The right question.

Homily 381 – 21st after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
November 10, 2019
Epistle: (203) Galatians 2:16-20
Gospel: (53) Luke 10:25-37

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

Jesus makes an interesting turn in answering the question He is asked. I’m fascinated by the questions we ask, and the questions others ask.

Mostly because I’m never sure they are in fact the right question. And in this instance, although it is subtle, Jesus says the question being asked isn’t the right one.

So what is the question being asked?

As stated, the question is: Who is my neighbor? Stated another way, who do I have to love in the same way I have to love myself?

What is my obligation toward others? What is the least I can do and still be in compliance with the obligations I have to God?

The focus is on “me” – not me Father Marty, but “me” the one asking the question. And Christ turns that question completely on its head.

In essence, without directly saying so, Christ says that we aren’t asking the right question.

And I think that is more common than we realize. Throughout the Gospels, the Apostles, the ones Christ chose, didn’t ask the right questions. And so they didn’t quite understand the answers they received.

Many places it tells us directly that the disciples wondered or marveled, or otherwise didn’t understand the answer. Because Christ was answering the question they should have asked.

This is a prime example of that. The question – who is my neighbor? But Christ turns around and tells a parable, then rephrases the question. The question transitions 180 degrees from “who is my neighbor?” to “who can I be a neighbor to?”

No longer can I look out and determine who I am obligated to help. Christ turns that around – who can look to us for help?

It is subtle – but critical to understanding what God expects of us as followers of Him, and ones that hope for eternal life.

It is one thing to say “I give to the poor, it should be enough.” It is different altogether when the requirement is to give to those who ask for it. In the first instance, we decide who gets – who deserves – our giving.

In the second instance, we don’t get to decide at all. The one receiving makes that decision for us by deciding to ask. Once we are asked, we are obligated.

Jesus even goes beyond that requirement. If we see a need, we are obligated to meet that need.

That was what the Samaritan man saw.

The Jewish priest, a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses, didn’t see – or chose not to see. And he could justify himself in doing so because as a priest he would be defiled if he came into contact with blood.

Similarly, the Levite was also involved in the temple – and would have been defiled.

Defilement would have made them unclean, and unable to fulfill their role in the worship of God.

So, the priest and the Levite seemingly valued their own well-being and their own state more than the man who lay half-dead beside the road.

The Priesthood was given to Aaron and his descendants among the Children of Israel, and we might recall that the Levites were given the priestly duties after the Israelites made idols for themselves at Mount Sinai.

Recall also that when Israel was apportioned among the 12 Tribes, the Levites were not given any land of their own. Instead, they lived in certain towns scattered all over Israel. Many of these were designated as cities of refuge, where people accused of manslaughter could live, safe from vengeful relatives of the victim, and be inspired by the devout Levites to become more caring and spiritual.

Ironically, one could imagine that the Levite should have been more compassionate.

Now, it is obvious who Jesus wants us to be – be like the Samaritan. But will we become that person? Or will we be self-focused and preserve our purity like the priest and the Levite by ignoring, or not seeing the need?

Being who Christ wants us to be comes at a cost. A cost to us. That cost may be material – time, money, resources. Or it may be less tangible. Perhaps it damages our reputation, our standing – our purity.

The damage or cost to us, though, is not the point. It is never the point. Everything we have, everything we are, is from God. It isn’t ours. It is God’s.

And God administers his affairs through us. He is telling us, pretty much point blank, that we are obligated to meet the needs we encounter. In so doing, we find ourselves as the vehicle of God’s love and grace.

We are the servant of God – and God honors His obedient servants. Many of the parables of our Lord remind us of this attribute of God.

If we want God to give us the “well done, good and faithful servant”, and the “enter into the joy of your master” accolades – then we must be sensitive to the needs in our midst.

It begins locally – our family, our street, our community. We might not be able to assist Syrian refugees, or Chinese dissidents, or the impoverished in Honduras.

But we can, and must, help the homeless on Lincoln Way, and the hungry on Clark Street, and the sick at Mary Greely.

Because the one in need that we encounter – that is our neighbor.

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