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“Portrait of Wisdom”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 1:1-18
Matthew 2:1-12

 

John 1:(1-9) 10-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

 

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The wise men

 

Why do we call them wise men?
What do they do? 

Well, they pay attention outside of their own culture and national heritage.
They have kept alert.

They have recognized that we are not only tribes, but one human family.
What happens to the Jews, matters to them.
For we are all connected.
We all impact and are related to one another.

Native American heritage teaches that all creation is one family.  All are connected.  All are related – animals and plants.  What happens to one, happens to us all.  We are all family.

Family

 

The way the wise men have responded, it would seem they too understand something of this truth of our fundamental connection.
And as Christians, we too believe in our connectedness – because God in Christ created ALL.  We are all made by the hands of God!

 

Wise ones know this.
Wisdom points to our connectedness, our oneness, our relationship with all.
These men are wise because they pay broad attention to what God is doing, far and wide, beyond human lines, borders, boundaries.

 

Do we?
Do we recognize our familial ties with all people?
Do we pay attention?
Do we keep alert – even beyond our homes?

…Beyond our neighborhoods?
Beyond our church?
Beyond our religion?
Beyond our beliefs?
Beyond our city?
Beyond our own nation?

Do we recognize the universality of truth – meaning Truth is truth is truth?
Do we recognize that insofar as something is true, it is of God, for our God is the Truth?

Therefore, can we listen and learn from wise men and women and persons
of all colors and creeds and places
…knowing that any truth they impart is a glimpse of the TRUTH:
God’s own revelation to them?

 

Do we believe that God seeks out and saves the lost?
Do we believe that God’s heart is for ALL people?
…and not just OUR people?
Because if we do, then we know God is working and moving in all the world!
And we can humble ourselves, as the wise men did, to listen for God’s Truth among teachers and prophets and guides, beyond our own traditions.

 

But why do we call them wise men? 

Well, they stopped and asked for help.

Unlike myself – who often must get rather lost before recognizing my need for help –
These wise ones stop to ask help from Herod, from the locals, from the Jews themselves.  They do not let national or professional pride, or autonomy, ambition, or arrogance hold them back from receiving aid.

Do we? 

Do we humble ourselves to ask for help from others
…others who do not look like us, think like us, eat like us, dance like us, live like us?

 

But why do we call them wise men? 

Well, they do not let up from their pursuit.

Despite receiving no help from King Herod and rather becoming his teacher of Jewish prophesy,
They do not give up.
They stay steady on.

They have followed the star since its rising.
It has been a LONG time.
They did not arrive at Jesus’ birth, as the shepherds did.
It says they entered the “house” where Jesus lay.
House –
Not stable
Not barn –
House.

They come later.
They have been journeying long and far.
They have remained steadfast and determined.
Until they find what they are searching for!
Do we stay steady, despite the disappointments and set-backs?
Do we stay steady-on, no matter how long it takes us to reach the goal?

 

Do we seek and find?

For scripture directs us, “Seek and you will find, if you seek with all your heart.”
“…You will find”
-Not “You may find” but “You will find”-
A promise! 

How many of us truly seek? 

How many of us leave the familiar?
How many of us bear discomfort?
How many of us humble ourselves to seek something beyond ourselves and our worldly pursuits?

Seek, and you WILL find!
…Wise Ones

In seeking they have found the light of the world,
The Way
The Truth
The Light
Bread of Heaven
The true Vine
The King of the Jews…

 

But why do we call them wise? 

 Because in finding Christ, they worship. 

They fall down on their knees!
They humble themselves!
They subject themselves to this tiny King.
And they bring their gifts,
Extravagant gifts,
For the baby King.

They cannot gain from this.
Any human child could not remember this moment, remember their faces,
Granting them favors when he assumes the throne…
No.

They have paid attention.
They have looked beyond themselves and their culture.
They have sought long.
They have asked for help.
And they have found!

And when they find, they worship!
They give!
They give of their fine treasures,
Without expectation of return.

 

And do we? 

Do we fall down in worship?
Do we humble ourselves before the One who knows far better than ourselves?
Do we surrender to the Mystery of Christ,
Subjecting ourselves to God’s will?

Do we bring our most exquisite treasures?  The most valuable gifts we can bring…
Knowing we cannot thus, gain favors or privilege,
But only the joy of sharing in the life and light of
The One most HOLY, the One most WORTHY, the One most TRUE? 

 

Friends, in this one story of scripture, only occurring in one book of the Bible, in only a partial chapter, we are given a portrait of true wisdom.

These ones come from the outside
Outside Jewish religion,
Outside Jewish land and nation,
They are most certainly uncircumcised.
They most certainly eat “unclean foods.”

Most insiders would have thought them forsaken, outside the realm of God’s love and grace.

But in this most sacred moment,
outsiders
pay attention and recognize,
seek and find,
worship and give thanks,
bringing time and treasure to God.

 

Wow!!!!!

 

May WE
too
be wise.

 

 

 

 

FOR PRAYER & MEDITATION

-Dom Helder – Camara, Brazil

“From the mingled light and shadow of hope

I greet you, Lord, God”

 

-Chippewa Song

“Sometimes I go about pitying myself

while I am carried by the wind

across the sky.”

“Open, Empty, Humble”

Katherine Todd
John 9:24-41
Luke 1:26-38

John 9:24-41

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

 

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

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For nothing will be impossible with God.

The angel Gabriel comes to Mary, and tells her crazy, wonderful, wild, and impossible things.  Few encounters are so entirely world-altering as this news would be to Mary’s entire life.  She will give birth to a child, who will be great and will reign on the throne of David…forever.

None of this message could be true.

Could it?

She, a virgin, pregnant?  Giving birth?
The child, with God – quite literally – as his father??
This child a King?
…to reign on the throne of Israel?
…forever??

Mary is being asked to believe in impossible things.
Mary is being asked to trust, beyond the boundaries of her mind and all her life experience.

 

What we view as possible is changing all the time.

I remember thinking as a child that the next invention would be a phone where you can see people as you speak.  And voila!  We have that and soooo much more!

Had you told the apostle Paul that you could communicate with peoples on the other side of the world, in minutes, or that you could go there in a day, he would have thought you mad.  It was impossible.

Flying was impossible…until it wasn’t.
Talking across miles was impossible…until it wasn’t.
Broadcasting your video to the world was impossible…until it wasn’t.
Making a video was impossible……..until it wasn’t.

Who are WE to say what IS and ISN’T possible?!?

 

All we have are the boundaries of our own experience, the limits of our understanding, the borders of our imagination and vision.  Thus, every time we pass judgement, we are incorrect.  We simply cannot perceive all that is or can be.

So when GOD says something, we do well to listen. 
When GOD guides our steps, we do well to follow.
When God makes a promise,
speaks a word,
makes a move,
you can believe it.  You can count on it.  You can build your house on it; it is solid.

 

The difficulty then is in the hearing.  Do we believe God still speaks at all?  If so, do we believe we have the capacity to hear God?  And if we hear God, who might rightly interpret what we hear?

So many questions – all understandable, all legit.

And yet Mary, with the faith of a child, accepts this word of Gabriel as from God. 
Mary, with the faith of a child, believes what she cannot see or understand.
Mary, with the faith of a child, opens herself – her mind, her heart, her body, and her entire life – to the will of God.

 

Can you imagine?

Quite often it is precisely because we’re so grown up that we cannot believe.
Most often, we grow to trust our own experiences more.
We learn things and therefore think we see and understand.
And what does scripture say about those who think they can see?  That they in fact are blind.  But about those who know they are blind, they can see!

Whatever our training and education,
Whatever our degrees and certifications,
Whatever our history and experience,
Whatever our vision and foresight,
WE cannot grasp the Truth.  We cannot capture the Way.  We cannot contain Life.

We
do not have
the capacity
to
behold
God. 

 

Children know this.
They are open.
They are curious.
They are humble.

Mary knew this
as she suspended her own understanding and imagination and experience
in order to make room for GOD. 

And so it is that Mary makes room for Christ. 

 

It isn’t about her decorating a baby room, buying baby insurance, diapers, or formula.
She makes room for Christ
by humbling herself.

In humbling herself, Mary makes room for the possibility of Christ. 

 

It can be tempting to compare ourselves to one another and then think better of ourselves when we “come out on top.”  It can be easy to look at the evening news and think, “I’m glad I’m not a person like THAT.”  We are always better at something, relative to someone else.

And this can woo us into an inflated sense of ego.

We might look around us in church and think, “I come more often than so & so” or “If only so & so would do things my way” or “wow, look at that sin!”  But in this case too, we are seduced into thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought.

Any measurements we take of ourselves should be relative to God.
Do we know what God knows?
Have we experienced what God has experienced?
Who among us has made what God has made?
Who among us sees what God can see?

And if we come out lacking, we have every reason to humble ourselves, to lift the veils of our egos, and make ourselves open like an empty glass.

Are we empty, like a dry and ready sponge, to make room for Christ?
Are we open, like a covid-time social calendar, to make room for Christ?
Are we ready, like well-aged wine, having soaked ourselves in the yeast that is Christ?

Do we accept the twists and turns, as the ocean accepts all rivers?
Do we hunger, like a baby bird waiting for its mother?
Do we trust, like a child – gleefully squealing as his father throws him high into the air, begging him to do it “Again!”

 

May we be as Mary – open, accepting, obedient, humble –
for this is how we ready ourselves.
In acknowledging that we cannot see,
God gives us eyes to see,
…eyes
to BEhold
and BEheld
by Jesus Christ, Emmanuel!

 

In these words of Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) let us quiet our hearts and minds, praying together.

I keep projecting my present condition onto the future.  If I feel dark, the future looks dark; if I feel bright, the future looks bright.  But who am I to know what life will be like for me tomorrow, next week, next year, or ten years from now?  Even more, who am I to know who you will be for me in the year ahead?  O Lord, I will not bind you with my own limited and limiting ideas and feelings.  You can do so many things with me, things that might seem totally impossible to me.  I want at least to remain open to the free movement of your Spirit in my life. …O Lord, let me remain free to let you come whenever and however you desire.  Amen.

 

 

PRAYERS                                                         [Hildegard of Bingen, Germany (1098-1179)]

Holy Spirit – giving life to all life, moving all creatures, root of all things, washing them clean, wiping out their mistakes, healing their wounds – you are our true life:  luminous, wonderful, awaking the heart from its ancient sleep.

[George Appleton, England (1902-1993)]

Give me a candle of the Spirit, O God, as I go down into the deeps of my being.  Show me the hidden things, the creatures of my dreams, the storehouse of forgotten memories and hurts.  Take me down to the spring of life and tell me my nature and my name.  Give me freedom to grow, so that I may become that self, the seed of which you planted in me at my making.  Out of the deeps I cry to you, O God.

 

“Alone, to Pray”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 10:5-13
Matthew 14: 22-33

 

Romans 10:5-13

Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Matthew 14:22-33

 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

~~~~~

 

In this story of Jesus and his disciples,
…after their great meal, the feeding of the five thousand,
…after hearing Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod…

Jesus has had one LONG day, has he not?

 

Any one of these things – hearing evil news of murder of one’s own family member, traveling, unexpectedly working and healing all the sick, teaching the crowds, feeding the crowd – any of these would aloe have made for a full day.

And here Jesus is, dismissing the crowd by himself. 

Notice, he has sent the disciples on ahead of him to cross the sea for a rest.  But Jesus stays back to “dismiss the crowd.”

 

Jesus is the distraction.
Jesus is the feature.

The people are there to see him, and he takes those sacred moments and hours – to the end – to see them,
to be with them,
to heal them,
to teach them.

 

Now, I’d have recommended precisely the opposite scenario.

Of all his crew, I’d guess that it’s Jesus who has had the most emotionally draining day.  HE is the one most in need of retreat, of sleep, of solitude.  I would have recommended the disciples run interference.  In fact, they could have rallied the crowd beforehand and afterward in my book.  They could have saved Jesus’ time and energy considerably, if all he had to do was appear for a measured few hours in the public eye.

But Jesus has done the opposite.

For HE stays behind to dismiss the crowd.

 

Now, this image plays very well into the southern, Christian, stoic woman script I learned through-out my growing years.

As a southern, Christian, stoic woman, you come first and leave last.  You ask what is needed of you from others and not what you need.  You tend to others and not to yourself.  You press emotions and issues tidily into closets, and keep on going.  This describes my grandma to a tee.  Anything less would be selfish, would it not!?

It has only been in the past couple decades that the toxicity of living this script for so long began to reveal itself to me.  I was dying, more and more, to my truest self.  I was co-dependent:  caring for others while expecting them to care for me.  Frustrated but unallowed to be frustrated, the closet doors to my emotions were becoming harder and harder to close and tuck away.

 

Now my wife, on the other hand, was not raised within this American, southern-woman culture.  And she is good at taking care of herself. 

It used to make me really annoyed.

She didn’t play by my internal script.  SHE cared for herself – so she’d be renewed and have more to give.  SHE exercised regularly – taking time for herself.  SHE met up with friends and shared scrumptious meals.

And all of this grated my nerves.

 

Why?

Because I was downright jealous!  I wanted to exercise regularly.  I wanted to meet up with friends and share scrumptious meals.  I wanted to be cared for and to feel renewed.

 

But I had been fed this lie that self-care was selfish. 

I had been fed this lie that loving myself more meant loving others and God less.

I was living in the lie that this world is scarce – that some for me means less for you – and not in the abundance of Christ – that there is enough for both you and me, and that my wellbeing means I have more to give in relationship.

I had a lot to relearn.  I needed to learn her ways!!

 

And so when I read what Jesus does here – staying back alone to dismiss the crowd – I get anxious.  This is where I start to doubt my own self-care because Jesus’s action appears very self-less.

I bring this up to caution those of us who are tempted – like me – to return to those familiar places of guilt and self-neglect.

What we do see however, is that Jesus has more resources for taking care of himself.  It seems he does not need to leave early to head back home by boat, seeing as he can simply walk across stormy seas on his own two feet, at will.  He is not limited by his humanity – by fears and disbelief – he doesn’t sink like Peter; he is living fully within the power and possibility of God.

This plan of sending the disciples away first also affords Jesus the opportunity to be alone, and that is what he does.  He seeks out a solitary place.  He climbs a mountainside and there, he prays.

Jesus has done what he needs.  Jesus is taking care of himself.  EVEN JESUS, needs time alone, in communion with God.

How much moreso do we?
How much moreso do we need time alone?
How much moreso do we need time alone to pray?

 

As compassionate as Jesus is, he does not work through the night, no.   He dismisses the crowd.  He does this personally.  He does this compassionately.  But he does it.  He sends folks away.  He sends them home.

And then he retreats alone to the one place he is truly at home – with his Heavenly Father, with God.

 

This is Jesus taking care of himself. 

This is Jesus taking time for himself.
This is Jesus drinking from the well of living water.
This is Jesus waiting on God, and rising up on wings, as eagles.
This is Jesus setting his boundary.

Though God the Son, Jesus is still in the flesh; therefore, he still needs rest, he still needs solitude, he still needs deliberate times of communion with God.

 

And following this time of renewal,

…he once again seeks out his disciples in their time of great need,
…and once again he shows them a glimpse of the Kingdom of God
– preaching without words, as he walks across the very sea amidst the storm.

 

Jesus preached all the time and only sometimes with words. 

His actions speak the loudest.

And what comes through to me in this story is both his compassion to dismiss the crowds himself, face to face, and his boundaries at setting aside his evening to rest and prayer and renewal.

Some of us find it quite difficult to BOTH have compassion AND set boundaries.
But Love showed us both.
Jesus showed us both.
God shows us both.

 

When we love others while loving ourselves – setting healthy boundaries to take care of our own needs – we most shine God’s own love; we demonstrate God’s love, just as Jesus did on the evening of that very long day.

 

Let us pray.

God reveal to us when we are tempted to think more highly of ourselves than we ought; when we think we can and therefore try to do everything,

as if we ourselves were you,
as if we ourselves didn’t also need to retreat – to be alone, to hike and rest and pray.

God, we truly need you.  Help us to know and to acknowledge our own boundaries and limitations.  And may we honor who you’ve made us to be – limitations and all – by caring for ourselves with tender, gracious wisdom
…just as Jesus did on the evening of that LONG day.

 

In our LONG days, draw us into your presence and speak life into our death.
For we absolutely need you.
Everyday,
We need you. 

 

Amen.

“Love Your Neighbor As Yourself”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Colossians 1:9-14
Luke 10:25-37

 

Colossians 1:9-14

For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 10:25-37

 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”


 

What do we do when we want to get out of something?  We argue over semantics.

In this dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer, Luke lets us into the mind of the lawyer.  He says that the lawyer asked this question of Jesus in order to test him.  So we likely have a skeptic here.  He is unsure about Jesus.  Perhaps he is vetting Jesus, to see what Jesus knows.  As a lawyer, he is trained to think critically about a matter.  Perhaps this is his way of discerning whether or not this Jesus is to be trusted.  Or perhaps he simply wants to trap Jesus.  We do not know the lawyer’s reasons for this test, but he stands and poses this question to Jesus to test him.

And what does Jesus do?  In infinite wisdom, Jesus turns the question back to the lawyer.  Now the lawyer is the one being tested.  If he doesn’t answer, it will make him look bad.  This takes away whatever leverage the lawyer thought he had over Jesus – posing this question as a test – and turns it back onto him.  Isn’t this what Jesus speaks of when he says, “the measure you give, will be the measure you get”?

Now of course the lawyers question, being the test that it is, is a question the lawyer knows the answer to – otherwise how would he be able to “test” Jesus based on his answer.  …And that is revealing.  If the lawyer already knows the answer, he is surely not asking the question out of an earnest desire to know the truth.  And that is perhaps what separates him from so many of those who approach Jesus.  This lawyer wasn’t approaching Jesus out of earnest desire to know the truth and to do good.  No.  He has other motivations.

So when the lawyer answers Jesus correctly.  Jesus affirms him saying, “You have given the right answer.  Do this, and you will live.”  Notice, it is not enough to know the right answers.  The lawyer knows that right answer, but that is not the important thing.  What is important is what the lawyer then DOES with his knowledge:  does he put this knowledge into practice.

Now, since the lawyer is not asking the question out of a sincere desire to know, it is also unlikely the lawyer truly cares about doing this commandment.  And the lawyers next question to Jesus seems to press this point.  He asks, “And who is my neighbor?”  And this is why I asked, “What do we do when we want to get out of doing something?”  It seems clear to me that this lawyer is looking for a loophole …because he begins to nitpick the semantics:  “who is my neighbor.”

 

Now part of me truly gets this.  If I know that something hard is being required of me, I also will ask the nitty gritty questions.  If I am going to start a journey down a hard road, I first want to get my reasons, goals, and objectives clear.  I want to know that I understand the mandate.

But I do think it is more likely the lawyer is looking for a loophole.  Luke explains the lawyer’s question saying, “Wanting to justify himself, he asked ‘Who is my neighbor?’”

As we all do at times, this lawyer appears to be wanting to defend himself.  We can all instantly think of many, many times we have failed to love others as we love ourselves.  But we also usually have our reasons.  So does God see our reasons and approve?

And to this question, Jesus responds with a parable, the parable of the good Samaritan.

Notice the word “good.”  Nowhere in the story appears the word “good.”  Jesus does not qualify THIS Samaritan as good, with respect to the all the other Samaritans.  No.  We have qualified this Samaritan as good.  People through-out Christian history have put that qualifier on this Samaritan.

No, Jesus simply tells a story of a man who is robbed, beaten and left for dead on the side of a road.  Two folks pass by this man.  They are the ones everyone expects to be good:  the priest, the Levite.  But they do not help.  In fact, they go so far as to cross the road to avoid him.   And in juxtaposition to these “holy” men of Israel, a Samaritan man comes upon the wounded man and is moved with pity for him.  As you may have heard, Samaritans were viewed by Israelites as unclean and unholy.  They were definitely seen as second-class humans in Jesus’ time.  So to have Jesus tell this story in which the Israelite spiritual leaders have become the disappointments and a Samaritan has become the hero…well it explains how this story got it’s qualifier, “good.”  Because folks in Jesus’ day would have been shocked to hear of a Samaritan who was being lifted up for Israelites as their moral example.  THIS must have been a gooood Samaritan!

 

Anyway, the Samaritan tended to the wounded man, using his own oil, wine, and bandages (that he had with him for his own needs) to clean and tend his wounds.  And then, he takes it a step further:  he puts the man on his own animal (that he had with him for his own needs) and takes him to an inn, where he takes care of the man.

And then we hear that the Samaritan needs to leave – well obviously!  He was traveling a road for a reason, right?  He needed to get somewhere.  But he takes it another step further:  he pays the innkeeper with the instruction to take care of the man.  And as if that would not already have been more than anyone could have ever expected much less hoped for, he tells the innkeeper that if he spends any more on caring for the man, the Samaritan will pay him the balance upon his return.

This Samaritan – labeled good probably by those shocked that a Samaritan could ever be called good – this Samaritan has gone above and beyond.  This Samaritan recognizes that any one of these actions will not be enough.  This man has been stripped of all earthly belongings, without family or friends with him, and without the physical health to help himself.  And so this Samaritan sees to it that the man is restored to the health he needs to get back on his feet.

This Samaritan is no less than a life-saver, a hero.

 

And this is the story Jesus tells the lawyer, to answer his question, “And who is my neighbor?”

 

The story Jesus tells goes so very far and beyond anything his hearers would have imagined.  They, perhaps, were wanting to know whether or not neighbor was simply referring to those who lived in neighboring houses…  Or perhaps they suspected, it was the folks in their community.  Or perhaps neighbor meant your nation and people; that makes sense.

But no, Jesus tells them a story that crossed borders.  It crossed racial borders.   It crossed ethnic borders.  It crosses religious borders.

Whatever borders they’d hoped to gain to justify their neglect of those they thought less worthy or less loved or less important…Jesus defies them.  Jesus makes crystal clear that a neighbor is anyone in our human family, even those outside our neighborhoods and churches and families…and countries.

 

God calls us to love our neighbors – all people – as we love ourselves…

And this is a steep ask.  All.

 

And so I ask each of us, myself included, where are our boundaries?  We are certainly not called to help all.  We cannot physically do it.  Even Jesus defined his boundaries of service.

But what I think this passage challenges is our judgement boundaries.

 

We will all find ourselves face to face with those who have been stripped of their power, stripped of their resources, stripped of their voice, stripped of their dignity.  And when we do, will we love them, as we love ourselves?