December 7, 2014

Rector’s Reflection – December 7, 2014

This past Tuesday night I was the celebrant at the final ECUSM Eucharist for this semester. We don’t meet during exams, although the prayers still continue!

Earlier in the day, the president of ECUSM asked about the possibility of the group discussing the incidents in Ferguson, MO, during the homily time. He had found some resources on the TEC website and offered to bring copies to the service. I thought this was a grand idea… but the readings I had planned to use weren’t particularly congruent with this topic.

I looked for Bible passages that spoke about God’s justice, love, and grace. I chose Deuteronomy 10:12-20 (‘So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you?…’); Psalm 146; Romans 12:9-18 (‘Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is

good;…’); and Luke 10:25-37, which is the famous parable of the Good Samaritan.

I will have to say that this was one of the best discussions I have had with an ECUSM group. The group was a racial mix and an age mix. We established up front some ground rules for civility, agreeing that folks should feel safe in expressing their beliefs, opinions, and experiences. We also decided that we didn’t want to second-guess the grand jury or rehash events that are a matter of record. And what evolved was a lengthy, intelligent, sincere discussion that could be loosely titled, “so what do we do going forward.”

I told the group that one of the reasons I had chosen the Good Samaritan story was the event that elicited Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan (vv.25-29) in the first place: “Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 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.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”

I think we still want clarification on ‘who is my neighbor,’ because the broader Jesus makes the relationship, the more onerous the task of loving our neighbor becomes. Jesus ends up with a Samaritan being a neighbor… a grubby, repulsive Samaritan, mind you!… to the injured man. Samaria was only 35 miles from Jerusalem. It’s not like a Samaritan was an alien from the other side of the planet.

Our world has gotten smaller. Not physically, perhaps. Samaria would still be 35 miles from Jerusalem, and Jericho would still be 15 miles from Jerusalem, and Nazareth would still be 68 miles from Jerusalem. But in Jesus’ time, people didn’t know what was happening in a town 15 or 35 or 68 miles away. Ferguson, MO, is some 600 miles from Hattiesburg, and yet we know what the town looks like, and what the people who live there look like, and what the damage looks like. We cannot deny that they are our neighbors. What affects Ferguson affects us.

The ECUSM group was very much interested in what they… we… could do to keep something like Ferguson from happening again there, here, or anywhere. Not specific tactics, necessarily, but what changes of heart and mind might we cultivate to make our society better for all.

In the final analysis, I told them, the key to that is the logical next step in the Good Samaritan story. I believe it is important that we tend to the immediate injuries (physical, spiritual, emotional, financial, whatever) of those whom we meet on our metaphorical roads to Jericho, but we are going to save ourselves and others a lot of heartache if we work on making the road safer. At the end of the day, binding up a person’s wounds doesn’t prevent others from being wounded. Eliminating the cause of the wounds is far more efficient, and it is, ultimately, what I think Christians are called to do.