5th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 10C
The Rev. Dr. David K. McIntosh
Amos; Psalm 82; Col 1: 1-14; Luke 10. 25-37
“Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!” †
Today’s psalm is striking in several ways, it criticizes the existence of evil and injustice found in human society (that is, unkindness) and it implies the existence of more than one god (polytheism), pleading for elohim (God) to ‘be judge in the divine council, in the midst of all the gods.’ When I was in seminary, I remember great debates about the meaning of those words, ‘other gods.’ Was it metaphorical or did it refer to true polytheistic practices in Israel? Some scholars claim ‘gods’ refers to the local deities of
the nations surrounding Israel, others claim it refers to the tyrannical human leaders of those kingdoms, and still others believe it to be a reference to the wealthy, haughty members of the kingdom of Israel itself. And St. Paul (in Ephesians) implied these ‘gods’ are the systemic forces of our world that are bent on evil and destruction. “The Man” or, as I like to call it, “The System.” Regardless of the interpretation, it’s clear that these
‘gods’ actions and deeds are deeply displeasing to the judge of all nations, and that our God is one who speaks profoundly on behalf of God’s people.
As Judge, God compassionately defends those who are weak and needy and points to the many ways they are denied kindness and justice. And so, I look at this psalm as a call for humanity to follow God’s will, instead of its own. Our human societies are characterized by competition and conflict, by seeking power and authority. And our human imaginations are nothing, compared to the breath of God’s imagination and creative activity. Our ideas of God have always been, and always will be, limited by our human
capacity for understanding (or misunderstanding) the divine. Thus, our encounters with polytheistic ideas, whether in the Scriptures or in the world around us, are simply expressions of our limited comprehension of that which is incomprehensible.
We’ve all experienced evil personified. All of us have struggled against evil— whether on a systemic level in society, or on a personal level in broken relationships or even within ourselves. And we all know how pervasive and tenacious evil can be. Every one of us is prone to blindness, as the psalmist warns; we tend to forget our own mortality when we taste power. Humans are characterized by our need to compete, our need to be right. This human tendency is aptly demonstrated in today’s Gospel story, in the interaction of Jesus and the lawyer. It begins with the lawyer asking for a simple formula for salvation. Which leads Jesus to ask, ‘What does the Law say about doing God’s will?’ The lawyer gives an accurate summary, ‘loving God with all one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind…and loving one’s neighbor as oneself.’ Jesus says ‘yes… go and do these acts of love and
kindness.’ But the lawyer, being a lawyer (for all you legal-types out there), goes on by asking, ‘and who is my neighbor?’ Notice the human tendency to compete, to get the upper hand; the lawyer wants to define who deserves his love.
Jesus’ parable points out that love seeks out our neighbors. True love seeks to find those around us who need our kindness and compassion, even when established boundaries and human prejudices conspire to prevent this. Remember that the Samaritan was an outsider to Jews, someone who followed faulty beliefs and practices, and as a result, one who was despised and hated by the Jews. Yet, in the parable it’s the Samaritan who treats the injured man not as an enemy, but as a dear friend. Authentic love does not
discriminate, it creates neighborly relationships… it’s love’s nature always to meet the needs of ‘the other.’
The main point of this parable, so important for us to grasp today, is also reflected in the Psalm. The God of judgment, the God of all, insists on kindness and justice for the weak, the needy, and the despised. God insists that we love our neighbor. And we must realize that such behavior frequently emanates from very unexpected sources. The Samaritan
was not a member of Israel, not one of God’s chosen, he was an outsider, someone to be avoided and even feared.
To really get the ‘shock value’ of Jesus’ parable, replace that word Samaritan with another noun… Muslim… Catholic… Black… Hispanic… Russian… Syrian… North Korean…. or simply replace ‘Samaritan’ with the name of someone you don’t like. You see, Jesus was promoting a radical idea: Love seeks out the neighbor! True love finds those most in need of our kindness and compassion. Let’s think of ourselves as that person in the ditch by the road… and then ask ourselves, is there anyone, from any
group, we’d rather die than acknowledge— a Muslim, a Jew, a Catholic, an atheist, a priest, a lawyer, a politician, a Republican or a Democrat, a conservative or a liberal…someone I really can’t stand—then place them in the role of the Samaritan and realize, ‘Wow! That person offered me help. That one showed me compassion.” That’s Jesus point. True love seeks out the neighbor!
We are all of us prone to wear blinders. We forget humility when we taste power and pride. The parable and St. Paul’s words to the Colossians call us to embrace God’s vision rather than our own, to accept God’s will rather than our own, to depend upon God with humility and seek God’s love and kindness, and share that love with those least expected.
‘Rise up, O God… give justice to the weak… maintain the right for the lowly…. And rescue the needy… for all the nations belong to you!’
‘Show me your ways.. and teach me your paths’ (Psm 25.3)!