The 8th Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 10, Lectionary 15
Neighborliness, Reverend Fred Kinsey
I am worried that, not guns or the people who pull the trigger, but the use of violence as a more and more common and copied way to determine our differences, is where the devil has decided to enter our lives.
This has been a very difficult week. Families in Dallas, Minneapolis and Baton Rouge are in shock and tears at the loss of their loved ones. Communities are angry and frustrated, wondering what to do? fed up with these all too familiar scenes, and are demanding that the senseless killings stop, already!
As the President said yesterday, there is no justification for this. But as uncompromisingly final the death of 7 innocent victims is, still the reasons behind them are complex, vexing, with no simple solutions.
And so we grieve too, with the families and communities, we feel their loss, and join in their frustration, and theirweariness. When will it end? How much more must we endure? And yet the violence continues. Cell phone videos and social media have changed the debate, but the vexing hex of violence, goes back much farther, and I’d say, much deeper. What seems like a long time ago now – you have to be over 40 to remember back to 1992, anyway – when a similarly frustrated Rodney King, pleaded for the violence of the L.A. riots to end: “can’t we all just get along? Can we get along?” he famously said on camera. The violence had erupted precisely as a reaction to the court case of Rodney’s brutal beating by police, who were surprisingly exonerated, despite a videotape of the incident. Though statistics tell us that gun deaths have gone down since that time, the root cause(s) remains mostly unaddressed. Violence begets violence.
Even the effects of all this violence are incalculable, largely I think, because they are so hidden from view. Like the priest and Levite who passed by the man left for dead on the side of the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, who would have been unseen, were it not for the cell-phone-like view of Luke’s eye-witness perspective in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the shootings this week are but the tip of the iceberg, leaving deeper wounds inside us, on our psyche and spirits.
Soldiers who have seen combat are affected, as each new gun attack recalls the combat they experienced, inflicting new pain on old wounds, or unconsciously sublimating realities they thought were buried and gone, which takes its toll in ways they are unable to face, and all too often resurfaces uninvited in hurtful ways, usually on people they love.
In a similar way, survivors of intimate partner violence are left feeling the vulnerability of their scars all over again.
The legacy of slavery and the institutional nature of racism that is still alive and well in its wake, is a violence that hurts African Americans, and, in the end, all of us.
But the real tragedy of the commonplace use of violence, and racism, is more than the ‘unseen’ violence affecting us every day, intolerable as that is, but the real tragedy is the violence we refuse to ‘look at,’ from the perspective of the dominant white culture in our country. We need to look at it, acknowledge it, and confess its sin, so that we can begin to deal with it. Not because we are bad people, but because the system of violence exists through all of us, until we do. As Jesus knew, the social system is at a breaking point, when its leaders enable murder to go unattended.
Though hidden, violence is never isolated, and it grows like a cancer. The Evil One knows this. So, how we respond to violence can make all the difference. We pray that our faith, and our common baptismal bond, are strong enough, to help us take the next steps toward justice and peace.
Jesus said, “a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.” This too is violence. Though only a parable, a story Jesus used to illustrate who our neighbor is, it is a true account about how, when we don’t know our neighbor, we will continue to hurt each other. And it asks the question, who will help? When will this violence end? This could be any of us – like random victims of a deranged sniper. We know what we want to happen. Each of us know, we would want to be rescued, saved, cared for, no matter who we are.
When Jesus’ audience hears the parable – who are mostly Galileans and rural folk – that a priest and a Levite see the person, but pass by on the other side, they know there is normally going to be yet a third character in the story who will come by. And the third one was usually “an Israelite.” That was the common trope: a Priest, a Levite, and an Israelite. And the Israelite is a lay person, one of them. It was the trope of anti-clericalism. It would have been, not only the normal way such a story would go, but an easy softball for Jesus to lob to his listeners.
“But,” said Jesus, “a Samaritan (not one of them!) while traveling came near [the man left for dead]; and when the Samaritan saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him…”
The Good Samaritan, right!? That’s who we’d want to rescue us. Except, to the disciples, he was not good at all! Samaritans were sinful 2nd cousins, never the heroes of the story – hated since the return from Exile 500 years earlier! Jesus has not only challenged his followers, but changed their whole way of thinking and acting. Jesus has changed who our neighbor is, and what neighborliness looks like! Love your neighbor as yourself, yes, and now, love your enemy. There is no one who we should not consider as a fellow human being, no one who is outside the bounds of our religion, our race, and our gender. All, can be our neighbor, and when we are “merciful” to them, as Jesus says, that is fulfilling the law of love - a radical neighborliness.
The first hearers of this story did not understand the way they were inflicting violence on one another across these human-made boundaries of nation and ethnicity, gender and race. A good example is the attitude of the disciples not long before Jesus told this parable, when they had been shunned from entering Samaritan territory. Jesus said they should just shake the dust off and move on. While the disciples asked excitedly if they should call down a firestorm from above to demolish them! Nice neighbors, those disciples were, right?!
Violence is not the answer. And we have heard that, thank goodness, from many a leader interviewed on the news in the past week. Not to say that there isn’t plenty of justified anger to go around.
But even the protests against police violence have been peaceful across the country, and the police responses professional, at least from my experience here in Chicago, which is an improvement over demonstrations a generation ago. And ironically, the shooting of officers in Dallas was at a peaceful protest of the Philando Castile and Alton Sterling shootings. The protesters were beginning to disperse, police and protesters were taking selfies together!
I hope the President is right, that in the big picture, we have made progress on this front. But I believe that the unseen violence, the deeper vein of our sin, is the racism that we are all too often, not yet confronting. We must name it, and work to end it. Prayers are indeed powerful, but to ignore the root of institutional racism, is to enable the power of the evil one in our world and communities.
Jesus does not shy away from the truth. As the Son of God he comes as a truth teller, and in the Good Samaritan, Jesus holds a mirror up to us for us to see, that there is no one who is the other in our world that we can demonize or call inhuman. Our neighbor is the one in need, just like us, on the roads we travel every day, near or far, whatever color or creed. Violence begets violence, it grows like a cancer. Jesus calls us to name it and to conquer it with love – like the Good Samaritan does. Jesus gives us hope that every single act of faithfulness can make a difference.
And so, as Jesus himself instructed, let us “go and do likewise.”