Sunday, October 04, 2015

Moved with Compassion

But the LORD sent a large fish, that swallowed Jonah; and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From the belly of the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD, his God. Then the LORD commanded the fish to spew Jonah upon the shore.  Jonah 2:1, 11

“But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.”  Luke 10:33

Jesus, help get us out of the belly of the whale of selfishness. Help us get out of the ditch of sin. Help us to trust others – no matter who they are – to render aid to us when we are in need.  Help us to trust you so that we will not hesitate help others as well. Amen.

Sorting out which roles are parallel in the two readings today is head-spinning. 

The men on the boat who tossed Jonah into the sea could be likened to the robbers who beat up the traveler.  They were all looking out for themselves.  The men on the boat wanted to save themselves so they tossed Jonah overboard to calm the seas.  The robbers needed money so they took it from the man travelling to Jericho. They epitomize the attitude of “what is yours is mine and I am going to take it.”

Jonah is like the man who travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho.  Jonah was just out on a voyage trying to mind he own business (and avoid the mission that the Lord commanded) and he ended up in the belly of the whale.

As similar as those parts of the story might be, that is not the lesson for us.  The stranger – the Samaritan – probably seen by some as an illegal immigrant is the person who stopped and rendered aid to the victim just like the Lord sent aid to Jonah.  People listening might want to equate themselves with the priest or the Levite.  But they did not stop to render aid.  They epitomize the attitude of “what’s mine is mine and I’m going to keep it.” 

However, if the Lord does indeed desire mercy, not sacrifice, the merciful Samaritan is the model. The Samaritan represents the attitude “what’s mine is yours and I’m going to share it.”

For Jesus to use a Samaritan as a prime example in this parable would be like using a divorced woman as an example (which Jesus did with the woman at the well).  For Jesus to use a Samaritan as a prime example in this parable would be like using a tax collector as a role model (which Jesus did with Matthew).  For Jesus to use a Samaritan as a prime example in this parable would be like using a leper and outcast in his preaching.  For Jesus to use a Samaritan as a prime example in this parable would be like using a positive image of a belligerent Roman centurion occupying the Holy Land as a model of faith and piety.   

But I guess the Lord did all that.

We are asked to go to the most unlikely places in order to fulfill the mission that the Lord has for us.  We are asked to do the most unlikely tasks in order to fulfill our mission. 

Jonah did not choose to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh any more than John the Baptist did.  However, Jonah actually tried to flee.  John accepted his mission.  The Samaritan did not expect to come across a Jew needing aid.  However, when he did, he rendered assistance.

The priest and the Levite represent people caught up in life-less, soul-less religion. They play at church, but it does not affect the way that they live.  Religious, ethnic and social standing are no guarantee of right standing before God or before people.

Hatred between Jews and Samaritans was fierce and long-standing.[i]  There are countless modern parallels to the Jewish-Samaritan enmity—indeed, wherever peoples are divided by racial and ethnic barriers.  The former “Iron Curtain” that divided Europe.  The apartheid of South Africa.  How the European settlers in the “new world” treated the native peoples.  The divides that still exist between Palestine and Israel.

Imagine the hatred between Serbs and Muslims in modern Bosnia, the enmity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland or the feuding between street gangs in Los Angeles or New York.[ii]

However, even our enemies are our neighbors.  Perhaps that’s why the Jesus provides so many instances of Samaritans coming into contact with his message. It is not the person from the radically different culture on the other side of the world that is hardest to love, but the nearby neighbor whose skin color, language, rituals, values, ancestry, history, and customs are different from one’s own.[iii]

Jesus came to instill in us a new attitude about who is our neighbor and what are our responsibilities. How are you being called to examine your attitudes?  We cannot love God if we do not love all His people.

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