Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 10. 2022
Everything old has become new again. They even make tv shows about it. In places like Galveston and or Waco they come in, buy old houses, tear out everything, update everything, and flip it. Initially, I would call the houses old, run down, even dilapidated. But of course, at the end, we’re all impressed at how “new” the old thing looks. Everything old has become new again. Things that my grandparents did in the 1930s during the Depression to stretch a dollar have become new again because of environmental concerns – when I bake a chicken I try to squeeze everything I can out of that bird – meat, gravy, stock. Or think about this – in 2021, the sale of vinyl albums was greater than the sale of compact discs, CDs. That’s right, those giant, cumbersome, dinner plate sized records are more popular than CDs. Everything old has become new again.
So it was with Jesus. When a lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus goes back and plays all the old hits. “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.” This comes straight from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. There is nothing new to see here. And then Jesus follows it up, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That line is straight from the Old Testament book of Leviticus. Jesus is not doing anything new here, but is simply reiterating the old thing. Love God, love neighbor. Jesus did not come to get rid of everything that had come before. It’s not like he came to tear down an old house and put up a new McMansion in its place, Jesus is all about renovation and renewal.
This is the most important question – how do we inherit eternal life? And Jesus doesn’t come up with anything new, there’s not a new secret way to get into heaven. Right here, at the very heart of the question on inheriting eternal life, Jesus goes back to the old ways. Love God, love neighbor. And yet, many of us are like that lawyer. It just seems too easy, too simple. We want to justify ourselves; new just seems better.
And so Jesus tells this story of a man walking from Jerusalem to Jericho. He’s beaten, robbed, and left for dead. The priests walk by and don’t help. The one who stops, the one who is a neighbor, is a Samaritan. An outsider. Someone who is not Jewish. “Which was of these was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Obviously, it’s the Samaritan. And the implication is just as obvious, “go and do likewise.”
Let’s stop there. Plenty of sermons have been preached about that command, “go and do likewise.” I’ve preached that sermon. And that sermon gets a lot of traction. In this callous world, where human life seems so disposable; where 53 human souls can perish inside a semi-truck, or where people are murdered at a Fourth of July parade; or where a child goes to bed without anything to eat; “go and do likewise” is something we need to hear. We must show mercy. That is the gospel imperative to inherit eternal life. There’s no way around that.
And yet, my gut tells me that there has got to be more than this. Because I know that Jesus didn’t just come to tell us about charity. It must be about something more. So what old house is Jesus renovating?
See, I think that Jesus is making a deeper point about the nature of human relationships and community. The real question at stake is, “who is my neighbor?” And the way that Jesus answers, he’s replaying all the old hits. He’s renovating the old house. All throughout the Old Testament God instructs the people of Israel to treat foreigners as one of their own. Leviticus says, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” It’s not a far jump, it’s not a jump at all, to go from there to the story of the Good Samaritan. Foreigners and aliens, residents and citizens, Jews and Samaritans – in God, they are one people. They are neighbors.
And if we see each other as neighbors, then of course we would help each other out. We don’t help each other because it’s charitable; we help each other because we are one people.
And more than that; being good neighbors is eternal life. That rich, abundant, generous life that God wants for us is possible, it’s right there for the taking, if only we would treat each other as our neighbors.
And that’s what makes this so uncomfortable. Not that Jesus is asking us to do charity, but that Jesus is telling us that we’re all neighbors. He’s making that old thing new, and that’s never easy. Renovating an old house is a pain in the neck. You have to deal with the dust, and the paint, and the noise, and the stuff everywhere. It takes time to bake the chicken and boil the stock. To have a record player, you need a separate room for the turntable, and the speakers, and the records. The old way, would be to see everyone around us as our neighbors. And admit it, that’s a real pain in the neck.
It would be far easier to build the new house; to buy the rotisserie chicken and the boxed broth, to listen to all your music online. It would have been far easier for Jesus to agree with everyone, to go with the flow. It would be far easier for us to bury our heads in the sand; to think of ourselves only; to think of our neighbors as literally, only our neighbors, and only then if they keep they park their cars in front of their house and take care of their trash cans. But the old ways are the ways of life; living in this kind of eternal, generous, Kingdom life is not easy. For why else would our Lord say, “pick up the cross and follow me”?
So I have nothing new to say to you today. I only have something very, very old. The oldest thing, really. In the very beginning, when God created all of us. God did not create us Jews and Samaritans, Christians and Gentiles; God had no distinctions, no separations in mind when he made us. God created one humanity, in God’s own image. And that’s the lesson for today. The story of the Good Samaritan only makes sense when you remember that God created all of humanity as one humanity – saints and sinners, insiders and outsiders, Samaritans and Jews. We are all neighbors. So I’m not going to tell you to do good things; that’s too trite for the pressing issues of the day. No, I’m going to remind you that every single human being is your neighbor because God created every single human being. Everything old has become new again; “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.”