|"Crossing the Road"|
Football fans often see a sign with a scripture verse held up behind the goalposts by some Christian folks during field goals and point after touchdowns. The verse is John 3:16. Many of us have it memorized: God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, so that all who believe in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.
Today's scriptures help us focus on the meaning of the last part of the verse: might not perish but have ever lasting life. The good meaning folks who hold up the sign see it as an invitation to believe in Jesus (which really is wonderful!), but they invite to this faith for the wrong reason (if you don't, you will perish and go to hell). But the better reason for believing in Jesus is to know you are loved and experience a new joyful life, an eternal life that begins right now, not when you die!
The problem is with the notion of "Everlasting Life." Most of us growing up, and maybe even now, think of this everlasting life as a life we will live out of space, time, and matter. But this whole notion of everlasting life with its roots in Judaism, would never refer to anything out of this present world that, in John's terms, "God so loved."
So when the young lawyer comes up to Jesus and asks him "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" he's not talking about what he needs to do to "get to heaven," like we are inclined to think, but about something very "this worldly." Or we could say "What does it take to experience eternal life in God's kingdom- now?" The whole point being that Jesus' enterprise is not to rescue people "out of the world" as our friends sign suggests, but rather Jesus has come among us to rescue the world itself from its present state of corruption and decay. Don't worry about wrath coming from down upon us from God, but worry about the wrath human beings are raining down on each other because they don't really believe in Jesus and the resurrection promised to them.
Just like the lawyer, we continually want to justify our thoughts and actions before God. We all know the two Great Commandments: Love God and love our neighbor. These two are intimately related. You can't say you really love God unless you love your neighbor. For the lawyer, and for us, the crucial issue is "Who is my neighbor?" I'm sure both the lawyer and each of us could come up with a good list of who our neighbors are, but I wonder if who we consider our neighbors to be would match up with the example Jesus gives us today:
Our neighbors, for purposes of Jesus' kingdom, are the ones who are beat up and robbed by the world and left for half-dead. The poor keep getting poorer, beat up, and left behind.
The "neighbors" Jesus is talking about are on the other side of the road in my life and, frankly, I'm afraid to cross over. The "religious" priest and Levite (he was the one who kept up the scrolls and the Temple surroundings), see the half-dead guy and cross the road to the other side. The Samaritan, probably walking on the opposite side of the road from the priest and Levite, crosses the road toward the victim. (We've mentioned Samaritans recently. They were hated by the Jews for escaping the exile in Babylon, compromising Torah by intermarriage with foreigners, not keeping Sabbath regulations, and for not worshipping in the right way or place.)
Jesus holds up the Samaritan, the one that every one disliked, feared, and hated as an example of one who was justified. Jesus turned all the usual religious thought and practice on its head by clarifying what God's grace really is: turning to the victims of this world. The priest and Levite didn't experience God's grace because they justified their actions by the Law and what was right and noble in their eyes. Any compassion they might have had was blocked by their own judgment, blindness, and self-righteousness. On the other side of the road, the hated Samaritan was moved to pity (the Greek word means having his heart and guts ripped out), there were no blocks to his compassion. This "bad guy" experienced grace and what it means to live eternally in the kingdom.
In Paul's terms today in Colossians, the Samaritan had experienced "redemption and the forgiveness of sins." In his action on behalf of the beaten up guy, the Samaritan stepped out of the power of Satan which seeks to block Compassion in this world at all costs. He didn't require that the half-dead guy be "worthy" of his time and resources, he just looked to his needs and then some.
This story gives us great insight into Jesus' mind for us as his followers. He came among us to show us that "from the beginning it was not so." There's a tendency among religious folk to get off track and need to find their way back from being swept away by the impulse of our passions and fears that block compassion toward victims in our world- our most important neighbors. This is what Holy Eucharist is all about- learning radical hospitality and forgiveness first which allows us to live into a change of heart and mind (metanoia=repentance=change of thinking). This is the "Inn" where is taking care of us so we can take care of our neighbors. (emphasis added/lc)