Homily for Proper 10, Year C
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
July 14, 2019
The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart
Moses speaks these words to the people in our first reading, but all of the Word of God we read today is very near to us. In fact, our Gospel is such a familiar story that I can remember hearing it since my earliest days as a child in Sunday School. I’ve read it, I’ve studied it, I’ve even preached on it…my very first church sermon preached right here from this pulpit, as a matter of fact! But even though I’ve read this passage so many times, something new always comes through. It wasn’t until this week, for example, that I noticed just how many professions are specifically mentioned by name in this one short passage: Lawyer, Teacher, Priest, Temple-worker, Innkeeper…if we want, we could even add “Robber” to that list. As they say, it’s a living.
But all joking aside, it made me consider that the work we perform in the world can and does shape the way that we think, as well as how we hear and respond. In today’s Gospel, it becomes clear that Jesus the Teacher knows this, too. It’s one of the reasons Jesus employs parables as what I might even call the signature pedagogy of his teaching ministry. Jesus uses this form of the parable to hold the familiar routines of people’s lives while transforming them into gateways to understand the realm of God in new ways.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus the Teacher was approached by a lawyer with a question. Jesus, the Wise Teacher knew that the question posed by the precise lawyer was really a rhetorical question-behind-the-question. It begged a particular answer which could be cast into doubt through its detail-level semantics. And so, Jesus responds first on face value, pointing him to the most familiar common point of their shared Jewish heritage and teaching:. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength” which is then followed with, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When the lawyer pushes the issue further, he chooses to emphasize the detail of law over the heart of faith. Jesus the teacher recognizes that vocational lens, but also unfolds a parable that offers the lawyer…and all those listening…a doorway to a deeper, teachable moment.
I believe that this familiar parable holds the same potential for each and every one of us.
I was once given a seminary assignment to re-write this parable in my own words. For that memorable assignment, I decided to paraphrase this Gospel lesson through my professional lens as a social worker. As I was working with the lectionary texts this week, that assignment returned freshly into my mind. I searched in my files, and when I found what I had written, I was stunned by its timeliness and relevance for me today.
The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.
And so I share this paraphrase of the Word with you today:
Suddenly, in the middle of class, a student raised her hand: “Professor, what can I do to be an exceptional social worker?” she asked. The Professor said, “You can follow the NASW Code of Ethics: Do you remember what it says?” And she answered, “Social Workers actively work to promote social and economic justice. You should respect the dignity and worth of every human being; You should honor the value of relationships, practice empathy, and foster self-determination in all your clients.” And the Professor said, “You have given the right answer; you shall pass!”
But, testing her point further, she then said to the Professor, “But, who are my clients?” The Professor thought a moment and replied: “A woman was walking through an unfamiliar area downtown, when suddenly two muggers attacked her. They dragged her into an ally and robbed her of her bag, her wallet, and her phone. They ran off, leaving her bruised and beaten, propped up in a doorway. A therapist, on break between clients, passed by her, seeing yet another revolving door alcoholic sleeping one off in the alley. A community organizer strolled by, rolling her eyes at the stoned, homeless prostitute lying in the very place she was hoping to plan a community rally. But, then an undocumented worker scurried by, hoping not to be late for her third part-time job of the day. She stopped suddenly and felt her heart in her throat, realizing that the slumped over mound in the doorway she just passed was a person. She immediately went over to her, and reached into her own purse to gather the first aid supplies she carried for the elderly woman she watched in the night. She pulled out some towels she had salvaged from the recycle bin at the house she had just finished cleaning. She washed the woman’s wounds gently with some hand-soap and cleaning wipes, bandaged up her cuts, and spread the last of her hand-cream lovingly over her bruised hands, telling her she was not alone and she would be ok. She wrapped her arms around the woman and they moved slowly, step-by-step toward a more gentrified street where they reached the airbnb of her bosses, the people for whom she was about to clean that afternoon. She knocked, and the head of the household answered. She explained in a mix of English and Spanish that she would still clean for them that day; but this woman was hurt and needed a safe place to say where she could be cared for. She explained she would pay, deducted from her wages, to be sure she had a bed to sleep in, food to eat, and a safe place to stay that night. The owner was moved and welcomed them in.
The Professor then said to the student: “Which of these, do you think, was a social worker to the woman who was mugged?” The student said, “The one who had empathy, who was compelled to deep caring.” The Professor said to her: “Go, and be that change you want to see in the world.”
What happens when you allow this Gospel lesson to play out with your own voice and your own life? That isn’t a rhetorical question. I want you to take a moment and really think about it. I read a CBS news article this week about how it looks for one woman, Elisa Filippone, who lives on the Texas border and works near the Brownsville and Matamoros bridge where asylum seekers are spending months waiting to cross for asylum. She fills her backpack with tacos, water and hygiene supplies and walks them over the bridge each day before leaving work. When asked she said, “The situation is happening three blocks from where I work. Three blocks from where I live. I cannot just pretend that there are not 50 people on the side of the bridge who need food and clothing….I can’t forget it and go about my life, knowing that it is happening three blocks from where I live.”
So, I’m going to ask you to pause and consider a few questions:
- What is the lens of vocation through which you approach Jesus?
- What is your question for Jesus?
- What values does Jesus speak which guide you?
- Who are your role models and what happens when they let you down?
- Who do you expect to be the one who helps?
- Whose generosity of help surprises you and why is it a surprise?
- Who are the presumed untrustworthy groups in your own life?
- And last but certainly not least: Who is your neighbor?
The world in which we live needs us to reflect on these questions…to answer them…but more importantly, to live them. We, as people of this world cannot continue to walk by the world’s brokenness and simply feel overwhelmed by it. The need is too great; our hearts must also be moved to compassion. This week we have the charge to make the words of this parable the reality of our lives. When people in this world are lying broken in the ditch, we will all be someone in this story. And the good news is, we can walk that road not once, but multiple times. We can get better on reflecting on it role each and every time. Reflecting on these questions helps us know who, and why, and how we are called to act, individually and as the Body of Christ. It’s the lesson that Jesus, our teacher, gives to us ponder today.
The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart