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Pentecost 8 July 10, 2016 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
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Sermon for Sunday, July 10, 2016 | Pentecost VIII | Proper 10
Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
 
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, WA
Sunday, July 10, 2016
The Rev. Samuel Torvend

Here’s the first problem in this story: the robbers have stripped their victim of his clothing and left him unconscious on the road. Now no one can identify him by his ethnicity (i.e., his clothing) or his accent (i.e., his native tongue and thus the region he calls home). In that ancient culture, both clothing and accent were two significant ways of deciding if the stranger is a foreigner and not to be trusted or “one of us” and deserving of help.
 
Here’s the second problem. If the man is dead or a foreigner, the priest would place himself at risk by touching his body. That might sound a bit odd to us but not to those who lived in ancient Palestine. By merely touching the man, the priest, according to religious law, would make himself unclean and would need to return to the Jerusalem Temple to be purified rituals. Asked one of my students, “Why couldn’t he just wash his hands, you know, with something like Purell?” Purell stations along the ancient road from Jerusalem to Jericho? But touching others was considered not only a physical act but also a relational one: the one you touch is the one with whom you enter into relationship. Thus, be careful who you touch.
 
The third problem in the story is this: after Jesus tells of the Levite – a Temple musician – passing by the victim, the anti-clerical, institution-hating listener to Jesus might jump ahead and think: “Oh! He’s going to tell us that one of our own, an ordinary person, a commoner or a peasant with little or no religious or social status, is going to swoop in and rescue this poor guy.” But no.
 
Jesus articulates a fourth problem when he tells the crowd and the arrogant lawyer who is testing him that the last person – the last person – any of them would ever call upon for help is the one who aids the victim, the only one, in fact, who demonstrates compassion for someone in need. In effect, Jesus has turned their expectation upside down. For this crowd and this expert in the Law, the Samaritan is nothing less than the hated enemy of the Palestinian Jew, a second-class hick, not good enough for polite company, the last person you would want to see at your dining table.
 
Here’s the fifth problem – as if the last one weren’t enough. What if the unconscious man is a Judean or a Galilean Jew like Jesus and discovers that he has not only been touched by a stranger he considers immoral and impure by virtue of his ethnicity but also touched by the Samaritan wine and oil applied to his wounds. Would he not be tempted, on waking, to rage against the Samaritan whose only fault was compassion? And what if he died: would his relatives, unable to find the attackers, not rise up against this hated benefactor?
 
You see, dear brothers and sisters: the story Jesus tells is not, it is not a moral lesson in kindness as it is so often portrayed. Rather, it is a vivid description of what divides a society and the risk needed to break through that division in order to establish a relationship.
 
 The lawyer’s question is this: Who is my neighbor? In response, Jesus asks another and more challenging question: To whom must you become a neighbor? In this past week, two African American men and five police officers lost their lives to fear, racism, and hatred. And, now, a terribly troubled shooter is dead. To the question posed by Jesus – “To whom must you become a neighbor?” – the story responds with stark simplicity: To anyone – anyone – in need, especially to the victim, especially to those who bear the weight of discrimination prompted by fear and hatred, to that person, that group, who is simply different than you or me yet stigmatized by fear or demeaned by age-old prejudice.
 
On this past Thursday evening, Sharay Santora and her two children walked in a Black Lives Matter march in memory of the two African American men shot by police officers in Minnesota and in Louisiana. They walked peacefully with hundreds of others through the streets of downtown Dallas. “The police officers walking along side us gave us high-fives,” Santora reported, “they were hugging us and taking selfies. It was such an instance of love and understanding.” It was the very opposite of what they were protesting in light of shootings in Falcon Heights and Baton Rouge. “There was no animosity in the air. You know, we were on a mission.” “A mission? What kind of mission?” asked a surprised reporter. “The only kind of mission that matters in a country divided by hate and violence, the mission of compassion.
 
“I tell my children that you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution and even if you don’t know what to do, if you feel overwhelmed or confused when someone dies, you can do something,” said Ms. Santora, a former Marine, “You can act with compassion toward your neighbor, toward any one who’s troubled or a victim on the street, on the road. You can at least do that.”
 
To whom must you and I become a neighbor?
 
It should not surprise us that one of the oldest eucharistic texts in our hymnal speaks of Christ giving himself to the world in this way:
 
O saving Victim, open wide
the gate of heaven to us below;
our foes press on from every side;
thine aid supply; thy strength bestow.
 
Indeed, the foe we call discrimination, violence, racism, and, yes, the foe we call death, presses in with considerable power, does it not? And yet, here, the saving victim asks you and me, urges you and me, to let him become our aid and our strength as we participate in his work to heal this troubled and sorrowing world with nothing less than the holy presence of his compassion.