Reflection for Sunday – July 10, 2016

Readings: Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37
Preacher: Sheryl Zabel

Today we hear once again the famous parable of the “Good Samaritan,” as we recall how shocking it must have been to Jesus’ first hearers. The one who was a true neighbor was the Samaritan—at a time when the Jewish people and the Samaritans had little love for one another. Moreover, the priest and the Levite were following the law when they passed by the injured man. They were avoiding ritual impurity. Had they stopped to help, they would have had to go through elaborate procedures in order to return to service in the temple.

The scholar of the law was correct in responding to Jesus with what we know as the “Great Commandment.” It has been said on many occasions that we do not really love God unless we love our neighbor first. It’s helpful to remember what this means. Loving our neighbor does not mean approving of all that he or she does. It does not necessarily mean “forgive and forget.” You may not like the person at all. Love, in this case, means recognizing the neighbor’s humanity—that they are a creation of God, that they have the potential for greatness, even if it appears that they have succumbed to hatred and destruction and turned their back on God’s love and on who they are meant to be.

The commandment also states that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This makes sense. If we can’t stand ourselves, if we have given up on ourselves, how can we love our fellow human beings?

And, let us remember the questions asked by the scholar of the law, which led to Jesus’ Good Samaritan story: Who is my neighbor? Jesus wanted his hearers to think about the neighboring peoples for whom they had no respect. Today, with rapid travel times and instant communication, including social media, our neighbors are the whole human race. It cannot be otherwise. The human race is one. If we think in terms of “us” and “them,” it is hard to love our “neighbors” and impossible to truly love God.

The Samaritan was the one who treated the robbery victim with “eleios,” which we translate as “mercy” or “kindness.” The Samaritan was living out the Great Commandment. The Samaritan was loving God and neighbor much more than the priest and Levite were.

A nice story to be sure, but what about real life? There seems to be a large number of people in our world who think of humanity in terms of us and our enemies. Don’t we have the right to use force to protect the most vulnerable among us? Don’t we? Yet I ask myself, are we really protecting our children by killing other children, even accidently? Isn’t that making us more enemies? Haven’t we really stopped loving our neighbors?

I know I don’t have any easy answers to such questions, but as Christians, we are called upon to live out Jesus’ Great Commandment and not just when it is convenient. We probably won’t do it perfectly, but we can remember the words of Moses in today’s reading from Deuteronomy. God’s command is not something remote, not something that has nothing to do with our lives. It is very near. So is our merciful God.

Sheryl Zabel
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