Crossing the Line
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow-servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
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?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
There’s a story about a tourist who was driving along in the southern United States and unwittingly stopped at a biker bar.
He saw all the motor bikes, but never thought that it might be trouble.
When he went inside it was filled with bikers wearing Hell’s Angels jackets, who promptly grabbed him took him outside, drew a line in the sand and one of the Hell’s Angels, who appeared to be the leader told him in no uncertain terms not to cross the line.
Whereupon they took chains and tire wrenches and went to work to demolish his car.
After about five minutes of beating up his car, the leader looked back and saw that the tourist was laughing.
“What are you laughing about?” he demanded
The tourist with great mirth replied. “While you were busy, and not looking, I crossed the line at least 5 times.”
I don’t know whether you ever crossed a line. I suspect you did, if you are any way normal.
You may have said something in appropriate. You may have gone too far with teasing or torment or ridicule.
You may have talked behind someone’s back and said something to put them down or hurt them in another person’s eyes.
You may have gone too far in discipline your children, or gone too far with a joke that was racially or culturally insensitive.
Maybe you crossed a line.
Just in the news the other day was a 100 million dollar settlement to women who weren’t RCMP but worked for the RCMP….
Because not one, not two, not a handful, but literally myriads of men crossed the line, and were inappropriate towards women.
Now that is one sense of crossing the line.
Going too far and doing something that one should not do.
But maybe there is another sense of crossing the line.
In 48 BC Julius Caesar took his army and crossed the Rubicon river and entered Northern Italy. The Rubicon was the boundary. By doing so he broke a law which forbade Generals from Entering Italy at the head of their armies. The law presumably in place to prevent rebellions and military coups.
Supposedly Caesar said: “The die has been cast” and so crossing the Rubicon becomes a metaphor of not being able to turn back from a particular action.
Maybe you have crossed a line and you can’t go back.
I remember one time receiving a call to go to another church many years ago. The day for the move came and as I pulled out of town, I said to Fiona. You know if I could change my mind know, I think I would, but the die had been cast.
In retrospect, the church I went to had a number of unresolved issues and I at times regretted that decision to leave, although one can never second guess too much one’s path in life.
Maybe you have crossed a point of no return, or have in the past, and regretted your action or decision.
And there is another sense of crossing a line.
Crossing the line when someone has put up a line to keep certain people out.
Like when 6 year old Ruby Bridges, an African American
girl attended a white only school in 1960, in New Orleans, at the beginning of desegregation in the United States.
There is a term used to refer to how difficult it is for certain people of a certain demographic to advance in business or management or government and the term is the glass ceiling.
Initially it was termed by feminists to refer to the way women were not able to advance in the workforce or be paid less for the same work.
It has come to mean any demographic that is unable to advance, and are treated unfairly.
Face it, women weren’t even considered persons for thousands of years. They got the right to vote in 1918 in federal elections and were only considered persons in Canada in 1929. Some provinces and territories held out for years giving women the vote. But even then, that vote did not include Canadians whose ethnic background was not white.
In fact it is only in 1960 that all adult Canadians were allowed to vote.
Sometimes other terms than Glass Ceiling are used to refer to a particular community. The Bamboo Ceiling refers to discrimination against Asians.
The stained-glass ceiling is about the suppression of women in religious institutions.
The first woman ordained in the United Church of Canada was 1936, the Presbyterian Church USA 1957 and the Presbyterian Church in Canada 1967.
And so sometime for some people crossing the line is the brave thing to do. They cross the line of social convention, exclusion and privilege, for the sake of a greater good, a higher purpose.
The movie “Green Book” one the Academy Award for best picture. It tells about the talented Black Pianist Don Shirley, and how when he was on tour in the Southern States in the 1960’s he was not even allowed to the use the restroom in the very venue where he was playing a concert.
Who creates all the lines?
Who decides who is in and out, who is good and bad? Who is worthy and not worthy, who should be on one side of the line and who is on the other side of the line?
Sometimes we refer to some people as growing up on the other side of the tracks. They grew up in a bad part of town, usually impoverished, poor schools, higher crime rate, gangs, drugs, addiction, whatever…
And in many parts of the world for thousands of years if you came from a lower social class, or a different ethnic group, you were not allowed to pass the line, no matter what.
And that is what makes today’s gospel lesson so intriguing and so compelling.
The story is well known. Maybe even too well-known that we often lose the power of the story, the shock of the story, the otherness of the story.
A lawyer was testing Jesus and asked him about inheriting eternal life. I won’t make too much of this right now, but it doesn’t mean life in a place called heaven for all eternity. To a Jew it meant the age to come in which the Messiah ruled…what life would be like on earth in the Messianic age.
So, I could rephrase that a bit. What would I have to do to be transferred from the devilish kingdom of unjust human rule, to the kingdom where God’s rule of love was the way people lived?
And Jesus in good teacher fashion, asks him back. What do you think?
And he replies. Love God and love your neighbour. He knows this because that is in the Jewish scriptures, what we call our Old Testament,
But then he asks Jesus. Ok. Well and good, but where do I have to draw the line?
Who is my neighbour I have to love, and who are the people I don’t have to love?
And Jesus tells them the story, we now call the Good Samaritan.
The story is of a man who was on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
And it is very correct to use the word down. Jerusalem was at an elevation of 2500 ft above sea level and Jericho was just north of the dead sea, some 800 or so feet below sea level.
In the space of 20 kilometers, one went one kilometer down.
And so, in Jesus’ day though it was a busy trail, it was little more than a foot trail that went through a pass and wound its way down in the valley of the Jordan river. It had a lot of traffic, merchants and pilgrims etc, because the way from Galilee or Northern Israel was to walk cross over the Jordan from west to east and walk down the east bank of the Jordan River and cross over near Jericho and go on up to Jerusalem.
The road was steep and treacherous and it offered bandits at times easy prey. Places to hide, uncomfortable terrain for the travellers and lots of potential victims.
It doesn’t ring that true that a man would walk it alone, nor a Priest, nor a Levite, nor a Samaritan. Usually you went with a crowd for safety.
So, there is a metaphor here about the Road to Jericho, that refers to being alone, to being vulnerable, being subject to attack or victimization.
Where or what is your road to Jericho?
And the man is beat up and left for dead. Along comes a Priest and passes by. Along comes a Levite and passes by.
Interestingly enough these are the two sorts of people who are the ones who have been drawing the lines for the Jews about who is in and who is out.
The Priests are in charge of the temple. They are the official clergy of the Jews. They are the ones who decide who is acceptable to worship at the temple and what offerings are acceptable.
And in Jesus’ day may I remind you how many were not acceptable to worship. Anybody who wasn’t a Jew wasn’t acceptable. Women were not acceptable. Children were not acceptable. And then there was a whole long list of things one could do that made them unclean. If your father died and you had to bury him, you were unclean. After so many day you made an offering and the priest declared you clean.
Touching certain animals, eating certain foods, going into the house of a Gentile. People who were sick or had a physical impairment were unacceptable to worship. On it went.
The Priests were the arbiters of the lines.
The Scribes were the people who studied the scriptures and helped come up with all the rules. There were 900 rules concerning the Sabbath. The scribes were the ones who would say. This is where you find it in the scriptures. They were legalists.
And Jesus often lumped the Scribes in together with the Pharisees in his condemnation of people who actually kept people away from God, by their rules and legalism.
So, Jesus tells the story about two people who create the lines about who is in and who is out, about who is neighbour and who is not…
And how they pass by and don’t include the man who is hurt.
Now in the normal course of telling a story, this was a common formula for a story in Jesus day. There was a priest and scribe and an ordinary Jew.
And so the listeners are thinking that Jesus is going to have an ordinary Jew come along and be the hero.
But it isn’t an ordinary Jew. It is a Samaritan. A hated despised Samaritan. Some kind of half-breed, heretic, traitor.
They were almost as bad as the Romans. There was a long history of enmity between Samaritans and Jews going back to the time when the Jews came back from exile and rebuilt the temple some 500 years earlier, and found the Samaritans who lived there not too happy about the Jews taking over the land they lived in. And the Samaritans had colluded with the Syrians against the Jews.
It is like so-called religious wars everywhere. It was deep and long and multifaceted, religion, politics, culture, fighting over land and control, power and existence.
No way would this Samaritan be called good. In fact, even when the lawyer speaks about him, he doesn’t say the word Samaritan. He says, “the one who helped him.”
There are lines and there are lines. And the Samaritan is definitely outside the line. The Samaritan to put it bluntly is hated.
And yet it is this enemy who cares, who shows compassion and by the story is the neighbour.
(do the blow your mind thing with your hands)
It blew their minds.
You see if this was a Samaritan, he would have been taught to hate Jews, and yet his heart won out.
And how contemporary is this story in the way we draw lines about who is in and out in this world. In the face of refugee and immigration controversies, racial and ethnic hatreds and hate crimes, border walls and lack thereof and who is allowed into the country, banning religious symbols, LBGTQI discrimination, equality for women, church and denominational schisms and controversies, we wonder if the world is any different today.
And how many victims still lie in the ditches in our day? How many poor children are on the reservations and in our communities? How many homeless? How many are refugees? How many women are abuse or raped? How many Aboriginal women have gone missing?
How many suffer at the hands of those who are violent?
How many people are lonely or isolated? How many people have mental health issues? How many people are in family conflict? How many people who have different coloured skin, are discriminated against?
Jesus not only tells us that these are our neighbours, he goes one further.
Your enemy is your neighbour.
I quote from Dan Clendinin’s post on the site Journey with Jesus:
Jesus welcomed the people that we ignore and despise. The sexually suspicious. The religiously impure. Ethnic outsiders. Rich tax scammers and lazy poor people. Soldiers of the Roman oppressors. The chronically sick and the mentally deranged. Women with multiple marriages, widows, and children. His closest disciples who betrayed him.
Jesus had compassion even on the enemy and crossed the line and helped those in the ditches, even those people everyone thought deserved to be in the ditches.
And the church has a long list of those we thought should be in ditches, Jews, Muslims, Catholics if you were Protestant and Protestants if you were Catholic, Heretics, Atheists, Gays, Lesbians, Blacks, Asians, Abortionists, Witches, Unmarried mothers, Nazis, Adulterers… and sometimes the Church, and branches of the church and we all, struggle with whether certain ones belong in a ditch or just who should be helped.
But may I remind you. Jesus crossed the line and pulled me out of a ditch.
May I remind you. Jesus crossed the line and pulled you out of a ditch and poured oil on your wounds, forgave your sins, put you on his trusty donkey and found you an inn, a safe place where you are accepted and healing begins, where your cup runneth over with forgiveness, and your table is full of the food of love.
Brian McLaren wrote a book entitled “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?”
It is a bit of a take-off on the old joke about why the chicken crossed the road. To get to the other side.
And his point was that the similarity of all those religious figures is that they crossed the road to discover the other as neighbour, and to show solidarity with those on the other side of the line.
In one chapter, McLaren talked about Mahatma Gandhi and how this Hindu crossed the road and crossed the lines that separate us. How this Hindu took the words of Jesus literally, and crossed the line that separates us and them. How this Hindu shows Christians.. how to be more like Jesus.
Everyone is crossing roads and lines. Some cross them to get back to their own side, because they are afraid, or have prejudice, and like the priest and Scribe, want to stay safe behind the lines in their own little group or family, or culture or world.
But there are those like the Samaritan who cross the line and the road, because they are filled with compassion; because they love all people; because there are no lines in the world, just humans; because all of us in this world are in the ditch from time to time; because all of us are God’s children…
Because we know deep down inside that is the way we were created to be: neighbours to one another. Amen.