Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Good Samaritan and the Good Independent Sacramental Christian

Sermon text:  Luke 10:25-37

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best-known and most well-beloved stories in the Bible. The term "Good Samaritan" has entered our language to describe someone who helps others.  There are even a number of charitable organizations that have adopted "Good Samaritan" or just "Samaritan" as part of their name.

The Samaritans are a religious and ethnic group closely related to the Jews, considered a branch of the Jews by some.  They still exist today, living in two villages in Israel, although their numbers are much reduced from the time of Jesus – there are around 750 – 800 Samaritans today, while there may have been as many as a million in the time of Jesus.  The Samaritan story of origin is that they are descendants of the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Levi who remained true to the Israelite religion after the Kingdom of Israel came to an end, and that the mainstream Jewish people added to and altered the religion.  The rabbinic understanding is that the Israelites not taken into captivity intermarried with non-Israelites and were influenced by them.  There are a couple of significant differences between Samaritan and mainstream Jewish religious understandings – the Samaritans accept only the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, as canonical, rather than the entire Hebrew Bible accepted within mainstream Judaism.  There are a number of textual variants in the text of the Torah, most fairly minor.  Another major difference is that while mainstream Judaism regards Mount Zion in Jerusalem as the place chosen by God for the Temple, Samaritans believe it is Mount Gerizim, where they still to this day offer sacrifices.

In the time of Jesus, the Judaism centered around the Temple and the rabbis was the mainstream religion, while Samaritanism was an outsider, marginalized religion.  Jesus was clearly part of mainstream Judaism – he makes this clear in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well.  But the compelling point he makes in the parable of the Good Samaritan is that it's not the particular form of the religion that is important – it's how one lives out that religion in one's daily life that is important, through acts of mercy and lovingkindness to one's neighbor.  Holding the highest religious offices in the "right religion" (in this case, the priest and the Levite) is less important than being in the "wrong" form of the religion but taking care of one's neighbor.

One form of the obsession with "right religion" that Christianity has unfortunately engaged in is supersessionism, the idea that the Christian church has replaced the Jewish people as the people in covenant with God, rather than the much more theologically accurate idea that we have an additional covenant with God while the eternal covenant made at Sinai between God and the Jewish people remains in effect.  It would be a mistake to read this story in an anti-Jewish light – indeed, retelling it with a Christian priest and Christian deacon passing by on the other side while a Jewish person stops to help the person robbed would make the identical point.

I think we can agree that we who are Independent Catholics, members of the Independent Sacramental Movement, are in no way part of "mainstream religion" – we are outsiders, much like the Samaritans were in Jesus's day.  The question we need to ask ourselves is whether we will take up Jesus's call to be like the Good Samaritan – without worrying so much about what the mainstream churches are doing (unless, of course, they are involved in works of mercy with which we can collaborate!).  I don't think we need to rehearse how our help is needed, or who we need to help – any look at the headlines will give us many ideas.  Just this past week, Alton Stirling and Philando Castile were killed by police because, as African-American men, they were perceived as dangerous.  Dismantling racism is one of the tasks to which we are called.  Certainly, there are many others.

Jesus, in telling the story of the Good Samaritan, gives us several principles to guide our works of mercy.

First, the Samaritan man, when he saw the man beaten by the robber, came near to investigate what had happened to him.  He did not just look at the situation from a distance – as the priest and Levite did – he got close and saw firsthand what had happened.  Next, the text says that when he saw him, he had compassion.  He was moved by what he saw.  He allowed himself to be affected by it emotionally.

Next, the text says "he went to him".  He did not stop at merely being affected by the sight, and moved by it – he went to the man to get personally involved in his situation, and help him.  He bound up his wounds.  He poured wine and oil in the wounds.  Wine and oil were not cheap -- he was willing to use his own precious resources, and share them, administering them in a way that would bring healing.  

He put the man on his own animal – further using his resources, in this case living resources, to help him.  He then brought him to an inn and took care of him.  It's significant that, from the interactions he had with the innkeeper, it seems that the Samaritan had some sort of ongoing relationship with him.  The innkeeper clearly trusts him, and is willing to be enlisted into the cause of helping the man beaten and robbed.

The Samaritan gives the innkeeper two denarii when he leaves, promising to pay anything additional upon his return.  It's significant that, as we known from another passage in the gospels, a denarius is a day's wages for many – so this is not an insignificant amount of money.  The Samaritan continues to be deeply involved, committing significant financial resources to the injured man.

Finally, by saying that he will come back, he is committing himself to an ongoing relationship.  This is not a one-time incident; rather, he commits to following up with the injured man to continue to help him return to health and wholeness.

So, as we strive to follow the teachings of Jesus, and be neighbors to those who need our help, let us follow the example of the Good Samaritan.  Rather than being obsessed with the right form of religion, let us be committed fully to helping our neighbor, committing our time, our resources, and our relationships to the task.  Let us enter into relationships with those we help.  Let us show mercy, like the Good Samaritan did, so that Jesus can point to our works, and say, "Go thou and do likewise".

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