Wrong question.

Homily 236 –Twentiy-first Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
November 13, 2016

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

So, a rabbi, a priest, and a minister walk into a bar.

That has nothing to do with the homily this morning, I just thought we might need to laugh a little after the events of the recent past.

The Gospel isn’t so lighthearted. It is so very relevant, though.

We know the story. A Jew is robbed and beaten. The Samaritan, the “dregs of society” of their day, helps after the Jewish priest and the Temple server – the Levite – passed by. If these two were to help, they could not serve in the Temple, as they would be unclean.

A simple story.

The point of this story, though, is more than just “help those in need”. It answers a question. A question of Law, asked by a Jewish canon Lawyer.

Lawyers back then were focused on the religious law. There was no need for civil lawyers or advocates, as civil rule was absolute, and fully vested in the Roman authority. Christ, and later Paul, spoke for themselves at their trials.

The Law in this case was strictly a religious matter, and one of supreme importance.

This Lawyer had asked Christ what we might call now a “qualifying question”: What is the greatest commandment? What must I do to inherit eternal life? This question was to establish the legitimacy of this individual, and their teaching.

And of course, Christ turned the table, and responded with a question for the lawyer. “Well,” Christ said, “What does the law say? How do you read it?”

The lawyer gave the appropriate answer. To love God with your whole being and your neighbor as yourself. But he was still testing, probing. He asked another question.

So who is my neighbor?

Who is the one I should treat as I would my own self?

The implications were serious, and earth-shattering. For Jews were prohibited by this very same law from coming into contact – even associating with – certain people.

Samaritans were one such group. Many societies have their “untouchables.”

Even ours. A society founded on the principle that all men are created equal. Except, of course, those that do not own land. Or women. Or those of a non-white race. Or children.

Maybe that document should have read “all white males of norther European heritage.” But it didn’t – and we came into the understanding that “all men” meant “all humanity.”

Perhaps the most important revelation and interpretation of the guiding principle of our country. And it took us 170 years to reach that understanding.

So, we return to the story. What is a neighbor? Who is a neighbor? Is a neighbor simply a function of proximity? The people who live closest to my current dwelling?

Is it defined by relationship? Maybe people I like, or people I respect? People who share my beliefs and my faith?

The Samaritan was none of those to the Jews. And the Jews who passed by, who couldn’t be bothered or couldn’t get involved, were exactly those things.

The question is not “Is this injured man my neighbor?”  The question is “Am I a neighbor to this man?”

So the answer to the question of neighbor? The one who shows mercy.

Because a neighbor isn’t about someone else – it is completely, totally, about us – about you, about me. A neighbor is something we do – not something we are.

It is something that comes from within us. From that place within us where we connect with God. Because what comes from us is mercy – and mercy comes from God.

We show mercy – we love – because God first showed mercy – love – to us. The proximity or relationship doesn’t matter. The classification of the other person doesn’t matter. Because this isn’t about them, it’s about us!

The way we see someone in need. Do we see them as worthy of our help? Or do we pity them?

Do we see them as God sees them? Because – and this is important – God sees them the exact same way he sees us.

No differently. He loves them just like he loves us. God loves everyone. God is love. We can’t be any different, because we also are born anew into love, into compassion, into mercy.

The commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves is really about seeing everyone, helping everyone, loving everyone – as God has loved, and loves, and will love – us.

And we are commanded – go, and do likewise.

Because everyone we encounter is our neighbor – and we are neighbors to all that we encounter.

Not advocate, not protest, not show support – although those all may be good and right things.

But our calling – our “new person in Christ” – is called first and foremost to DO.

So as we go through this week, this month – the rest of our lives, really – consider this as our prime, our preeminent, task. We are to find needs and meet those needs, and we are to love people.

As God loves – because God loves.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!