A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the Third Sunday after Pentecost are here.
What do you know about Samaritans? I’m fairly certain, even if this were your first time ever in a church service, you’d be familiar with the phrase “Good Samaritan” and perhaps even the story that it comes from. But we’ll talk about that parable of Jesus in a couple of weeks. This is just the set up for it, so take good notes so I don’t have to repeat this first bit.
If you are in one of the BibleProject groups, we’ve encountered the origin of the Samaritans in our readings of Kings and Isaiah. They are a people group who trace their lineage back to the Levites who lived among the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin in the Northern Kingdom and who remained in the land after the occupation of the Assyrians and the destruction of Jerusalem. They believe they are the true religion of the ancient Israelites, preserved through the Exile since they remained in the Promised Land. Their very name means ‘keeper or guardian of the Torah.”
They believe the holy site of God is Mount Gerizim where the first altar to God after entering the Promised Land was built and not the temple in Jerusalem. And as of 2022, the total Samaritan population stands at less than 1,000 people, some still living in Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim and some in the Samaritan compound in Holon (Wikipedia).
Knowing the history of the relationship between the Samaritans and the Jews helps reveal the deeper layers of teaching in the stories we have of Jesus and the Samaritans.
In this long season between Pentecost and Advent in the Church calendar we call Ordinary Time, we will read through Luke’s telling of Jesus’ life with those who followed him closely. The men Jesus called disciples didn’t just hang out with him an hour or two each week, hoping to absorb a bit of wisdom that would make their life better or help them define themselves as a good person. They lived with Jesus, in relationship, working and playing and traveling and eating together so that they would learn to be like Jesus. They devoted their whole life, gave all their time to grow in relationship with Jesus. And they still struggled to get it right.
As they learned of their role in bringing God’s Kingdom to earth, Jesus had told them, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. Wherever they don’t welcome you, as you leave that city, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.”
(Luke 9:4-5 CEB)
And with this instruction ringing in their ears, they are dismissed by a village in Samaria. The Samaritans turned Jesus’ messengers away because he was on his way to Jerusalem, a key point of contention between these two groups. The Samaritan village didn’t want to listen to Jesus because they knew they already disagreed with him.
And what is James and John’s reaction? It isn’t ‘shaking the dust off,’ that’s for sure; they met intolerance with intolerance. I guess we could give them credit for what would be labeled in our day “being biblical.” They are, after all, making reference to the story of Elijah calling down fire from heaven to consume his adversaries (see 2 Kings 1). But what they weren’t being is Christlike – like the man they had given their lives to learn to be like. And shouldn’t this really be our purpose, to be like Christ?
Now, before any of us get all proud of ‘how much better we are”, we must admit things aren’t any better today. Our society still believes that power is about physical force, whoever is stronger, louder, and more aggressive wins, intolerance can only be met with intolerance.
In his book The Day The Revolution Began, N T Wright asks this question, “Did we really imagine that, while Jesus would win his victory by suffering, self-giving love, we would implement that same victory by arrogant, self-aggrandizing force of arms?” (pg. 374)
In the translation we read, the NRSV, all we are told of Jesus’ response is that he rebuked them. Some ancient manuscripts give words to Jesus’ rebuke: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy people but to save them.” In their response to the Samaritans, James and John are not following Jesus, they are trying to lead Jesus in how they want things done.
And, then, right on cue to deepen our understanding of what it is to follow Jesus, to be his disciple, we have some folks wander up and ask to be included, proclaiming their devotion. At first glance, it looks like Jesus is dismissing them. But he’s not. He’s calling them out for their attempt to simply add Jesus’ teachings to our – I mean their – life rather than letting who Jesus is transform who we are – I mean who ‘they’ are, because we’d never do this would we?
Each of these well intentioned folks explains to Jesus what they need to do to be ready to follow. First, Jesus, I need to to such-and-such. First I need to do one more thing my way and then I’ll begin to learn your way. First I need to make myself worthy and then I’ll follow you. First I must exercise control over this one thing and then I’ll give it to you. First I want to do things my way and when it’s convenient I’ll follow your way in some areas of my life. Jesus knows that they will find something else that needs tending to before they follow him and then something else and then something else.
But don’t think for a moment that Jesus is telling them that what they need to do isn’t important. What he’s telling them is that following him is a way of life, letting the Way of Love guide all that we do. Following Jesus, being a disciple, living in God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven isn’t ‘some day’ nor is it an add-on to our way, but a complete re-do of our lives. Instead of trying to “get our affairs in order” before we follow Jesus, we are called to let Jesus work in us to get our lives re-ordered by the spirit, bearing the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we follow Jesus, he leads us through our grief, he shows us how to live in healthy relationships with our families, and guides us in the ordinary and the extraordinary days.
We will be discipled by who or what we give our time to. As we walk with Jesus and the disciples through the ordinary days to come, these stories shape and direct our days, our ordinary, typical, regular, work-play-eat-sleep-be-in-relationship-with-each-other days.
Following Jesus isn’t about letting the teachings of Jesus merely inform us but letting who Jesus is transform who we are so that all that we think, feel, and do is guided by the Way of Love, so that in our work, we make decisions that keep people and relationships as the priority instead of power and prestige. So that in our leisure time, we look out for the wellbeing of all instead of satiating out own desires. So that in our conversations with others we seek to understand who they are, seeing the image of God in them even when, especially when, we disagree with them. So that in our day-to-day, regular, ordinary activities, people experience the Love of God through us. Amen.