9 Sep 2012
“‘You have answered correctly. Now do this and you will live.’” (Luke 10:28) (+)
Last Sunday I mentioned a book I was reading: The Year of Living Biblically. I finished it this past week. The book was interesting and fun, but the ending was disappointing. His last words after a year of living biblically were: “[My son] Jasper and I leave the post office, turn left, and head toward home for a quiet Friday night.” The author is Jewish, and one of the principal laws that he followed diligently for one year was to honour the Sabbath day. The Sabbath day begins on Friday evening for our Jewish brothers and sisters. A. J. Jacobs was a secular Jewish man when he began his experiment of living biblically, which means he did not practice his faith. Then he went into religion-overdrive for one year. I was a bit sad to read those last words that he was looking forward to a quiet Friday night at home. It seemed he had returned to his old ways. There was going to be no worship on his Sabbath of our shared God. Following the Bible obsessively for a year did not seem to change him.
This was strange because psychologists talk about something called cognitive dissonance. All this means is that when we think one way but act another we start thinking like we act. How we think changes to mesh with what we do. That’s why it was disappointing to hear that after throwing himself into religion for a year he went back to his old secular ways as soon he could. Even if he had been living biblically only because of a book-deal, I wanted that one year to change him even after publication. I wanted his actions to change his thinking. Then as I was putting the book away on my shelf, I noticed a tiny little emblem on the front cover, about the size of a dime. It said: “Reading group guide inside.” I hadn’t noticed that before and I hadn’t found those pages because they were placed after the footnotes, the bibliography and even the index.
When I was reading this almost missed “reading group guide,” I saw the interviewer’s question about whether A.J. Jacobs was raising his young son Jasper differently after living biblically for a year. And I was so pleased to read that he and his wife had decided to join a neighbourhood synagogue. He admits to not attending “very often,” but this former non-practicing Jewish man who had no place in his life for religion, was now beginning to feel the importance of God, and he wanted to share that with his son too. It wasn’t because of the book-deal any longer. Now it was because he was living the faith for himself and his family. Religion had a newly discovered value for him, and that appreciation grew not out of the power of words or ideas, but by actually living his faith.
And this is the starting point of today’s parable of the Good Samaritan. A scholar of the Jewish religious law approaches Jesus to quiz Him about the intricacies of all those hundreds of rules. The lawyer does an amazing job of condensing the essence of the Law down to a couple of commandments. As a matter of fact, when Matthew tells almost the same story, it is Jesus who comes-up with this profound revelation that if you love God and love your neighbour all other laws will fall into place (Matt. 22:34-40). The Two Commandments of Love are Jesus’ creation in Matthew, but they belong to this anonymous Jewish religious scholar here in Luke. So is it any wonder that Jesus commends the lawyer and says to him, “‘You have answered correctly.’” But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Jesus knows what we say is not enough. What distinguishes Jesus from this scholar is the emphasis He places upon what is done, and this is why Jesus then says, “‘Do this and you will live.’”
This is where the whole beautiful parable of the Good Samaritan begins. This simple sounding story begins with those once famous words that a generation or two ago every Christian would recognize: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho...” This parable was definitive of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. This parable described the ideal of our faith and who we were supposed to be, who Jesus wanted us to be. And amazingly, it wasn’t so much about God, or at least directly about God. The first Commandment of Love, to love God, is passed over silently in this selection. It’s also not about religion per se. The priest and the Levite, religion’s officers, are not spiritual heroes. They “passed by on the other side” it says twice in the text. They avoided the situation. They chose not to get involved. And for the hero to be a Samaritan must have irritated the heck out of Jesus’ Jewish audience. The Samaritans worshipped on the wrong mountain and they were the wrong people of God. They were imposters, according to the people Jesus was talking to that day. The only thing that distinguished the Good Samaritan is what he did. “‘Do this and you will live,’” said Jesus, and everyone listening that day would have got that message loud and clear. It is what we do that sets us right in the eyes of God.
I guess Jesus knew about cognitive dissonance long before any psychologist was calling it cognitive dissonance. Our actions hold an enormous amount of sway over our thoughts. A.J. Jacobs, for example, toyed with religion for a year and ended-up becoming a religious man. Or think about the meaning and importance of today’s Feast Day. From September 1907 to September 2000 we celebrated this liturgical feast, then in 2001 it took on added importance because the terrorism of September 11th was religion-based, a perversion of religion, but still religion based. It became even more important to preach brotherly love because too many people were talking about an angry, hate and violence inspiring god. We can’t live an angry faith without becoming an angry people. We have to live as people concerned about each other. It’s about what we do, in other words, that means so much. And think about the fact that today we open our School of Christian Living classes for our young people. It’s not only Christian doctrine we’re teaching; it’s Christian living. It’s about what we do. Again, back to Jesus’ words: “‘Do this and you will live.’” That’s the key to understanding the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the Good Samaritan is the key to unlocking the beauty and power of our faith. That we may be Good Samaritans whenever and wherever the opportunity arises for us to do good, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo