Monday, July 12, 2010

7 Pentecost, Year C, July 11, 2010

Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
Inheritance, preached by Rev. Peter Courtney

One would think that he would have left well enough alone. Isn’t that often the case? If he had just been willing to take the stock answer and not gone any further he would have save a lot of wear and tear.

We are examining the lawyer in the parable of the Good Samaritan in our mind’s eye. He is an earnest Sunday school kid with perfect attendance. His blue blazer has pin holes from top to bottom of the left lapel left by the awards for perfect attendance proclaim his fidelity. He is the teacher’s pet the first to raise his hand, usually with the right answer. He always knows Torah and is used to being right. Being right has worked well for him. It has earned him respect, even admiration. Some people may have noticed that he is kind of short of friends, hardly has any at all, but never mind, he is a good boy. Good? It depends on how one defines “good”.

He does what any good lawyer would do. He asks a question to which he already knows the answer. “What do I do to inherit eternal life?”

At one level it is a silly question. He didn’t ask how to earn eternal life. He asked how to inherit it. He knew as we do that one inherits by being related to the testator, the one who is going to leave it to you when they die. He assumed he was so tight with God that when God died, the lawyer’s inheritance would be there at the reading of the will. All he had to do was outlive God. Oops. There is the rub.

He had actually asked how he could outlive God.

The answers he learned in Sunday school talk about loving God and loving one’s neighbor. They say nothing about inheritance.

The stock answer “Love God, love your neighbor” is both too hard and too easy to be satisfying. It is too hard since loving God is tough to measure and loving most of our neighbors is impossible.

He had been to Sunday school forever. He knew the answer to his question. He knew the answer was unrelated to the question. So he asks a question which assumes that the answer will say he is OK, knowing in advance the answer is hollow.

No wonder he sought to justify himself. He wanted an answer that would define the universe in a way that was comfortable. Ahh, comfortable. As a Torah Lawyer he was an expert in Torah exclusions. If he was going to be stuck with this cosmic, one-size fits all definition of how to inherit, how would he be any different or special from anyone else. Justification is about being special and different.

Why create a system which makes us special and different if we have to obey the rules which apply to everyone else. Special and different means we are not just anybody else! If the rules of loving God and loving neighbor were rigorously applied, our inheritance might turn out to be zip, nada, zilch. Our religious casuist sought a rule which guarantees the inheritance based on things he had nothing to do with like who his parents are. It is just hard to believe that God would be that generous.

Ahh, that is the Gospel. We are all frauds. None of us is justified by our inheritance or even our perfect attendance.

Jesus tells the story of two people, a priest and a Levite. These people are clearly justified, but when push comes to shove don’t measure up to even the slimmest standard of common decency or mercy!. They are inheritors in the system they maintain, and they are frauds.

The third person Jesus chooses is someone clearly defined by the system as outside of inheritance. Samaritans are half-breeds; a misbegotten anomaly in creation who everyone knows cannot inherit. Samaritans are related to the wrong people, the wrong God, why they are just trash.

Except. Ah here is the exception. Except the lawyer volunteers concludes that this illicit offspring of a Samaritan is going to inherit the promises of God because he is merciful. The Samaritan does not know the answers, went to the wrong Sunday school class, has the wrong parents, and because of Gospel receives mercy as he shows mercy.

It isn’t that the priest and Levite are not going to inherit, but that the kind of hair-splitting and logic chopping which defines others out of the inheritance simply won’t work in the face of God’s implacable mercy.

The lawyer knew this going in. He knew that unless and until the Gospel of God’s grace applies to everyone, it can’t apply to him. Jesus said: “Go and do likewise.” Likewise means cultivating the attitude of acceptance and inclusion that made what the Samaritan did even possible.

It isn’t about flipping quarters to drunks on the street. It is knowing that inheritance is not how God works. God works on mercy. I don’t know about you, but I find that extraordinarily good news.

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