25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
These past few weeks have been a blessing as well as filled with stress. I want to thank those that stepped up and allowed me and my family the time to spend back home last week. The time away from the city to celebrate the life of my grandmother was something I will cherish. The time with family was a blessing, coming back and getting back into the swing of daily life was a tad bit stressful. Nothing that could not be managed but things at work were not done the way I do things so I had to get thing put back in order, and I had to get my mind and spirit back into the mode I live.
Last week Jesus sent out the seventy-two disciples. They went out sharing the gospel, healing sick, casting out demons in the name of Jesus and they were excited. They were beyond excited, they were ready to take on the world! When I read about their return to Jesus after their experience I am often reminded of the time I spent in Ukraine.
I did not see anyone miraculously healed. I did not see demon possessed people released from bondage. I did see something far more interesting. I saw people change before my eyes. People throughout the world are not really all that different if you take the time to get to know them. Every student I spoke with in Ukraine could have been a student here in the United States. They had similar dreams, they faced similar struggles. Some of those struggles might require different means to over come because of what is available to them but life in general was not all that different. There were some differences though, like only having hot water available for two hours a day. And the greatest struggle for me was they did not know what Dr. Pepper was so when I was thirsty I had to drink water, Fanta, or Coke. The struggle was very real. But once we got used to the little inconveniences life went on. We interacted with the students and they interacted with us as if we had been friends for much longer than the time we spent together. I went to Ukraine knowing very little about the people. I went not knowing the language. I went thinking that they were basically the exact opposite of my culture. What I found was friends.
When we first arrived in Kiev after spending most of a day on an airplane we were excited. We had spent months reading and preparing how to give our testimonies. I studied everything I could on how to answer every potential question about faith that I would likely encounter. We quickly learned a few phrases to communicate with those individuals that might not speak English. For a week spent planning the classes we were going to teach, learning about our fellow teachers, and worshiping together. We were ready to take on the world. Then we boarded an overnight train heading to Odessa. We began speaking to students, interviewing them and offering places in our English classes. We figured out how to move around the city. We visited several universities and learned how to order hamburgers and ice cream at McDonald’s in a language we really did not know. The classes started and we began to get to know the students and their dreams, we shared our faith and they shared as well. In Ukraine our English classes were highly regarded because for the students in that country to attend a university they had to be fluent in Ukrainian, Russian, German, English, and an fifth elective language. And each year they took a test to prove they knew the languages. The stress placed on the students was high. And I saw tension and the weight these students carried on their shoulders be lifted as they changed their perspective away from the things of the world and the things of God. We taught two hundred students that summer and half of those student began a journey of faith. And probably half of the ones that did not begin a journey were committed Russian or Ukrainian Orthodox Christians and we saw their faith deepen before our eyes.
I identify with the seventy-two when I remember that story because I have been in a similar situation. We were filled with such energy and hope. And then we boarded a train to head back to Kiev, and we began to talk about what was going on. And we realized just how much more training we needed before we left because we really did not know what we were getting into.
After Jesus and the disciples had this conversation, a teacher came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. We are told that this was a test. The religious leaders were all asking questions of Jesus trying to understand what his views were, and also trying to see if his stances matched their own. They were wanting to place Jesus into one of the various groups. They wanted to place a label on him. They wanted to claim him as one of their own, or discredit him as belonging to a different group.
This man comes to Jesus, with a test. He asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He already had an answer in his own mind. He was a lawyer, a teacher of the law. In his mind he knew what was required to have eternal life. Jesus answers this man with a question of his own, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
We may not notice just how important this small conversation is. Jesus knows that this man is asking for an answer from which this man can make a judgment. Jesus turns the question around. This means that Jesus is no longer has to defend. Once the question is turned around to the tester the test is over and it becomes a conversation. Both parties must reveal themselves to each other. When the man initiated the question he was hoping for an answer, something he himself would not have to engage with if he did not want to, but Jesus brought him. This shows us a great deal in how we should relate to others around us. To answer the man’s question Jesus needed to know where to begin. The man answers, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” This sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it.
The teacher of the law, is teaching the same massage that Jesus taught. And Jesus says to the man in essence, “Yep do that.” To love God with everything you have and are and to love your neighbor as yourself is exactly what God wanted from the very dawn of time and is all required even today. If that was all we focused on imagine what the world might be like.
This answer was not enough for the man, and to be honest it is not enough for us either. We like things to be very clear. With definite lines letting us know where we stand. If we leave our life’s purpose in this abstract place of loving God with everything and our neighbor as ourselves where are the lines? The mans asks, “Who is my neighbor?”
The man asks this question for one reason, self justification. He asks this question because humans can justify even the worst behavior as long as it give them their desired results. He asks this question, because he knows that he in himself has not fulfilled the very thing he teaches. Jesus also knows.
To answer this man’s ridiculous question, Jesus tells one of the most well known parables he ever told, the parable of the good Samaritan. We have heard the story many times. A man gets beat up on the road, he is lying there bleeding out and a priest walks by on the other side. Then a Levite walks by on the other side. Finally a Samaritan comes to this man and sees him in distress and he has compassion and takes care of the man.
Jesus tells this story, and we have probably heard it many times. We have listened to people talking about the various actions of each of the individuals and how hypocritical or awesome they might be. We know the moral of the story. But I want us to take a look at it from a different perspective.
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was very dangerous. Though it is not exactly a great distance but the terrain is difficult. There is an 3300 ft change in elevation in seventeen miles. When traveling through trails like this there are areas that have outcroppings and drop offs. And it is said that bandits were often hiding along this roadway looking to make a quick profit.
Who are these bandits? We are not told who the bandits are exactly but they terrorized the travelers. We are often told that one person’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighters. I am not saying that we should condone these men but they were out there for a reason. And some historians have said that these bandits, these terrorists might have been gangs of zealots. People that were fighting and in this case raising support for their cause. They were surrounding Jerusalem, the most important city of Judea. Hiding along the roads going in and out. We are not told who the man was that was beaten, he could have been Jewish or he might have been a Gentile. He might have been a collaborator, an opposing faction, or just a simple person in the wrong place at the wrong time. We do not know, but the reactions of the people to the man send a clear message.
The priest walks on the other side. For us in the United States we do not have a real good understanding as to what this really means. We are used to wide streets and highways. It is not like the priest saw this body in the distance and crossed the street. This man was literally in the middle of the road, and the priest would have had to basically climb the mountain to avoid getting near the man. This was not a passive avoidance but one that took a great deal of effort. Why? The Levite also went to great lengths to avoid this man in need. But the Samaritan, this man that probably should not have even been on that road did something.
Jesus asks at the end of this story who was a neighbor to the man? The hero of the story is a man that is seen as the enemy of the Jews. And the villains were those that we would often give the greatest respect. Who is our neighbor?
I sat with this question for a while. I find it to be the dumbest question ever asked of Jesus, but I sat with it. I studied the meaning of the word and as you might expect it means just what you think. A neighbor is someone near you. But we then need to define near. Self justification. Jesus is pointing out to this man asking the question. This man who was trying to test him with fancy words, that they can twist anything to fit their own narrative.
Who was this man laying in the road? We do not know. He might have been anyone. He could have been an important man in society or a poor beggar. He was a person. A person in need. But each of us have our own needs and desires. The last time I spoke of this story I am certain I spoke about the ceremonial aspects of why a priest or Levite might avoid the man. We need to remember who Jesus is talking to. This is a man of that class. He is a religious leader within the community. This man is using his religion to justify why he might not associate with another person, while in the same breath telling Jesus that he interprets the law to mean love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself. What is the criteria we use to alienate someone near us?
I work in retail in a part of the Kansas City Metro area that has people from nearly every corner of the world. I can walk around the store and hear two or even five different languages spoken all around me at any given moment. Who is my neighbor? Just last evening I was walking around shopping after my shift and I spent a few moments speaking with a family from India as we were looking at shirts and jackets celebrating the first lunar landing and I listened as that family encouraged their child with stories of that day in the exact same way as I explained it to my own sons. They like me were proud to live in a country where people accomplished that, and I listened as they told their son that he too could do great things. Earlier that same day I heard a similar conversation between a mother and daughter. And another between a Muslim mother and her daughter. Who is our neighbor? In each instance everyone was excited to be living in the country that accomplished such a remarkable and seemingly unreachable feat. There was pride and hope in the words. Then I walked on by and heard different conversations, conversations that I am sure you can imagine, ones that were not so neighborly.
The law teaches and has always taught to love God with all that we have and all that we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves, why is that so difficult? We draw lines all over to give us a reason to not live this out. I grew up loving Kansas State University and some of you like Kansas University, when it comes to a game we will cheer for our team but outside of that who cares. Will we stop avoid each other because we like a different university? What happens when someone near us likes Missouri University or even Oklahoma University or dare we say Texas? School rivalries we see as harmless fun, but eventually they mature into something different like political parties, denominations, nations, and unions. Each group looking out for only their own ideas and people like them. These rivalries can get so intense where we become so callous we begin to forget that there is a person standing in front of us.
Who is my neighbor? It is that person near you. It might be your spouse. It might be someone from down the street or even from across the world. If they are near you they are your neighbor. If they have breath in their lungs they are your neighbor. God so loved your neighbor that He gave his son to die for them. God so loved you that he sent his son to provide you with eternal life. God so love women that he sent his son to die for them, and God so loved men he provided the same thing. It is easy to say. I sing it nearly every night to Albert, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world…” You might know the rest of the song. But do we live that song?
Often we are like the priest and the Levite we will go to great lengths to avoid nearness. We will even put ourselves and those around us in harm just to avoid nearness. We will justify our actions. We will even provide chapter and verse to justify our actions or lack of action. We are free to have our own opinion. We were each given that curse from our first parents Adam and Eve, we have the knowledge of good and evil. We have our opinions and we can try our hardest to justify why. But can we gaze at the face of Jesus and say we are right?
I have struggled with this as I have reflected on this passage. I have struggled because I am guilty of liking people that like K-State more than I like people that like KU. And I have no reason real justification because I attended a completely different school altogether so what does it really matter. I struggle because I have my own preferences and prejudices. I struggle because I get angry when people do not see things the way I see them or do things the way I do them. I struggle because sometimes I just want to be left alone and want people to stop talking. I struggle. Because it is hard to see that of God in others because I often do not see that of God in myself. I struggle because I can barely make ends meet so how can I possibly help someone else. I struggle because my focus is sometimes not directed to the places they should be. I am guilty of climbing a mountain to avoid a conversation. And I am guilty of provoking anger instead of encouragement.
The Samaritan saw the man and had compassion. He went to the man and bound his wounds and poured oil and wine on them. He lifted the man onto his own animal and took him to an inn where he took care of him. The next day he took two day’s wages and gave them to the innkeeper and asked him to care for the man, and promised to come back to provide whatever else was needed. Why did he do that? Because he did not care about what others thought. He only saw the person before him. That man’s generosity and hospitality spoke more to the wounded man’s condition than all the educated words someone could speak. That man’s actions reflected Christ.
When I went to Ukraine I realized something significant, people are people. There is no difference. We all are great and we all are terrible in equal measure. We all have good ideas and we all are blind to reason in other ways. Who is our neighbor?
This week I will not provide a message at Willow Creek Friends, because I with my family are away from our Meeting to celebrate the life of my grandmother who passed away last Sunday (June 30, 2019). Each person handles their emotions in different ways. I cope with life by reading scripture, praying, and sometimes I feel the need to write. This is not really a sermon but my reflections on life as I celebrate the “Pair” God sent to encourage my life. I am overjoyed that I minister among a Meeting that is willing to step up with little warning to allow their pastor to be human. Thank you Willow Creek for allowing the space. There is a sermon presented by someone in our Meeting that will be on our YouTube Channel. I encourage you to visit our page. (Link to sermon videos)
Luke 10:1–12 (ESV)
Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-Two
10 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2 And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. 7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
This week as I met with my family to celebrate the live that my grandmother lived I am reminded of many things. My grandmother, Marjorie Cox Bales, to many may have been just an ordinary person, but to her family she was heart. She was that touch stone that would keep you grounded even while she encouraged you to stretch out your wings to fly.
As we celebrated her life I listened to her sisters recount their memories of their younger years. My grandmother grew up during the great depression, and they did not have many toys. They even remembered that when someone did happen to give them a toy doll the family would often give that toy away to some other family. The sisters did not regard this as a bad memory, but a memory of blessing. They told stories of rolling in old tires, making clay houses for frogs to live in and getting in trouble as they played in the fields. There is something about considering a grandparent in their childhood that is fun. Then to hear the stories of my mother and her siblings sharing about their life growing up with my grandmother was equally exciting, as well are remembering the countless stories that my cousins and I shared as we reminisced about the holidays and impromptu family reunions throughout the years.
My grandmother had a great life. She filled nearly eighty-six years with so much. To put it into perspective the oldest grandchild is forty-seven and the youngest grandchild is seven, and there are great-grandchildren mixed throughout as well. Each of these children shared just how much love this one woman shared. Each one shared a similar story. She wanted to make sure you had eaten, drank water, that your body was regular, that you were clothed, and warm. Each of us have at least one quilt and a crocheted blanket lovingly made by her hands. Many of us spent our summers wearing clothes she had sewn. To spend time at grandma’s house was just life, it was always home. She had a way to be incredibly loving and brutally honest in the same way. We knew if we upset her, but we also knew that nothing we did would shake the love. So much grace, yet none of us wanted to disappoint our grandmother.
Most of my life I did not see my grandmother attend a meeting for worship, yet she had such faith. Nearly every family gathering included the local minister as a member of our family, every discussion would usually have biblical teaching included and it was not uncommon that there would be an hour spent singing hymns or Christmas carols. I always thought it was odd that my grandmother was not in church, but as I have matured in faith I realized that my grandma lived in church, she was a pastor and her house was a place of worship. Grandma’s house became the ideal perfect church in my mind. An open table, free discussion and study of the things of faith, the sharing of concerns and encouragement to face the future again, and constant praise.
This week I am not sharing a formal sermon, but I have to share, because there is something about legacy that is important. Jesus sent seventy-two disciples out into the community. They went out sharing life with all the people they met and they would come back and share their experiences together with Jesus. I want us to consider how that might look.
“The harvest is plentiful,” Jesus says, “but the laborers are few. Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out more laborers.” I grew up on a Kansas farm, I understand the concept of harvest. As I am writing today the fields are ready to harvest. When the patriotic anthems are sung around the celebration of the independence of our nation they often speak of the amber waves of grain. I know these amber waves. I know the work it takes to bring in that grain and how important the harvest is, not only for the income of the farmer, but for the well being of a nation. If the farmers did not gather the harvest, we would all starve. Not just in our nation but the entire world would suffer. The seemingly simple and insignificant portion of our society as a whole is the heart and backbone of any society. When food is not available we all suffer.
When Jesus speaks of the harvest, we often think of a growing church, filling the pews. I do not think this is incorrect, but incomplete. The harvest is often the beginning. Without a harvest there is not planting, without planting there is not a harvest. If there is to be a harvest we need people out there working. And if people are out there working we need people to serve food, to maintain the equipment, and to transport the produce to other areas. There is a great deal of labor involved with harvest, above and beyond the simple gathering of grain from the fields. On a modern farm, the combine that harvests the grain is so technical it employs a vast amount of labor. Engineers making the design, factory workers that produce the machine, miners that get the ore to make the metal parts, mechanics to keep the machines running. But there is also the radio broadcasters that keep us entertained, the cellphone networks that allow those working in the fields to stay connected, the vehicle companies that produce the trucks for transport and the vehicles to move parts and equipment, the news stations that provide the market and weather reports, the local retailers that provide the various parts and necessities too keep everyone clothed and fed. Basically every aspect of the nations’ economy is involved, every aspect of the economy is interconnected and dependent on another. When Jesus says the harvest if plentiful but the laborers are few, this is beyond one singular aspect of life but all of life.
Jesus makes this statement and he sends seventy-two people out into the community. He sends them out in pairs. I have often considered where these seventy-two people came from. When we look at the gospel accounts we will see that Jesus does not send his disciples out alone, but in pairs. Simple arithmetic would show us that if the twelve disciples went out in pairs these seventy-two disciples were the twelve disciples that each of these six groups made. Later, these seventy-two would make disciples, and those disciples again multiplied and scripture tells us that Christ appeared to over five hundred disciples which is about what would be the amount of disciples after this.
I was thinking of these disciples. We know that each of them had different personalities and perspectives in life. Some of the original twelve were fishermen, one was a tax collector (the equivalent of a civilian government worker), some were even known as zealots (which we could equate with an extremist group). Several personalities several different attitudes of life, yet all united in faith. They went out to minister in pairs. Why pairs, maybe because we all need help. We all need those people in our lives that know how to encourage us the best. Those that see in us what we do not see ourselves and can step up in the areas we are incapable to fulfill alone. Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs because life is tough. He sent them out in pairs because often ministry can weigh us down. He sent them in pairs because we all need a friend.
He sent them out with nothing. No planning committee to ensure the most profitable return on investment. No logistics to even make sure they had a place to stay when they arrived at their location. They went with what they had available at that moment, and they went in faith.
I considered these groups going out into the communities around that area. I considered the family gathered around celebrating life and I realized something important. We are not alone. We were created to approach life with a community aspect. We were created to assist one another achieve goals that not only profited ourselves but the community as a whole. So often we miss this community aspect of life. We work in corporations and they are a community of sorts, but too often the idea proclaimed within our corporations are not community building but focused on maintaining and increasing the value for stock holders to profit. I have nothing against increasing value of stocks, because often the employees of corporations collectively own a great deal of stock, but it seem as if decisions are made from a single perspective. Maybe things would be different if corporations had two equally powerful CEO’s. I say this in jest of course, but maybe the concept of nurture and provide need represented.
I consider my family. My grandfather I love dearly. He is and has always been one of my favorite people. He is often the one person I have worked the hardest to make proud of me. But right along with grandpa, there was grandma. They were a team. Grandpa worked the harvest fields and grandma brought the meals to the field to remind us to take a break and rest for a bit. Most of my world view has been shaped by the lifestyle my grandparents lived out in front of me, different role but both important. I consider myself lucky to have lived in such a family. It was not uncommon to be out working on a hot summer day and see my grandmother driving her car out to the field to make sure I had a fresh jug of water, which was usually accompanied with a wet towel to clean off a bit.
In our busy world, I think we have lost something important. We often move fast into innovation and production, but sometimes we forget the aspect of life where we slow down and rest. Jesus sent them out in pairs. Two perspectives, two gifts. One to encourage the dreams and accomplishments, and one to hug the discouraged and to let them know they can do it. Pairs working together complementing each other’s gifts and personalities so well that those around them want to do all they can to make them proud.
My family lives in several states, yet we all have a home. We have a place where no matter what happens we can come back and be refreshed. My family is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it showed me something vital. The church should be a community like that. Encouraging and nurturing, pushing us to do greater things and comforting if we get discouraged. As an adult in ministry in a city instead of on the farm I have found that one of the things so many are missing is a home. Our churches have become political battle grounds. They have become legalistic overlords. They have become performance driven corporations with unbalanced focus. We need home. We need grandpa’s and grandma’s, we need aunts and uncles, cousins, and parents. We need discipline and love. We need work and rest. And most of all we need a good meal around a table where we can just laugh and be with one another.
The ending of this passage Jesus speaks of those communities that do not accept those that come proclaiming the kingdom. He says that it would be more bearable to live in Sodom than the communities that reject the Gospel of Christ. This is powerful language. According to the testimony of Hebrew scriptures, Sodom was one of the towns that were burned due to their sinful lifestyles. If we are to read scripture as a whole we are told that the main reason for their destruction was that they were inhospitable. The names of this city has been used a great deal in recent years for various reasons, but I think we often miss the point. If we are inhospitable our minds are in a singular mindset. Everything is based on one thing and often that is personal gain. It is not a sin to profit, but it is a sin to lack balance in our lives. It is sinful to focus only on profit and neglect the care of those we serve and serve us. It is just as sinful to focus only on taking care of the needs of those we serve and serve us and neglecting the advancement of our personal goals. Balance. Hospitality is taking the time to enjoy the company of others, but hospitality is done in conjunction with life. Go out and work and share the abundance.
Jesus condemns the communities that reject the Gospel. Why? They cannot take the time to get balance. They are singular minded and unwilling to hear life from a different perspective. Unwilling to accept something different.
I am proud of my family, I am proud of who they are and what they have encouraged those around them to become. I am proud not because we are great in ourselves but because we have a heritage of faith and discipline of keeping balance. This is largely do to the love and partnership of our grandfather and grandmother. We will miss the heart of the family. But I know that God sent out a pair and his kingdom will continue because from that pair multiple others have emerged and each of those in their own way have carried gospel. We need family, we need community. We need balance because that give us the stability we need to move forward in the future. Dream and strive, hope and achieve, celebrate the joy and nourish those that are currently in a struggle.
By Jared Warner
June 30, 2019
Willow Creek Friends Church
Luke 9:51–62 (ESV)
A Samaritan Village Rejects Jesus
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village.
The Cost of Following Jesus
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Who are you? I am sure you have thought about the answer to this question a few times in the course of your life. We make attempts at defining this, defining ourselves. We try to find meaning and understanding. But what are we using to define who we are? What are we using to define those around us?
The first century world also struggled with identity at times. These identities gave them a sense of pride, belonging and purpose. There is nothing outright sinful in these things, but it sin can enter very easily if our identity in one area causes us to dishonor or disrespect other for the simple fact that they identify as something contrary to your identity. I am tired of saying the word identity. It is almost as if everything today has something to do with that word. I Dentity. The danger of identity is seen very clearly through the relationship of Israel and Samaria.
Most of us have a decent understanding of the Jewish people. I say decent because we are not Jewish so there is a great deal we do not know and will not know unless we ask certain questions about their history and traditions. We can glean quite a bit from the books of scripture we call the old testament but there is much more to the Jewish faith than is written in those books. This is why the priests were not able to serve in the temple until they were twenty-five, when all the other boys their age were starting their careers at the age of thirteen. They had to learn not only the scripture we know, but all their traditional teachings and rabbinical interpretations. We know about the Jewish people to a degree, but most of us know very little about the Samaritan people.
We know that the people of Samaria were Israelites. They share a heritage and history with the Jewish people, they even share religious faith. The Levites that served in the Temple at Jerusalem were from the same tribe as those that lived in the rest of promised land. The priest lived among the tribes they did not have a separate geography, but they were mixed within the others. This is because their inheritance was not land but God. They were called to be a tribe set apart. When the Kingdom of Israel divided after the reign of Solomon there were priest in both Israel and Judea. When the kingdom divided the identity of Samaritans and Jews began. Most of our scripture is written from a Jewish perspective and most of that perspective casts a very unfavorable light in the direction of the northern kingdom. We know that the northern kingdom had leaders that did evil in the eyes of God. This is most likely true. I would venture to say that most people that claim leadership over others within a nation probably do evil in the eyes of God at some point, and if we want to be honest all of Israel at the end of the book of Judges had pretty much done evil in the eyes of God because they wanted a king to rule over them and to fight their battle. When Samuel speaks to God about this God says that they had rejected God as their king.
We have a skewed view of Samaritans, because scripture is written through a Jewish perspective, and that is not necessarily a bad thing because it is through the Jewish people that God was going to provide the hope of all nations. So, scripture should follow them more closely than the tribes to the north. This does not mean that the tribes to the north are less children of Israel. It simply means that their part within the story had taken a minor role.
This does not mean that their culture did not continue. They still had priests to carry on the faith of their fathers. The prophets tell us that there was still a group that remained faithful to God. Their faith traditions stretch back to pre-temple Israel. It was in the area that would become the Northern Kingdom of Israel that the tabernacle was situated until David had it moved to the Southern areas. And that location remained sacred to those in the Northern Kingdom even after their kingdom was conquered by, they Assyrian Empire. This schism between the sacred locations developed into religious divisions and it evolved even more to political divisions until the tribes forgot that they were all Children of Israel, children of the promise of God, and they instead focused on identity.
These identities morphed to a greater degree after the exiles. The Northern kingdom was conquered, and the reason is given that they did evil in the eyes of God and lost favor. They were conquered, and the land that was once Israel was filled with people of different nations. Those that remained in Israel interacted with those that moved in. They married their children. Some embraced their religions and some of those that moved in embraced the God of Jacob. But their heritage was mixed. This mixing of nations was something that the southern kingdom did not approve of. And it became an issue of debate. When Judea was also conquered, they were faced with the same dilemma. Many were removed from their homes and forced to live outside the land of promise. They married the daughters of Babylon. When those descendants of Judah could return to Jerusalem, they did something surprising. They purified their nation. Those that married people outside the tribe were encouraged to put away or divorce their spouses and to marry people of similar identity. Often, we look at this portion of their history and regard it as something favorable because they were getting back to their cultural roots and restoring the true faith. But have we ever thought about the families that were left behind?
This purity became a source of division between Judea and Israel. How could they ever hope for unity when one side refuses to acknowledge the validity of the other? The disagreements ran so deep that Samaria would often plot against Jerusalem. This is why those that were repairing the walls of Jerusalem had to wear a sword.
For centuries this feud continued. Samaria had their place of worship and Judea had another. With each passing year the divisions just intensified, but both had hope. Both nations looked forward to the coming Messiah that would reunite the tribes. The problem with this was which side would the Messiah validate and who would ultimately lose?
We see this tension in today’s passage. Luke tells us that Jesus’ ministry is ending and he is looking to the fulfillment in Jerusalem. Jesus is making his way from Galilee to Jerusalem and to get there he passes through Samaria. This is very significant. Many who would travel from Galilee to Jerusalem would go around this area, and rightfully so. The feud between the two factions were still going strong. Samaria did not want people passing through their land to get to the temple. They did not acknowledge the temple in Jerusalem as being an authentic place of worship because they had their own sacred site that they encouraged people to worship at. And according to tradition they would encourage people to worship at their sacred site using questionable methods.
But Jesus does not care, he walks straight through without fear. He sends his disciples out before him to arrange hospitality for the night. They go and they make inquiries only to find rejection at every turn. No one in the city wanted to allow a group of people heading for Jerusalem to stay on their property. We should not forget that there were Samaritans among those that followed Jesus. There were many among Samaria that considered Jesus to be the Messiah they had waited for, but when they realized Jesus was going to Jerusalem instead of their mountain it hurt their pride. Jesus in their eyes was no better than the other Jews.
I want us to consider this for a moment. This village rejected Jesus completely because he was going to Jerusalem. They rejected him completely because they wanted Jesus to conform to their worldview. They rejected Jesus as their Messiah and Unifying king because he did not agree that their mountain was just as important as the one in Jerusalem. They rejected Jesus because he did not conform to their agenda.
This angered the disciples. How dare they disrespect their teacher. It just fueled their hatred for the Samaritans even more. It fueled their prejudices. And James and John began to plot the destruction of that village in retaliation to their rejection. They asked Jesus if they could call fire down from heaven to consume these inhospitable people. It seems like a bold thing to say, but the disciples had been ministering in Galilee for a while now. Jesus had sent them out into the villages, and they were doing miraculous thing in Jesus’s name. They were beginning to think that they could control the very hand and power of God because they were his disciples. In their righteous anger, in their self-righteous anger they wanted to make an example of this village that would be just as memorable of another city that would not provide hospitality to the messengers of God, Sodom.
It is interesting how Jesus responds. He immediately rebukes the sons of thunder; he rebukes the disciple he loves along with his brother. Jesus does not tolerate their self-righteous pride. He rebukes them because Jesus did not come to the world to condemn it but to save it. Both sides were equally wrong. They were spinning half truths to suit their agenda. James and John wanted to smite this village and Jesus tells them to shut up and keep walking.
What good would calling for vengeance do? In Jesus’s eyes these Samaritans were just as important as the people that shared his Judean ancestry. In his eyes they were equal, they were all Israel. To make an example of an inhospitable village would not fulfill the mission of reconciliation of all nations to God, but it would only drive the wedge of separation deeper. Jesus’s kingdom was not about which side was right or wrong, his mission was to restore all people who were damaged by the cancer of sin.
They continue to walk. As they walk people are following. Remember these are people of Samaria not Judea. Jesus did not hold the rejection of one village against the whole nation, but he turns the attention to something more individual. Someone comes over to him as he walks and says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Another comes, and Jesus asks him to follow, and this man responds, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And a third man says, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”
For us these all seem like very reasonable responses. These people are eager for follow. They want to follow Jesus even though he is a Jew and they are Samaritans. But to each of these people Jesus counters their response with something that takes our breath away. To the one that first says I will follow you wherever you go, Jesus says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To the second man, the one that wishes to bury his father, Jesus says, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God. And to the third, Jesus says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
I have sat with these responses this week. I considered them. I look at them and I even find the statements of the individuals as being very reasonable. They make sense to me, because even I had prayed prayers like this. When I entered ministry, I was technically a single dad although I was engaged to be married. I prayed that I would minister wherever I was called if it was within driving distance of my son. I thought it was a very reasonable prayer at the time, but what was I saying? I was putting my terms and conditions into the equation. I will serve God if… What happens if something changes? What if God had called me to Alaska Yearly Meeting or Eastern Region? Would I still follow? What if God called me to Africa or India? Would I still follow? What if God did not call me to a Meeting that could pay me? What if I would have to work two or three jobs just to minister? What if?
The responses of these individuals are not that much different to the rejection of the village. Jesus had his sights set on Jerusalem for a reason. They did not like Jerusalem and wanted Jesus to be their Samaritan Messiah. And if he was not, they would not follow. Jesus was poor, yes, he was poor no matter what the guy on TV might say he traveled and depended on the hospitality of others. If our condition is financial and He calls us to poverty will we follow? What if following Jesus would cause dishonor in the family? What if following would mean leaving those we love behind? What if?
Jesus rebuked the disciples for casting judgement on the Samaritan village because of their rejection. Then he turns around and rebukes Samaritans for lack of faith. Am I the only one that finds this odd? Or is he telling us something else? I say these individuals were Samaritans, but they could have been anyone. Jesus is asking each of us a tough question, what is holding you back?
This exchange happens near the end of Jesus’s ministry. At this point the disciples had seen Jesus do countless things that they could not explain. They themselves had done things they never thought possible. They had watch Jesus heal, feed a multitude, silence the religious elite, fill nets with so many fish boats began to sink. They had seen him raise people from the dead, and they had seen him shine on a mountain top while talking to Moses and Elijah. They had seen all this yet still some wanted God on their terms. They wanted Jesus to support their agenda.
We do not know what will happen if we truly follow. We do not know how other will react if we follow. We do not know if people will support us or reject us. We do know some things. We know that Jesus came and lived among mankind. We know he taught and lived a life that was different from the world around him. We know that through him things that can happen that we cannot explain. And we know that he looked beyond the identities and boxes people tried to put him in and calls us each to walk in faith. He calls us to follow him right here and right now. He calls us to live with him. Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living his love with others. He calls us to stop looking at our various groups and heroes within those groups and instead to see that of God in all people. Jesus is calling us, will we answer? He is calling us to participate in his kingdom but are we too focused on the kingdoms of men? Jesus is calling will we reject him, or will we embrace the opportunity?
It does not mater who you are, where you are from, or what you have done. Jesus is calling. He loves you and wants you to join him in the adventure of life. What is holding you back?