Pentecost 22B, 2009
A Liturgy is also available
ON NOT GIVING UP ON LIFE
Eight years ago a storyteller friend of mine gave me this spent brass bullet casing.
It’s not an ordinary spent bullet casing.
But one now carved and decorated, sold to tourists.
This spent casing, an instrument of killing, came from Sarajevo.
Now with this image before us, let me tell you a story from Sarajevo.
A reporter was covering the then conflict when
he saw a small girl shot by a sniper.
He rushed to a man who had picked up the child,
and helped them both into his car.
Racing to the hospital, the man holding the bleeding child said:
Hurry, my friend, my child is still alive.
A moment or two later: Hurry, my friend, my child is still breathing.
A moment later: Hurry my friend, my child is still warm.
Finally: Hurry. O God, my child is getting cold.
When they got to the hospital, the little girl was pronounced dead.
As the two men were washing the blood off their hands,
the man turned to the reporter and said:
This is a terrible task for me. I must go and tell her father
that his child is dead. He will be heartbroken.
The reporter was amazed. He looked at the grieving man and said:
I thought she was your child.
The man looked back and said: No, but aren’t they all our children?
What we believe about life makes a huge difference to us!
In today's story by Mark, when a scribe asks Jesus
which was the most important commandment,
Mark says Jesus replied with some words very close to what the tradition
says Moses said right after reciting the 10 commandments:
And to reinforce that message, Mark seems to have Jesus
going on to summarise the other commandments
by paraphrasing some other words from Leviticus:
Love your neighbour as you love yourself...
Let’s see if we can unpack all this a bit.
1. Both these sayings are not unique to Jesus, if he indeed did say them.
For ‘followers of Jesus’, what is important, is Jesus is the one
who did not simply teach the double commandment,
but actually embodied it (GJenks, FaithFutures web site 2006).
2. Who is our ‘neighbour’?
I am sure we all remember that our tradition says Jesus once had a conversation
about this very question, and in response, shared
the parable of the so-called ‘Good Samaritan’.
Reflecting on that story, New Testament scholar Robert Funk raised the stakes a bit. From ‘who is my neighbour?’ to
‘whom will I allow to be my neighbour?’
And that puts a whole new light on the Samaritan story!
3. Neighbour as ‘yourself’?
I am assured that in 1st century Jewish thought, ‘as yourself’,
meant ‘as though he or she were yourself’, or
as if you were in the same situation as your neighbour.
Which appears to be what the group called Sabeel,
an ecumenical Christian centre for grassroots Palestinian
liberation theology, is all about.
Greg Jenks, who has an involvement with this group, writes:
“It provides a way for Christians in Israel and Palestine to reflect on their experiences of dispossession and occupation, and to draw strength from the biblical and theological traditions which they share with their Jewish neighbours and, to a different extent, with their Muslim compatriots” (GJenks. FaithFutures web site 2006).
So, back to Mark’s story.
If those two so-called commands - Love God, love neighbour - are the greatest of all,
why didn't Mark’s Jesus quote them, for instance,
to the rich young man when he asked his
‘What must I do to inherit eternal life’ question?
In all the years since my ordination, as you may well imagine,
I have preached on this story from Mark several times.
During one of those occasion I used this short quote:
“Jesus always focuses our attention on God and on others” (WLoader web site).
Reading that comment again, brought back memories of my student days
at Theological College in Melbourne, when I was studying philosophical theology
and fascinated by the ‘god-centred’ naturalistic thought
of American theologian, Henry Nelson Wieman.
So I read on a bit more:
“This is not just modesty, which he expects us to disregard. It is truth, and we disregard it at our own peril. As soon as we shift our focus away from God and others, even if it is towards ‘Jesus’ we make that other, even if we label it ‘Jesus’, an idol... (WLoader web site).
Our story by Mark this morning has two people, usually portrayed
as being on opposite sides of an argument, stopping
and genuinely listening to one another.
One of those is a bloke called Jesus. The other is an unnamed scribe.
In their meeting, these two, according to the storyteller Mark,
find central common ground.
Common ground. Because it’s all a matter of perspective.
“Some things are more important than others or may override others. (And) that also applies among commands attributed to God”
(WLoader web site).
Both Jesus and the unnamed scribe are making a profound theological move.
Speaking from their cultural and religious perspective, God
is the God of love and compassion and, by implication,
that belief or understanding will determine what loving God
and keeping God’s commandments, means.
So paraphrasing what we heard last week in Francis Macnab’s exploration of Psalm 34:
what we believe (about God and) life makes a huge difference to us.
How do we care for each other interpersonally
in ways which do not suffocate or create dependency?
How is the well-being of the neighbour pursued
in the complex issues of asylum seeker and low cost public housing?
How are local communities developed positively
around respect and care for each other,
rather than around a fear of a so-called ‘terrorist’ enemy?
These questions and myriad others require creative human endeavour.
I have an overseas colleague on the Literacy & Liturgy Seminar,
part of the Westar Institute activities, whose web site I always like to check out.
In one of his sermons, Jerry Stinson (First Cong. Ch.,Long Beach web site 2006) says:
“Jesus’ love was a forgiving love, full of mercy and compassion. It was a justice seeking love transcending class, status, wealth. And I think that kind of love calls us to do two things even amidst our fears and anger. First, a Jesus-kind-of-love calls us to resist giving up on ourselves and our world... And the second thing that a Jesus-kind-of-love leads to amidst fear and anger is the ability to hold on to hope... even in situations of anxiety and rage...” (JStinson).
Not giving up on ourselves and our world, and holding on to hope,
is vitally important in our day.
Because what we believe about life makes a huge difference to us.