O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect for the 8th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 10, Book of Common Prayer, 1979)
We live in crazy times. OK, really who are we kidding? Get human beings living alongside each other and crazy times are pretty much a given. We are adept at messing up our relationships with each other, with the whole of creation and God without needing to expend much effort or energy. We make bad choices, and we put up with the less-than-ideal in ourselves and others. We allow injustice and prejudice to persist, not only in ourselves but in the world around us. We make excuses, or we allow that while others may not be desirable, we are ok (or at least "more ok" than those people over there).
Truth is, we are consistent in our allowance that wrongness is not only allowed to persist, it is also part and parcel of our daily work and witness as human beings in the world.
We fall short. We stand crooked and misaligned. We let the crooked and misaligned persist in the world around us. At best, we make a few good choices each day that lend to a healing of the world...but for the most part...well...crazy times.
Jesus taught in crazy times. So many divisions existed in his day that people had (as they have today) lost touch with the truth that when it comes to being a "good neighbor" that EVERYONE is, in fact, our neighbor. Not just the ones we like, or that we find more acceptable. Everyone is our neighbor, and that if we are going to be faithful to God, then we have to be willing to bear responsibility not only for our own well-being, but also for the well being of our neighbors, or everybody.
His story of the Samaritan who is good is his riposte to folks who would prefer lines that demarcate and excuse us from caring (or that allow us to persist in contempt) for others. A man is beaten by bandits and left, bloody and wounded, for dead. "Righteous" people with, presumably, resources to help the man pass by and no one chooses to take notice. That is a commentary on the times as well as on the players...that a man's body, beaten and bloody, should be simply ignored. This violence and the scandal of it are assumed as "normal" in the story. No one is shocked.
What is shocking is the denouement. A Samaritan comes along and performs the needed good deeds. He gets down into the ditch and checks on the man. He pulls him up and out of the ditch and gets him to care. He leaves resources for the man's continued care. He confirms that he will check on the man when he returns this way. He not only does the right thing...he does the just thing, the kind thing as well.
A Samaritan, someone the people Jesus is teaching would dismiss or despise on site, is held up as the
"good" person. Jaws drop, and eye widen.
Yes, everyone is our neighbor....and it took a Samaritan to show us that truth.
The plumbline that Amos speaks of is used as an image of judgment. Are we true? Is our line plumb to the will of God, and God's call to justice, or are we a crooked and broken structure that racks and leans, toppling under the weight of our prejudices and fear?
In order to be plumb, a wall has to lean just a bit, and in the right way. It has to stand in relationship to the structure it is called to support. It has to be straight enough to bear weight, but also canted just enough to lend integrity to the whole structure. The plumbline shows what it cannot see...if it really is true to its purpose and able to stand.
But people are not walls.
We stand true when we are willing to stand in relationship with each other. We are only true when we embrace all that is broken and faulty and lend in the work to correct the error in order to restore (or, really, establish) justice.
So, I must ask as Jesus did....and I am checking myself with that plumbline and honestly admit that I have a long way to go until I am "true."....Who is my neighbor?
God help us to live this way....