14 Sep 2008
“There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test [Jesus] and said, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” (Luke 10:25) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
I don’t know if you ever get the chance to listen to Garrison Keillor on Saturday evenings. He has a weekly radio show, part of which is a continuing story about his imaginary hometown of Lake Woebegone, Minnesota. This past week he was telling the story of a man and a woman who were involved in an adulterous affair. They were on a dark road in a parked car when a tractor trailer truck came along and side swiped their vehicle. The woman survived with scratches and scars, but the man was killed in the accident. At his funeral a very self-righteous minister gets-up and during his eulogy of judgment, as Garrison Keillor tells the story with his deadpan presentation and his deep baritone voice, this minister preaches loudly and clearly that this man killed in the act of adultery will surely not escape the consequences of his sin, the fierce and unyielding wrath of an angry God will be his eternal fate. As the minister is preaching these fire-and-brimstone words about the consequences of adultery in this other guy’s life, his very own church secretary out in the congregation lets out a loud moan and breaks down into uncontrollable sobs so badly that she has to rush out of the church. It wasn’t too long after this outburst, says Garrison Keillor, that the minister was forced to resign as pastor.
Today in our church we celebrate the Feast of Brotherly Love, and we have done so every year since it was first passed by the Church Synod of 1906. That was an unexpected and unwanted Synod. Our church’s first Synod was held in 1904, and as that meeting concluded they agreed to convene the second Synod five years later in 1909. But real life has a way of not caring too much about schedules. Our very young church was quickly beset by attacks from within and from without. The situation got so bad that the very survival of our church came into question. As the church met in the Special Synod of 1906 to deal with these pressing issues of inner-divisions and external attacks, one of the most important and defining decisions of that gathering was the declaration that all of our parishes would pray for Brotherly Love each year on the second Sunday of September. When others despised us and worked to destroy our fledgling church, our response was not to act in kind. We would not return hatred for hatred. Instead, we would pray for Brotherly Love, that we would learn how to love those who did not love us, and hopefully that our enemies would also learn to love us too.
In Garrison Keillor’s story, the minister’s morality was a fraud. He relished the opportunity to pass judgment upon another person even though he knew he was just as guilty. Religion should not be defined by judgment because we are not good at it. Only a few days ago we observed the solemn anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. As that anniversary came around again, Al Qaeda released a 90 minute video called “Seven Years of Crusades” in which they celebrated those attacks and the ones that have followed. But other Muslims are so conflicted by Al Qaeda’s actions, that these acts of mass murder were perpetrated in the name of their god, that for seven years rumours have persisted that our own government and Israel were behind these atrocities. In other words, they cannot fathom how Al Qaeda is using their shared faith to legitimate their fanatical judgments.
Here in America a full page ad was printed in Tuesday’s New York Times with a banner headline reading: Imagine a World Free from Religion. Underneath the headline was a picture of the New York City skyline with the Twin Towers still standing. Their argument is that there is no greater source of hatred and violence in our world than religion, and according to their way of thinking, it’s because religion relishes judgment. And do you know that the fastest growing religious identification in America today is “no religion.” 50 million American adults have separated themselves from organized religion, and one of the most prevalent reasons for this separation is that religions constantly seek to pass judgment on others. To these 50 million people religion is seen as tearing down rather than building up, and these 10’s of millions of people see no need for it in their lives.
Whether it be 1906 and other people’s religious judgment against our church, or 2001 and Al Qaeda’s religious judgment against our nation, whether it be a storyteller’s make-believe yarn or the real-life choice of 50 million Americans today, it seems clear that judgment is not religion’s calling-card. We do it poorly for one, and for two we turn a lot of people away from faith by doing so. Instead, religion stands at her proudest and her most compelling when we preach and practice the lesson that we should all care for one another. Today’s parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question, “What must I do?” The parable doesn’t tell us anything about the victim because those details are completely unimportant. It doesn’t matter who the person in need is. The parable only tells us about the care-giver.
The Good Samaritan helps the other person because of who he is, who the Good Samaritan is. Stopping along the highway and helping a person in need is what he must do. It’s not a command that needs to be imposed; it’s part of his character and identity. He could no more walk past the victim than could the preacher in Garrison Keillor’s story ever regain his credibility. Sincerity is the difference. The preacher was a fraud; the Good Samaritan was a man of God. And Jesus holds forth the Good Samaritan’s example as what we must be as people of faith. We must forge a character that rushes toward compassion rather than judgment. Care and concern must define us as people of faith, as people of God. This is what we must do and be, and this is what we pray for every year on the Feast of Brotherly Love so that it becomes a lesson reinforced time after time in the hopes that our care for each other will define who we are as Christians. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)