A Puzzling Parable!
Grace and peace are already yours because you belong to the family of Jesus the Christ. My name is Sinnathamby Thevanesan and I know that for a western tongue, it is a mouthful. I am not going to ask you to repeat my name today may be next week. I am often referred to by the first half of my last name. My last name in Greek is THEOPHILUS, which means lover of God. I was born and bred in the island nation of Sri Lanka. This island is 10 degree north of equator and situated at the southern tip of India on the Indian Ocean. My mother tongue is called Tamil which is spoken by a hundred million people across the world mostly in southern India. Now a little story. A preacher said he always struggled and stumbled whenever he stood in front of his congregation. He had difficulty in keeping his people alert during his preaching. And one day he came across this story from the autobiography of George Burns. It is about a letter from a minister. Dear George, I am a preacher and a longtime fan of yours. Could use some advice as to how to keep my congregation awake during my sermons? You are so great with an audience. I wonder if you could give me some pointers. Gratefully, Man of Cloth!
And now George replies: Dear man of cloth! The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending and having them as close together as possible. And this is precisely what I am going to do for you today. I want to begin with two fearless prophets. The first one is Amos from the town of Tekoa which is twelve miles south of Jerusalem. Amos was a shepherd and a weaver of sycamore leaves by profession. He never went to a prophetic school or a seminary. However when he sensed the call to prophesy he went to the northern kingdom of Israel and spoke forcefully against her habit of acquiring wealth by illegal means. He spoke against King Jeroboam who as king of Israel brought the nation to the zenith of her power by crushing the poor and ignoring the needy. In other words here was a nation perhaps on her way to become a super power at the expense of living without any ethical principles and spiritual values. No wonder the prophet roared like a lion saying” you trampled the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and the needy for a pair of shoe”.” Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness as an ever flowing stream” said the prophet.
Just imagine this was 800 years before the birth of the other prophet who was Jesus of Galilee. He was a Jew by birth, cradled in the beliefs and values and rituals of Judaism. He died his agonizing death on a cross as a Jew. He spent thirty three years of his life in a segregated society in which people were divided into pure versus impure, rich versus poor, clean versus unclean, male versus female and Jews versus gentile. This prophet also was concerned about the change of heart in persons than their blindly observing the external ceremonies of religion. Our gospel begins with a discussion between a lawyer and this prophet of Galilee. Just like all lawyers do, this man wanted to probe a little more into the mind of Jesus? Just like all lawyers do this man asked questions. Can you tell me Jesus as to what I should do to inherit eternal life? Well Jesus answered him with a counter question: What does the law say about how to inherit eternal life? Then the lawyer answers well it says “you shall love your Lord with all your heart, soul strength and mind. And you love your neighbor as yourself”. Fantastic response! Says Jesus; you have given the most appropriate answer. So if you can practice this well in your life, you experience eternal life. Can you tell me Jesus asked the lawyer again who my neighbor is? Jesus answered him this time with a parable. Most parables Jesus uttered were produced at the spur of the moment. As Jesus looked at the sky and the birds that flew over, the fields and the green grass, the lilies that bloomed in the field without any gardener’s care, he simply referred to them as God’s wonder.
Today’s story is of a Samaritan who rescued and helped a Jew who was robbed and assaulted on that dangerous Jerusalem Jericho road. A Priest and a Levite passed by on that instant and they didn’t do anything for the wounded man. Perhaps if I were in their shoe I would have done the same. Perhaps the Priest and the Levite asked the question, if we touched this person will we be contaminated with any infection? The religious laws prevented them from doing this in order to do their cultic function. This is why I gave the title a puzzling parable for today’s sermon. The Samaritan who came that way stopped took care of this person so meticulously is the gist of this parable. Then Jesus asked the lawyer the final question: Which of the three can be considered as a neighbor to the one robbed and assaulted? Who is my neighbor? The lawyer asked a question. Jesus replied him with a question: Which of the three?
I want to introduce to you a new word which is not in the dictionary as yet and hopefully it will get in today. Neighborlogy. What is it? Even if you forget everything else about the message this morning please don’t forget the word Neighborology. We know what Psychology is: it is the study of human consciousness, human behavior and human mind. We know what Theology is: It is an exercise to explore the mind of God. We know what anthropology is: It is a study of the understanding of humankind from pre-historic age, through heredity, race, culture, religion and family life. What then is Neighborology?It is about people, who they are and what they do. It is about defining our neighbors. It is about examining how best I could be a neighbor to someone. People! Whoever they are: rich and poor educated or uneducated, strong and the weak. Jesus the Christ was a neighbor friendly man because the name given to him at birth was Immanuel. God among us. God among the rich and the poor, the male and the female the gays and the straight ones the democrats and the republicans. Friends, Are you aware of the many changes that have taken place in our neighborhoods in recent years.
A few years ago Robert Putnam a political science professor from the Harvard University wrote these words. We’ve got pagers answering machines-mail, iPhones and fax-modems. We are more connected than ever before and we are lonelier than ever before. Our gadgets have not freed us for relationships. They have enslaved us until we can complete the circuit. There is a rampaging plague of loneliness that is hitting this country today in many directions. The dating service industry has doubled in size over the past decade. There are now 5000 agencies nationwide helping people connect. Then he continues to write that there are more Americans bowling today than ever before. But bowling in organized leagues has been on a decline. In the last two decades or so the total number of bowlers in the United States have increased by 10 per cent. However the league bowling has decreased by 40 per cent. Where once we played together, ate pizza together, kept score together, drank coke together, we do it individually today. We bowl alone today. What has happened to the civic involvements of the Americans?
Let me conclude my message with one more thought. With all our astuteness and strategies we can never, ever make a particular community neighbor friendly. This is possible only through God’s guidance and grace. Perhaps one of our hymns in our Methodist hymnal illustrates this point far better than I do.
No.432.”Jesu Jesu, fill us with your love show us how to serve our neighbors we have from you. Our neighbors are rich and poor, black and white, and our neighbors are near and far away”. Amen!