their role.

Technically, they’re in the clear under the letter of Old Testament writings,
having made the judgement call that their responsibility,
their first priority is to the worship of God in the Temple.

And yet Jesus’ parable clearly shows that the spirit of the Torah, the law,
is absent from their actions.
How can you walk by someone so in need of your compassion?
It is a matter of perspective.
The Levite and the Priest do not, first and foremost, see a person in need,
they see a threat,
a threat to their holiness and function.
They look, even at another person,
and see themselves and what affects them.
How often are we guilty of that myopia?

This is not rocket science: Deuteronomy tells us that the Word of God, the law,
“is in your mouth and in your heart”
We generally know when we are in tune with God.
Knowing what to do is actually not that hard
– having the courage to cope with the complexities of getting involved –
that is when we start to make excuses.

The law of love, of servant simplicity, overrules all our complications.
Things do get messy, yes,
but choosing what is right is actually very straightforward:
we either do or we don’t.
We either care or we don’t.
We see need, or we see bother, effort or fear.

The law of love is simple:           “love your neighbour as yourself”.
And if we need any clarification about who that might be,
if a question comes to your mind, “could this be my neighbour”,
the answer is most certainly “yes”.

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