17 July 2013


"Christians vary greatly in their understanding of the truth.  Some have a deep appreciation of our faith, while others still are shallow in their faith.  But it is the same ocean into which they are peering; the same truth which they are seeking to comprehend.  It was in order to reach people at every level that our Lord spoke in parables.  Those with less understanding could enjoy the parables as simple stories with moral lessons which they could learn; while those with deeper faith could penetrate the divine mysteries with these tales and images."  -- Against Heresies,   Irenaeus (born ca. 160CE, died 202CE), Bishop of Lyons

On Sunday, 14 July, Christians in several denominations heard the same Gospel narrative proclaimed in their worship communities.  Luke 10:25-37 is known as the "Parable of the Good Samaritan."  This blog post is not yet another sermon on what was probably heard in thousands of faith communities.  Nor, is this a reflection simply within the Christian tradition.  It is a universal question that was asked by the lawyer -- a specialist in Mosaic Law not further identified:  Who is my neighbor?

This question, in the context of the narrative, is designed to "catch Jesus out."  Jesus was not a mainline Jewish leader.  His message was radical and controversial within his own tradition.  Members of the Sanhedrin....Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes...were regularly monitoring Jesus and working to get him entrapped in his own words.  This was no exception.  Jesus pushed the envelope regarding the boundaries of Judaism -- who is in and who is out.  

Until the modern era, societies were very fluid.  Boundaries were open and travel between cultural groups was both regular and not monitored.  However, within the Hebrew culture there was a defined boundary regarding who belonged in terms of the customs and traditions of that community.  Outsiders were welcomed only as far as the mutual commerce of the nation.  This appears to be true even during the occupation by the Roman Empire.

Jews had a specific cultural ban on Samaritans.  Samaritans were the remnants of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who had defied religious authority and set up their own temple at Mt. Gerizim.  They were considered unclean and no longer part of the Jewish People.  The hatred, on the part of Judaism was both legendary and proverbial.  This is a set-up in terms of how Jesus utilized the parable of the Samaritan who provided aid to a beaten traveler found alongside the road.

In the parable, two other notable folks passed by the injured and dying man on the roadside:  A priest and a Levite.  At the time of Jesus, a priest (in the Jewish tradition) kept the Temple and presided at the most sacred of sacrificial and ritual ceremonies.  The Levites were a part of the nation from whom priests were chosen and who, themselves, kept the ritual elements of the Temple in order on a daily basis.  These two groups of Jews not only knew the Law but embodied the whole Jewish concept of the Shema:  The Great Commandment --- Loving God supremely and Loving Neighbor as one loves one's self.  Moreover, these people would harbor within their own lives the abundance of both Grace and Service.  Jesus was nailing the lawyer with his parable in Luke 10:25-37.

This story has far-reaching implications.  The Christian community was established with Baptism being the foundational sacrament of incorporation.  In this rite, one is given the Grace (abiding Love of God) in the Holy Spirit.  One is, essentially, "in-Christed."  This is my term for being made one in Christ Jesus forever (and so the concluding baptismal prayer states).

Okay, so what is the point?  If we operate with the promised gift of Grace as central to our character, the Great Commandment becomes the grounding of our moral conduct...our very character.  The lawyer in Luke's parable seems to be saying, "yes, I get that," when Jesus asks for his recitation of what is written in the Law.  The sticking point is this business of who is one's neighbor.

Here are two theological truths that I have come to embrace:

1.  Sin is a self-inflicted wound.
2.  The Devil is a method the ego has of discharging responsibility and ownership of sin.

Like many folks, I long ago burned out on clergy types railing from pulpits and other places with rhetoric designed to inflict both guilt and blame on congregations/audiences...slinging the word "sin" around as a scythe.  Indeed, sin is real.  However, it is not a thing in and of itself -- waiting to pounce on us.  Sin is an action or intention on the part of an individual that detaches us from our innermost moral character (summarized in the Great Commandment) and sets the ego as the central place of control.  The word "I" is paramount here.  Sin is willfulness...an act of internal separation from the True Self.

We have, from the moment of being infused (read: created in the image of) with Divine Consciousness (True Self) believed that taking personal control of our environment makes us more powerful.  History is replete with how this works, and Jesus used the actions of the priest and Levite to make this very point.

Truth:  The control on the part of our ego actually makes us smaller and less powerful.  It is finite and actually seems to dissolve in death.  

Oh, the Devil.  There is a corporeal evil.  It is the dark side of the Light.  It is the gathering of what comes of rebellious detachment into a force that seeks both control and manipulation.  Nazi Germany, the Soviet pogroms, all genocides and congregated acts of greed, manipulation and fear-mongering are examples of corporeal evil.  Such "collective ego" lives on in each of us as part of every choice we make.

This started early on.  The garden narrative in the Old Testament creation story plays this out.  When Adam (re: man) eats of the fruit offered by Eve (re: companion)...a fruit forbidden, because it sets up willfulness as an internal default, the Holy One asks Adam what he has done.  Adam blames it on Eve (denial in the face of Truth is a classic ego response).  Eve, in turn, blames it on the serpent who "beguiled" her (again, denial).  The poor snake is forever given the position of "devil" in human culture.  Why?  The snake couldn't respond.  It is an icon of the sneaky kind of internal "nudging" that can elicit willful behavior that detaches us from True Self and Abiding Love.  It is, as I said, a self-inflicted wound (small "s" self is ego structure).

So, the priest and Levite can't be bothered with a petty, poor, naked, half-dead traveler on the road.  "It's not my problem."  

The Samaritan, who isn't supposed to have a clean moral character, chooses to turn aside and give aid to the nearly dead traveler.  His inner compass had a truer heading.

So, if Jesus can tell the elite of his culture that they are fundamentally "looking good on the outside but are like stinking tombs on the inside" (an accusation he later made re the Sanhedrin), what can be said about our culture?

The answer to that, in the words of The Rev. Dr. Robert M. Cooper -- our seminary ethics and moral theology professor -- is:  "It depends always on whose ox is getting gored..."

There is no good side or bad side in this business.  On the socio-political scale, my sense is:  the farther toward either extreme one goes, the more willful one becomes.  "My way is not only the right way, but it is the only way" becomes our rally cry.  Extremists are most often the collecting force for what becomes corporeal evil in any society.  We see it in individual acts of terrorism (the horrific mass shootings in public locations).  We see it in systems that hold society hostage for the will of a few...or a select...or those of a single, rigid mindset.  We see it in any kind of racism or marginalization of groups or persons different than the rest of us...the rest of us being an established, self-embraced ethnic group.

I think Jesus would have a lot to say to us in person these days.  Not very many of us would like it, and all of us, at some level, would be very, very uncomfortable.  Or, we would simply choose not to listen.  Ah, choice...we fight and die for the freedom of choice...but we abuse it and die defending our right to choose badly.

On which side of the road do we choose to pass by in this life?   Love your neighbor means every other living thing.

Love and Blessings,


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