Sermon: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Texts: Luke 10:25-37; Colossians 1:15-20
“Go and Do Likewise”

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

I occasionally visit the Internet; and find it a fascinating source of information, news, entertainment and occasionally something useful. However, the website stupidlaws.com is not one of them, unless you are looking for real life examples of stupid laws from around the world.

For example, did you know that

• In Arkansas in the USA, a man can legally beat his wife, but not more than once a month.
• In Chester, you can only shoot a Welsh person with a bow and arrow inside the city walls and after midnight (so we’d better both Kelly Broster and Shirley Southerd!)
• In the State of Oregon, Ministers of Religion are forbidden from eating garlic or onions before delivering a sermon (check breath – I think we’re all right this morning)
• Apparently if Florida it is illegal to have sex with a Porcupine. Best just move on and not comment on that one, I think.
• Throughout this green and pleasant land, all Englishmen over the age of 14 are required to undertake at least 2 hours of archery practice a week, to be supervised by the local clergy; so if you’d all like to come with me…

You hear of some laws and wonder what led to the introduction of them, who or what they were pitched against and why no-one has bothered to repeal them, other than to give us something to amuse ourselves with on a Sunday morning.

I have a friend who works at Portsmouth Magistrate’s Court and he repeatedly tells me that at the magistrate’s court they administer the law, not justice; as though in recognising that the law and justice can be quite different beasts entirely. At times, the law appears to be a mockery of itself.

But for the Jews in Our Gospel this morning, there was no such ambivalence. The Law was good, it was sweet, it was a delight. The Jew lived for the observance of the Law. For them, it came from God, not from human beings, and God’s commands could not be subject to argument. They demanded all the heart, all the soul, all the might.

The inspired writer of Deuteronomy reports that God told his people that this word, the Word of the Law, was very near to them — in their mouths and in their hearts.

For centuries the struggle to observe the Law kept the people of Israel and Judah focused on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The prophets in their midst, reaching the highest understanding of God, recognized that obedience was the best sacrifice one could offer to God.

Still, the struggle to observe the minutiae of the Law continued. The outward observance of the Law was always easier and certainly more obvious to those who watched others in order to judge them. And the people who paid attention to appearances were content to think of themselves as righteous.

Into this preoccupation with the externals of the law, steps Jesus, an acknowledged teacher and healer, a rabbi who talks of God and God’s kingdom as no one else has done, and he confounds them:

• If someone sick comes to him on the Sabbath, he does not hesitate to heal that person.
• If a woman who is an outcast, a Canaanite, asks him to heal her child, he listens to the prayer of the foreigner and heals her child.
• He does not keep himself aloof from tax collectors, even though he is equally at home with proper, respectable people.

He doesn’t seem to care too much for the outward niceties of the Law. He tells them clearly that the Sabbath (the law) was made for the people, not the people for the Sabbath (the law).

Many are highly offended, and scared: What will happen if that which we know as right collapses? How can we know the righteous from the unrighteous if we cannot judge obedience to the Law from outward appearances?

They don’t want the security of the familiar to disappear. They will have to think for themselves, and that is a challenge for many people.

Others are very attracted to this young prophet who, instead of bringing gloom and doom, is filling Galilee and its surroundings with his loving presence. They want to know his secret. They want to have what he has — a peace that comes only from close, daily communion with God. They want to enter, to inherit the kingdom of heaven. So they come to Jesus to ask him. We have several such instances in the Gospels. This one, in Luke, brings forth one of the most beautiful stories ever told, that of the Good Samaritan.

In Luke’s story, it is a lawyer who asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus who respects the scriptures of his people refers the inquirer to what he, being a lawyer must know — the Mosaic Law. The lawyer answers correctly with what the Jews called the Shema, from “Hear oh Israel,” and the magnificent words about loving God with our whole heart, soul and mind and our neighbour as ourselves. Jesus tells him that his answer is correct. “Do this and you will live.” But the man finds a stumbling block in the last part “and your neighbour as yourself.” And asks the question, “Who is my neighbour?”

In the story that we all know and love, Jesus tells to illustrate his answer, the wounded man is bypassed by two of the most respectable, religious representatives of the community, a priest and a lay assistant.

They pretend they don’t see the dying man. It is easier to pretend not to see, much less bother. They are both so busy; their hands are clean, their clothes proper, they must not be soiled with blood and mud.

It is easier this way; we don’t need to have our time taken up by unexpected distractions — better not to dirty our hands and clothes — we are respectable people.

We might want to reflect on all the victims we have bypassed in our lifetime: and how we might seek to redress that.

But the Samaritan, the known outcast, is not bothered by outward niceties. He stops and offers help — the kind of help that takes responsibility, that is not here today and gone tomorrow.

He takes the victim to the inn, he treats the wounds with his own hands, he stays with him through the night, he pays the bill, and he comes back to check on him.

“Which one of the three, do you think, was a neighbour?” The answer is, “The one who showed him mercy.” “Go and do likewise,” is the simple command of Jesus. Do likewise, show mercy.

The bearing of fruit was the Jewish idea of doing good, of showing mercy.

St. Paul’s teaches the Galatians to leave the enslavement of the minutiae of the Law behind and to feel the freedom that comes from God’s grace through Jesus Christ. It is impossible for us to observe the Law on our own, he tells the Galatians. But Jesus has freed us from enslavement to outward rules and regulations. We now walk in the light of freedom.

With the power and grace of God through Jesus Christ we can indeed go out and do likewise, show mercy to our neighbours, bear fruit.

In the another part of Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, the emphasis shifts to the bearing of fruit.
“. . . 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.”

It is a good thing to remember, to take with us as we leave this place today — the vision of the Good Samaritan, the words of our Lord:

“Go and do likewise,” the exhortation to the Colossians: “Bear fruit in every good work.”

These laws are not stupid, these laws are not outdated or anachronistic, but are the fundamentals of society, a timeless truth and an eternal justice: My brothers and sisters in Christ, we have the instruction: Go and do likewise

Amen.