Pentecost 5, 14.7.19
Text Luke 10.25 - 37
Rev Paul Cannon
New testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine argues that religion is meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
The parables of Jesus do just that, they are meant to afflict the comfortable. If, however, we hear a parable and we say, wow I really like that, or worse, we just completely ignore the teaching, or worse still, fail to accept any challenge from the parables, then we are clearly not listening.
We may well be too familiar with Jesus and his parables, and miss the point because we just don’t hear them as Jesus intends. And the story of the Good Samaritan can suffer in exactly that way.
It’s simple enough. Jesus presents a set piece teaching, a man on a journey is robbed and left for dead, a priest and then a Levite pass by and ignore the injured man. But another man, a Samaritan, turns aside and helps the man. The Samaritan is a true neighbour, the perfect example of how to love. And the listener is supposed to say I am supposed to be like the Samaritan.
So, is that it? I wonder what Jesus’ original audience thought of this story? It is a “Go and do likewise” moment. It is a story of how to imitate Jesus. So this is a story to deeply listen too.
But is that all, is there something more provocative here?
Always remember the context. A lawyer approaches Jesus with a question. That’s important. He asks “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer’s question is genuine, he just wants to know how to live better. He is clearly not testing Jesus as others have done.
But even so, Jesus never just answers a question, he always tries to get his audience to think, so, he turns the question back on the lawyer. “What is written in the law?” in other words, how do you understand this.
The lawyer is well versed, and he replies: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” And Jesus congratulates the lawyer as he has given the perfect answer, and Jesus adds, “Do this and you will live.”
The lawyer, now does test Jesus with a supplementary question: “Who is my neighbour?”
He’s given the correct answer, but now he undoes it all by trying to minimise his responsibility. He’s obviously hoping that there is a list of neighbours that makes it all so easy.
Who is not my neighbour is what he’s really asking. There must be limits, there must be lines and rules surely? Isn’t that how we sometimes behave? Don’t we want to know where the limits are?
Notice that Jesus doesn’t get drawn into this. Instead, he tells the story of the Samaritan.
This is a well known story, most people can tell the bones of it without looking at Luke. The man is seriously injured and left for dead by robbers. The priest and Levite just ignore him, but the Samaritan stops and helps, pays for his care and offers to come back and check up on him. A mighty effort and a costly one.
Then having told it, Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of the three was a neighbour to the man who was robbed?” “The one who showed him mercy” replied the lawyer. And Jesus repeats his instruction: “Go and do likewise.” “Do this and you will live.
In other words, to inherit eternal life, be like the Samaritan. Notice, turn aside, offer help, show compassion and mercy. Live your faith for real.
But where’s our affliction? What’s missing?
If we too easily identify with the Samaritan, we are missing the point. Can we see ourselves in the priest or the Levite, that’s what we should be reflecting on.
This is what we call a reversal story. Yes we should be like the Samaritan, but more often we are the lawyer or like the two that passed by in the parable. More often than not, we are not the Samaritan.
Of course, we also know that Jesus deliberately tells this story as a scandalous story. The Jews and Samaritans couldn’t stand each other. Relations between the two racial groups was bitter. So for Jesus to make the Samaritan the hero, to say that he is good, is scandalous. And clearly he is making a point.
The Samaritan was the other, the alien, the heretic, the object of fear, hate, disgust and judgment.
How can we apply this story today? Where is our scandal?
Well that all depends on who you fear and hate, those who you judge. That’s where the scandal is.
For the story to work for us properly we need to substitute the Samaritan with the Muslim who helped, the homeless person who helped, the LGBQTI person who helped, the drug dealer who helped, the prostitute who helped, the person whose politics we hate who helped, and so on.
We have to make this our story rather than just a story to fondly remember.
Jesus stunned his Jewish listeners with this story. He was asking them to dream a new kingdom or community. He was asking them to see people as more than the judgments we put on them. And in answer to the lawyer, no there are no limits, there are no exemptions.
So, consider this. To be afflicted by this story is not to see ourselves as the Samaritan, or even the priest or the Levite, but rather as the bloodied, broken man left for dead, who has no class label, or any status about him, he is simply broken, naked and desperate. He asked no questions, he wasn’t in a position to ask, only to receive, he couldn’t afford to be picky or to say no if he didn’t like his helper. He was vulnerable and needy and accepting.
Maybe we have to see his point of view, to see his need, to accept help from those we don’t like, to trust ourselves to the care of those we don’t trust, to suspend judgment on others. What matters most when you’re lying in a ditch bleeding to death is not someone’s politics or social status or their sexual orientation, their lifestyle choices, their theology, or whatever judgment we put on people. All judgments disappear with necessity.
Who is your neighbour? The one who scandalises you with compassion, the one who challenges your fixed views, the one who becomes the most unlikely face of Jesus for you, the one who teaches you what the word good really means.
What do you need to do to inherit eternal life? Do this, love your neighbour. Who is your neighbour? Everyone, including the one’s you judge, even hate. Recognise yourself in the victim of this story and allow the one’s least likely to help you see a new vision of God’s kingdom. Do this and you will live.
Pentecost 4, 7.7.19
Text: Luke 10.1 – 12, 17 – 20
Revd Paul Cannon
Our English word mission comes from the Latin mission, which has the meaning of being sent, discharged, dismissed, released. Unfortunately we have lost some of that meaning and too often it is a statement about achieving goals rather than a journey of discovery in being sent out into the world.
To be released and sent is a wonderful image of being set free of other responsibilities to focus on going out into the world.
Luke is the only one who records this particular mission. The mission of the twelve is referred to in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but only Luke mentions this mission of the seventy (in some manuscripts seventy-two). So seventy-two disciples are sent into the world to do the work of Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t talk about suffering at all here. Instead Jesus talks about vulnerability. Notice that Jesus requires that the disciples rely on God’s grace and provision to provide for them on their journey.
They are to take minimal clothing and no money, they are not to loiter along the road, but aim for the communities. They are to eat what is put before them, and they are to stay in one house.
Jesus sets out what being sent is really all about. It is to be strategic in going to people and developing a relationship with them in such a way that the love and forgiveness of God can be easily shared in personal ways. That is real vulnerability.
Firstly it presumes you have a relationship with God, so that there is something you have to say. Remember that Michael Frost says in his book that it is being questionable, do we lead lives that cause others to reflect on god and want to ask us what our faith is about?
The whole passage is echoed in Frost’s book ‘Surprise the World’ where he talks about his acronym BELLS, which stands for: Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, Sent.
To be a blessing to others is to build them up, to strengthen their arm, give them support. In the second part of this reading Jesus cautions his disciples not to gloat over the demise of demons, so that even when evil is defeated it is no cause for selfish and smug celebration. Reaching out to others is about humility and kindness not judgement.
The disciples are to be a blessing to others simply by building a relationship with specific people and giving an account of what God has done in their lives and reaching out with healing and teaching.
Jesus’ ministry is founded on sitting with others, and often around a meal. In semitic culture this has always been the time to share, to listen, to tell stories. And so Jesus encourages his disciples to dwell with families and accept their hospitality, to eat with them. Hospitality is therefore a cornerstone for ministry both in giving and receiving.
Frost encourages us moderns to encourage opportunity to connect over meals or coffee. We’re already fairly good at that, so he asks that we become intentional about it and share with others as appropriate, what God has done for us. Connecting through meal times is a simple and easy way to be intentional about mission.
Jesus doesn’t specifically speak to them about listening, but he has already modelled listening in his ministry and teaching. But it is also implied in asking his disciples to stay in one house, which is clearly about developing a relationship, which means listening as much as sharing with them.
But there is another listening we need to attend to and as Frost tells it, it is listening to the Holy Spirit. Discernment is something we really need to attend to. To listen to the direction and guidance of the Spirit is critical in mission, who to go to, who to share with, when, where, what and how much to share. And even the how. The Spirit is there within us waiting for us to pray and ask, what next?
Discernment requires deep listening, but also deep reading so that we are on the same page as the Spirit. Deep listening requires stillness, sitting and waiting on the leading of the Spirit. Often we are too busy to sit, even less discern, but it is critical that we try.
Jesus taught his disciples, and in turn they taught others. We have tremendous resources today to move into deep learning. We have a library with some excellent books that are very easy to read, I have placed books regularly in the porch to direct your reading, the internet is awash with resource, we have study groups, there is a Christian Bookshop in town, there is opportunity to learn.
And we are also students of life, we have experiences to learn from and to share with others, which is far more potent than anything formally taught. The school of life is where the power of your knowledge really lies and where others will readily listen to you.
Jesus sends out the seventy two with no specific plan. They are to simply find their way to places of peace and acceptance and remain there and give into that place. Jesus expects that the seventy two will rely upon the Spirit as they go.
Mike Breen in his work on mission talks about being drawn to people of peace, that is those who are receptive and gracious, that way there is likely to be a connection. Frost talks about cultivating relationships to be able to honestly form friendships of quality where can openly share what God has done for us.
Luke gives us in this passage an opportunity to refresh our sense of trust in that simplicity of life, to not over-complicate our mission to spread the gospel. Luke is also encouraging us to rejoice in small things, there is no need for programs, door-knocks or crusades, only a faithfulness to listen, learn, dwell and bless.
Ultimately Luke invites us to an openness and vulnerability to share the real things God has done for us, no matter how simple they are. This is not meant to be something beyond us, it is meant to be a natural outworking of who we are as disciples.
We are invited to be intentional, and over a meal or coffee, time together with those the spirit draws us to.
BELLS, hopefully Frost’s book rings clearly for you, as I hope this gospel passage also rings clearly for you. The promises we make at our baptism is to respond to God’s call to go into the world with his message of love and forgiveness. Frost gives us a clear way to do that for real.
Hopefully you’ll ring the BELLS that build relationships and bring the kingdom close for those you encounter on the road.
Pentecost 3, 30.6.19
Text: Luke 9.51 – 62.
Revd Paul Cannon
How easy would it be to go the opposite way and in apathy turn our faces from the realities of the world? Pilate did that in that Roman symbolic washing of his hands. However, we know that even though he washed his hands he wasn’t clean. But the none of us are. And, as Edmund Burke famously said, “When good people do nothing, evil flourishes.”
It is a spiritual conundrum that Jesus gives us power over demons and to be able to cure diseases, but not over people or places. As he says often, the son of man came to save people.
When the Samaritan village wouldn’t receive Jesus he went on to another village, he shook the dust from his feet and moved on, just as he had recently taught them, here he demonstrates the very thing. Jesus doesn’t respond with violence or apathy, he takes action consistent with his teaching.
Shaking the dust off our feet symbolises our disapproval, it is purely symbolic. It is not violence. However, this symbolic action is grounded in a concrete reality, it involves walking away. And perhaps Jesus here models for us how we can also let go of relationships, people, pain and hurts that have been done to us so that they cannot hold us, cling to us, stop us.
Jesus has only just taught his disciples this very thing when the Samaritans reject him. What was James’ and John’s response? “Lord do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
Does Jesus say yes or does he wash his hands and ignore the moment?
Jesus turned and rebuked them. This is not his way.
The option of violence is prohibited for followers of Jesus. Instead, Jesus walks away from those who are hostile.
Hospitality was and is a sacred obligation. Not welcoming and not receiving are not neutral actions, they are indeed hostile actions. To not receive a person is to reject them and leave them to the mercy of whatever comes. In that way it is a violence.
And so Jesus walks away. He doesn’t wash his hands, he rebukes them by shaking the dust, he moves on. The rejection by the village does not hold him. So much so that as the story continues to unfold, we learn that Jesus tells a story about a Good Samaritan who he holds up as a hero who transcends cross cultural boundaries and provides hospitality for a Jew.
And now Jesus is moving with great resolve. He has set his face, or as some translate this part, Jesus has stiffened his face, he is resolved to go towards Jerusalem.
And so we need to step back and see the whole of the chapter, and then the whole of the story.
Jesus has twice already foreshadowed his death. And in the midst of these prophetic statements, Jesus has been transfigured on the mountain and reaffirmed as the son of God. This is perhaps where James and John get the idea that Jesus is so powerful they could pray down fire through him.
And at the same time Jesus is teaching what it means to be a follower. There is a strong echo here with Luke 9.23; “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and daily and follow me.” To wrestle with the grittiness of life and yet know that we must move forward in Christ, not looking back to our own yearnings, desires and distractions.
To be a follower is to feed the multitude as a generous act of hospitality, to use the power over demons and heal a child, to accept that people will act in his name but not necessarily be followers. Jesus sends them out into the villages to spread the good news of God’s love and forgiveness, the kingdom come near.
He teaches that we lead by serving not by claiming rights and privileges. And he teaches that violence is not an option, but rather that protest is an option, that it is better to move on and not let violence, wrong, or evil take hold of us.
What is he saying?
Jesus is at pains to get us to see that following him is no simple or easy option. That’s why at the very end of chapter 9 we get these little snippets from Jesus. Foxes have nowhere, let the dead bury the dead, if you set out to plow don’t look back.
He’s making it clear for us that in order to follow we need to look forward.
We must look forward to Jerusalem. In our case that would be the new Jerusalem, our eternal hope.
We must look forward and not look back. We live forwards with resolve, the resolve to serve.
We are a people who are called in order that we might be sent into the world to be the Samaritan who will transcend cultural boundaries, to be people who feed the multitudes, to be people who will offer hospitality, who will name evil and exorcise it, who will walk away from those who would trap us in hurt and brokenness, relationships of violence.
As Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem it defines his mission, it defines his person and behaviour, it defines what it is to live as a follower, living forward, living hope that as Jesus is raised up, so too will we be raised up.
The most important thing we can do is to set our face towards Jerusalem and all the pain that may bring us.
It is the route that Jesus takes and it is the route that will save and heal us, make us whole within.
But if we cannot walk away from those who will not receive us, who would do violence or wrong, if we scapegoat those who we see as different, if our desire is revenge or rejection we make a mockery of Jesus’ death and clearly, we haven’t experienced the love of God. That route is one that will distort and twist us, make us unwholesome and unhealthy.
Jesus calls us to live forward in hope, serving as we go. There is only one way to embrace Jesus and his love, and that is to walk away from sin, walk away from unwelcome. We must wipe off the dust of evil and show a different way otherwise we become the unwelcoming ones in our world.
This passage calls us to creative ways of protest, of dealing with injustice. It doesn’t ask us to be meek, but it does ask us to be loving in the way we proceed.
What is your resolve? Have you set your face forward in the hope of Christ?