Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Guest Post: Where's Your Brother?

Warning: Religious content ahead. However, I am sharing this today because I think it applies to all of us, religious or not, as we look at our responsibilities as members of a community.


So the first reading today – Exodus 19:1-8: Moses and God are on Mt Sinai. Basically, “Obey my commandments, keep my covenant…and you’ll be my treasure, my kingdom of priests!” If they are faithful, they would be set apart – held more responsible for sure, but set apart for a holy purpose.

Second reading – Ephesians 4:1-8, 11-13: Paul talks about how we’re supposed to be together, says something to the effect of - “be patient with each other, bear with each other – because of your love for each other. Stay as united in the Spirit as you can. There is one body… and YOU’RE IT!” Be the body of Christ: together as one in heart, Spirit, will and action.

And the Gospel reading is where Jesus is somewhere in some kind of house teaching. His mother and brothers show up. They stay outside, sending word through a messenger that they are there outside waiting. Jesus gets the message that his mother and brothers are outside waiting. He says basically, “Who are my mother and brothers? Those who do God’s will are my mother and brothers and sisters!” This seems pretty self-explanatory. (Insult to mothers noted) Those who do God’s will are united into community through Jesus.

This is pretty non-controversial. Too bad some people didn’t like him. Those who didn’t like him, it wasn’t for this. Those who didn’t like him, it wasn’t because he spoke of doing God’s will, or blessed children, or healed crippled people. Those who didn’t like him didn’t like him for way more practical reasons. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

God asks Caine – “Where’s your brother?” Caine says: “I don’t know… am I in charge of him?” Well… sort of!

This is the question we’re asked about those around us: “Where’s your brother/sister? The one you don’t like? The one you’re jealous of? The one you don’t really care to be around?” I don’t know… am I in charge of them? Well… sort of!

Here’s where it gets tricky:

It’s not my fault they don’t have health insurance!

It’s not my fault they can’t get good jobs!

It’s not my fault they’re not well educated!

It’s not my fault they don’t speak English!

It’s not my fault they don’t have a place to live!

And there’s more, but you get the idea… "it’s not my fault."

This is all true – it’s not your fault. But it’s not about placing blame. But we make the connection that since it’s not my fault… then it’s not my responsibility.

Am I my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper? Am I in charge of them?

It’s not your fault… but they’re part of your community. I’m placing them in your care. I’m entrusting them to your care.

It’s about doing God’s work!

See, now we’re drifting into politics. And the church isn’t supposed to be involved in politics.

It IS politics in that there’s legislation around these issues, and there are parties and factions disputing the finer points of fiscal policy and social reform. It’s NOT politics in that this legislation and the fiscal policies are centered around real, living people.

THIS is where Jesus goes bad! THIS is where he goes off the reservation!

Jesus: What’s the greatest commandment?

Guy in the crowd: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and your strength… and love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus: Very good!

– And in good Rabbinic style, the guy in the crowd wants clarification

Guy in crowd: Who’s my neighbor?

Jesus: Let me tell you a story. This guy’s walking on the road, going somewhere. He gets robbed, beat up, and left for dead along the road. A priest walks by. He says a prayer or a blessing or something, but aside from that he doesn’t really stop and do anything.Then a little while later, a Levite comes by and sees the man too. He also says some prayer or a blessing or something, but he doesn’t stop either.

– Now here we have to explain a little. The sacrificial side of the Judean religion at the time was centered around their temple. And the temple was served by priests. The priests served on some sort of rotational schedule. And the pool of men called upon to be priests came only from one tribe, the Levites. And they followed the Levitic laws very closely. It has been speculated that neither the priest nor the Levite could stop and do anything because the Levitic law specifically forbade touching a dead body, otherwise they would have become ritually un-clean, and would have had to go through a very lengthy process to become clean again. But… they had some social and religious responsibility towards the people.

Jesus continues: But then a Samaritan walks by, and sees the man lying on the side of the road. He tends to him, he takes him to some form of shelter, and pays his medical bills.

– Another break: Here, you have to understand how very despised the Samaritans were in the eyes of the Judeans eyes. Samaritans were like how some people used to see Gypsies (the Roma people). They were untrustworthy, they would steal from you. They felt towards the Samaritans like how we were taught to think of the Soviets during the Cold War… they had no scruples, no morality like ours. They basically were seen as uncivilized dogs. So for Jesus to say this about a SAMARITAN in a crowd of JUDEANS was almost blasphemous.

Jesus continues: So, who was neighbor to the man who got beat-up?

Guy in crowd: The one who showed mercy

In the text, the man couldn’t even say “The Samaritan”. He’d heard how bad the Samaritans were for so long, that it wasn’t natural to put Samaritan and Good in the same sentence. He says instead “the one who showed mercy”.

Some people didn’t like Jesus because he held up a mirror to the society. He reflected back their prejudices, their intolerances, the parts of their hearts they’d closed off.

And some didn’t like what they saw. And this is partly why some didn’t like him.

And this is why I think Jesus would STILL be rejected today! If Jesus were here today, it wouldn't surprise me if he were involved with social justice issues, marches, civil rights issues, etc. And maybe not on “our” side.

Jesus would still be making commentary on the political issues of our day; but he would put light squarely on the people affected and the lives changed by our policies and laws.

If Jesus came back today, and spoke on these issues, we’d either agree or disagree with him. But I think based on history of the church and the respect we supposedly would have for him, we have to acknowledge that he’d be the arbiter of these positions, right?

Jesus would make clear his position on any number of issues of our day… and we’d either agree or disagree…right?

See, here’s the thing… he’s NOT here! But WE are! We’re here! We’re here and we’re facing these issues.

But Jesus is reminding us – these issues aren’t about some ephemeral, nebulous, “political” issue… they’re about REAL people, with REAL lives, and REAL situations they are facing. That’s what we have to remember.

"Those who do the will of God in heaven are my mother and brothers and sisters."

Our question is… What’s the will of God?

That which brings hope and blessing and life! That which changes not just other’s lives, but our lives.


Thanks to Pastor Chad Kline from Abiding Savior Lutheran Church for allowing me to share his sermon on the blog.


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