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Monday, July 11, 2016

Why the world needs Christianity

My sermon for this week was based on Luke 10: 25-37.

To download an audio of my sermon, click here.

Yup, you read that title right.

Even as a priest, I sometimes get bummed out and I start wondering, "Why do I do this?  What is the point of faith, religion, Christianity?  What does Christianity have to contribute to the world?"

The last few weeks have been particularly difficult ones in terms of the news.  The shooting in Orlando, cops shot in Dallas, yet two more examples of police brutality leading to the deaths of black men, bombs in sacred places during holy festivals in the Middle East, and those are just the atrocities that have managed to make it onto Facebook's newsfeed.

I can't speak for anyone else, but sometimes I am just overcome with so much grief for the state of the world and it's peoples.

And then I read the story of the Good Samaritan, and I am reminded that Christianity has stories that I need to hear, and that the world needs to hear and know.

The Good Samaritan is familiar to most people, churchgoer or not, but few of us understand all the implications of the story.

Jesus is preaching and teaching, and a lawyer asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life.  In other words, what must he do to lead a good, moral and virtuous life.  Jesus asks him what is written in the Law.  The lawyer responds with what is the beating heart and soul of Christianity, THE Great Commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself".

Jesus affirms that this is correct, but perhaps wanting to appear clever, the lawyer asks, "But who is my neighbour", to which Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan.

What we have to understand is that Jesus' audience was 100% Jewish, and Jews and Samaritans hated each other.  Sparing you the details, both groups felt that they were the true religion and the other were heretics, such that violence was common between the two groups, and they were forbidden from fraternizing with one another by their respective religious leaders.

So for a Jew to be told that there could be such a thing as a "good Samaritan" would have been as shocking as if someone told us a story of "The Good Nazi" or "The Good KKK Member" or "The Good Westboro Baptist Church-goer".

The story is pretty well-known, as I mentioned.  A Jew going from Jerusalem to Jericho is set upon by bandits who beat him, strip him, rob him and leave him near death on the side of the road.  What rarely gets mentioned is that these bandits are likely Jewish as well, and were probably beating on a fellow countryman, but thieves know no honour, so that is often glossed over by the preacher.

The first person to come across the man is a Jewish priest, a person one would think and hope would be inclined by his vocation alone to be merciful, but he crosses to the other side of the street and passes him by.

I have heard it suggested that perhaps the man was ritually unclean, and that the priest was fearful of becoming ritually unclean himself, but either way, this does nothing to exonerate him.  I think we can all agree he should have stopped to help.

The second person is identified as a Levite, one of the 12 Tribes of Judaism.  The theory is that in describing the man as traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, Jesus is trying to indicate that the man who was beaten is himself a Levite, and a fellow countryman, perhaps even a distant or not-so-distant relation.

Either way, the man passes him by on the other side of the street.

The one person who stops and helps, and who bends over backwards to help by the way, is a Samaritan: the one person who by rights should have actually passed the man by, perhaps even spitting on him as he went.

The man disinfects and bandages his wounds, puts the man on his own animal, ventures into enemy territory to take the man to an inn, pays the innkeep to tend to the man, and promises to return with more money to pay for his treatment.

Look, I am not proud of this, but when I hear stories of Muslim bombers both here and abroad, my first impulse is to be angry at and afraid of Muslims.  When I hear about mass shooters, my impulse is to be afraid of and be angry at gun owners.  When I hear about yet another example of police brutality, my impulse is to be afraid of and angry at cops.

And this is exactly why I need Christ and the story of the Good Samaritan.

Because when I check my reality, I have to confess I have never met a bad Muslim, a bad gun owner or a bad cop in my life.  Sure, I am sure they exist, but I have never personally met one, so I have no actual reason to be angry at or afraid of them.  When I get overcome with the fear, anger and paranoia that actions like those mentioned above are designed to create, I need to be reminded there is good in the world, and in fact more good than bad.

I need to be reminded that as a Christian, hearing the story of the Good Samaritan, I am actually called to a higher moral standard than other people, not a lower one.  I am called to overcome my own personal prejudices and preconceived notions to see the suffering of all of God's children, not just the ones who think and do as I do.

That means gay or straight, black or white or any other skin colour, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, whatever, I am bound by my faith to love you.  That is what the story of the Good Samaritan is about.

I would like to end with one of my favourite prayers by St. Francis, who may have been inspired by the story of the Good Samaritan:

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy."

Let these words penetrate our hearts, and let all our thoughts, words and deeds be informed by them.

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