WHO IS THY NEIGHBOUR?
Who is thy neighbour? A man comes to Jesus and asks him, “What must I do to inherit the kingdom of Heaven?” Now, far be it from me to argue with the scriptures, BUT……it says that this man was an expert in the law and was testing Jesus. We are quick to jump to the conclusion that this man was like the Pharisees who was trying to discredit Jesus. I’m not sure that’s the way I read it. I wonder, if this man- a lawyer-was testing Jesus on his knowledge of the law, i.e. does this guy really know what he is talking about? For, to this Jewish lawyer, any understandings about Yahweh, God, i.e. the new vision Jesus was presenting of God, had to stand up in the court of law that had become this man’s moral compass.
I also wonder if this lawyer was having a moment of wrestling with his own conscience as we all have. For although the law can serve as a guide and can not address all the grey areas of life in which we wade. Is this not a question even the most faithful of us would ask? “Lord, what should I be doing to receive the joy of heaven?”
You know the story. Jesus asks, “Which of these three men do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The expert in law replied, “Even though he was a Samaritan and a known enemy of the Jewish state, it was he, the one who showed mercy upon the man in the ditch who was a true neighbour.” Jesus responded, “Go and do likewise.”
So, the question befalls us this morning, “Who is our neighbour, the one we should show mercy to?” Seeing that in Jesus’ story, it is a Samaritan, a foreigner, a stranger, even an enemy of the Jewish state, who is the one to show mercy even before a priest of this man’s religion, even before an affluent member of society, who could have well afforded to help this poor man, it is no stretch of the imagination to understand that Jesus defines our neighbour as any person in need of help. Jesus, as usual, goes beyond the cultural norms. He sits with a Samaritan woman at a well. He dines with the sinners. He touches the untouchables. It is clear that Jesus believes that every single person on this earth is a child of God and is our neighbour.
We who profess to follow this Christ need to think about the implications of this when it comes to immigration, when it comes to our migrant workers here in Niagara, when it comes to indigenous rights, When it comes to which country we send out garbage to, and when it comes to our own concerns about protecting our own jobs and privilege, worrying what this mandate from Jesus could cost us personally. We should remember the Samaritan and the money he took out of his own pocket to pay for this Jewish man’s recovery in an inn, a man he didn’t even know. Something to ponder.
It seems to me, however, that this issue of who is our neighbour really comes down to a sense of ownership. What is mine, what is yours, and whether we are willing to breech that invented border. Because I really believe that this sense of ownership messes with our souls.
I look back to what I can see as our first concept of entitled ownership. In the beginning, back in the book of Genesis, it says that God gave us dominion over all the earth and everything upon it. I wonder who translated the Hebrew in this verse? It wouldn’t have happened to have been a council of patriarchal men back in 325 who were trying to assert the influence of a newly formed institutional Christian church, would it? It’s interesting because the Hebrew word really has nothing to do with what we understand dominion to mean. The word domination would have been better translated as ‘stewards, or even ‘caretakers’ of the earth. Yet, from this one word ‘dominion’ has come an entitlement. We have come to believe that the world is ours to do with as we please. We believe we can own such miraculous creations as the earth, the animals, the sky, the water. Cobweb the earth with borders that separate and divide, borders we will defend with our lives.
I am not suggesting that diversity of cultures and landscapes is a bad thing. Indeed, I believe it adds to the beauty of life. Yet, it is this sense of mine and yours, this sense of entitlement, and the sense of power and privilege it radiates that destroys the soul. Indeed, I believe this is what destroys the mercy within the Levite and the priest as they passed their own countryman lying in that ditch.
C.S. Lewis (I warned you that this would be a summer of C.S. Lewis)addresses this very issue in his book, The Screwtape Letters. Be reminded that Screwtape is a senior adviser to the Devil. He is writing letters to his young apprentice who is trying very hard to lead ‘his patient’ a mere mortal, into the realms of Hell. On one occasion, Screwtape writes, “The sense of ownership in your patient is always to be encouraged. Humans putting up claims to ownership is equally funny in Heaven as it is in Hell and we must keep them doing so. We (the devil’s assistants) produce a sense of ownership not only by pride, but by confusion. We teach these mortals not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun, the difference between ‘my boots, through to ‘my dog’ to ‘my servant’, ‘my wife’, ‘my master’ and eventually to ‘my God’. We have taught them to say ‘my God’ in a sense that is really no different from ‘my boots’, meaning ‘the God on whom I have a claim for my distinguished services, and who I exploit from the pulpit…the God I have placed in a corner for my use.’ And all the time the joke is that the word ‘mine’, in its fully possessive sense, cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong-certainly not to them, whatever happens. The enemy (meaning God) calls everything mine on the grounds that God made it all. Our Father (the devil) hopes in the end to say ‘mine’ on the grounds of conquest.”
So, what is truly ours? Simply our wills to choose. To choose to dominate, control, own or to choose to see ourselves as part of the whole creation, owning nothing, of taking what we need only to survive, offering reverence for that which gives up its life to support our own, and having been given the specific task of caring for ALL of God’s creation.
Which brings me to the slide before you this morning. Who is thy neighbour? To me, I see the Levite and the Priest standing in that crowd. The Levite wants to know who is going to clean up this mess. The priest is praying. But neither one is willing to entertain the feelings of compassion that come from helping this diminishing species survive. Neither one is willing to give up their palaces or their temple and the resources brought to them through shipping lanes which distort the migration paths of the whales, that cause tragedies like this to happen. Because that whale on the beach well, really…it is just a whale, a dumb animal, not equal to our intelligence and culture.
Last week, a young congresswoman called upon the U.S. congress to adopt a “Green New Deal.” There is an old ‘Green Deal’ floating around Congress which has yet to be ratified, but this is a ‘Green New Deal.’ It is an aggressive bill which targets diminishing carbon emissions to zero within ten years. t promotes the building of high speed rail across he country to reduce air traffic. It promotes the aggressive building of alternative energy sources to power manufacturing plants. To upgrade or build energy efficient, ‘smart’ power grids across the States. It calls upon the government to fund environmental projects, such as ocean scrubbers which will not only retrieve plastic in the ocean but reduce them to useable resources and the funding of jobs in the environmental technologies. All this with the understanding that if global warning continues on its present trend, the north will become a waste- land and the south shall be flooded out. That by 2050, wildfires will burn annually at least twice as much forest as all the wildfires did before 2019. By 2050, 350,000,000 more people will be exposed to deadly heat stress. And if anything should have caught the government’s attention, it should be the fact by the year 2100, just 80 years from now, more than $500,000,000,000 will be lost annually in economic output.
You know what the response to this was? She’s a socialist wrapped up in innocence. This is an attempt of a hostile takeover of the U.S. economy. She’s just grandstanding on a political stage. Trump called her disrespectful. I don’t care if she is from an immigrant background, these socialist ideas will never work. And the worst, she should go back home and take care of her own family. A congressman actually said that publicly!
Can’t you just see Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer, Doug Ford, all standing in that group at the back? “See, I told you we need a carbon tax.” “It would never work,” cries Sheer. “My proposed climate bill will do more and cost less.” “Your carbon tax will depress the manufacturing markets, and cost Canadians jobs. I will take this fight to the Supreme Court,” rants Ford. In the meantime, as they all vie for ownership of political power, expending so much energy in proving the other wrong, asserting their own positions to win the popular vote, the whale lies at their feet dead and more and more are washing ashore.
We could ask, “Where is the mercy we are supposed to be showing our neighbour?” If there is soon no collaboration, or working together to save a planet that is dying, there will be no planet to save. Time is running out. What we are facing goes beyond the law, politics, culture, borders and, certainly, all claims to ownership and what we deem to be ‘ours’. We are dealing with survival on a global scale. All creation is mourning and it needs us to change our perspective and see all of creation as our neighbour, not something we won for our own use, not to be used as our personal playground but something we have been mandated to care for to preserve, to show mercy to, as our world lies in a bleeding to death, having been robbed and beaten. Who is thy neighbour? Jesus’ story is about mercy.