This Is What A Good Samaritan Looks Like (Sunday Homily)

Today’s Gospel selection, the familiar story of the Good Samaritan, couldn’t be timelier.

It’s read at a juncture in American history, where a Christian acting specifically according to the teaching of Jesus’ parable faces 20 years in prison. His crime? He provided food, water, lodging and hospitality to people whom the Trump administration would rather see die of thirst and exposure, because the president considers them sub-human.

I’m talking about Dr. Scott Warren (pictured above), a humanitarian aid volunteer and immigration rights activist. For years, he has worked with an organization called No More Deaths (NMD). Its members leave water jugs, clothing, and medical supplies for refugees and immigrants crossing the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona. Warren and NMD also keep track of the numerous cadavers they find there and have filmed U.S. border agents emptying more than 3000 NMD water jugs in their clear effort to create more deaths by dehydration. In fact, those border agents are the sadistic executioners who staff Mr. Trump’s concentration camp system. (Watch what they do in this film clip. Doesn’t their sadism remind you of the Nazis we’ve all seen in all those WWII movies?)

Coincidently, I guess, and soon after filming the murderers, Warren was arrested and tried for aiding two undocumented migrants. A hung jury failed to convict him. However, the Trump administration wants the man retried – again, for the crime of obeying Jesus’ mandate in today’s reading. (In fact, most reports of Warren’s case specifically invoke the imagery of “the Good Samaritan.”) His second trial will take place in November.

The sad irony is that so many of Trump’s supporters consider themselves Christians. Their single “Christian” issue seems to be abortion about which Jesus and the Bible in general says absolutely nothing. Nothing at all! And yet, when someone obeys Jesus’ clear and unambiguous teaching as in today’s Gospel, they want Jesus’ follower punished to the full extent of the law whose essence Moses describes as Love in today’s first reading.

It’s like what happened in Germany after Hitler came to power. There, the birthplace of Luther and his Reformation, Christians not only enthusiastically approved of der Fuhrer; they worked in his concentration camps. And then (as Elie Wiesel puts it) after cremating Jews all week, they went to confession on Saturday and received communion on Sunday. They could do so, because, mirroring Trump’s attitude towards immigrants, they believed Jews were sub-human.

That’s the same attitude Jews themselves in Jesus’ day had towards Samaritans. They were considered enemies of the state, because their ancestors back in the 8th century BCE, intermarried with Assyrian occupiers of the Jewish homeland. Intermarriage rendered Samaritans unclean. They were as sub-human as Trump’s immigrants or Hitler’s Jews.

So Jesus’ making a Samaritan the hero of his challenging parable, and contrasting the outcast’s compassion with the “couldn’t-care-less” attitude of professional holy men – the priest and the Levite – connects directly with the hypocrisy of Christians, the Trump administration, and those border agents all of whom have criminalized the fundamental human right of immigration.

No; I’m wrong:  they’ve actually criminalized God’s law of love as described throughout today’s liturgical readings. Read them for yourself here. In any case, what follows is my “translation” of their main ideas:  

 DT 30: 10-14
 
The Great Liberator, Moses
Exhorted the former slaves
To return to LOVE
The most obvious, uncomplicated
Reality
In the world.
 
PS 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37

Love is all we need
From Life Itself.
It is always kind
And helpful
Overflowing with gifts
And ready to protect
The poor, the imprisoned,
The exiled,
And those in pain.
Yes: All we need is Love.
 
COL 1:15-20
 
Jesus, the Christ
Shows what Love means –
That absolutely everything
Was created for Love,
The bond, the glue
That holds us all together
In complete at-one-ment
Transforming the human race
Into a single body
Despite resistance
And crucifixion
By a hostile world.
 
LK 10: 25-37

For Jesus (like Moses)
Love of God and Neighbor
Is the only law
Promising fullness of life.
The two laws are one.
Being “neighbor”
Means rejecting
The ignorance of
Professional holy men
And politicians,
Adopting instead
The compassion of
The very minorities
We’re taught to hate
Who provide
Health care, transportation,
Lodging, mercy
Follow-up,
And money,
For those they have every reason
To hate.
That’s what it means
To love Our very Self!

Moses was right: Love is really all we need. It couldn’t be clearer. Jesus was right: Love is God’s only law. There is no other.

Trump, his followers and agents are wrong. They are criminal.

Or as the Master put it in another place (MT 10:42) “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

The Irrelevance of Religion in the Eyes of Jesus (Sunday Homily)

Good Sam Pic

Readings for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time: DT. 30: 10-14; Ps. 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 34, 36-37; Col. 1: 15-20; Lk. 10: 25-37.

What do you think? Does God care about religion? Does She need it? Do we? Does She even care if we’re Christian, Muslim, Jew or atheist?

Today’s Gospel reading – the familiar parable of “The Good Samaritan – seems to answer “no” to all of those questions.

The tale addresses the problems of crime and violence and of proper human response. Surprisingly, the recommended response is not “religious” at all, but humanitarian. It is unadorned motherly compassion by a specifically irreligious actor.

Jesus makes that point by creating a fictional account where the hero is despicable in the eyes of his audience. He is a Samaritan. Meanwhile, the villains of the piece are religious leaders – a priest and a Levite (virulent enemies of the Goddess religions that biblical patriarchs detested). .

In Jesus’ time, Samaritans were social outcasts belonging to a group of renegade Jews who (by Jesus’ time) had been separated from the Jewish community for nearly 1000 years. They were seen as having polluted the Jewish bloodline by intermarrying with the country’s Assyrian conquerors about 700 years earlier. Female goddesses figured prominently in the religions of ancient Assyria.

As a result, Jewish priests and Levites considered Samaritans “unclean;” they were traitors, enemy-sympathizers, heretics and even atheists. They rejected Jewish understandings of the patriarchal Yahweh and the Temple worship that went along with them. For priests and Levites, Yahweh was interested in temple sacrifice and abstract law.

And yet the Good Samaritan is found to be more worthy, more pleasing in God’s eyes than the priest or Levite, who enjoyed great prestige among Jews as “men of God.”

Yes, Jesus prefers the Samaritan because his actions speak much louder than the religious orthodoxy of Israel’s holy men or than the word “Samaritan” would allow. The outcast expresses typically female compassion; so Jesus approves.

In this way, Jesus’ story calls his audience (and us!) to transcend socially prescribed categories, patriarchy, and even religion in dealing with problems of crime and violence. In fact, the crimes addressed in the parable are not primarily robbery and physical abuse. They are indifference, denial, and patriarchy’s religious hypocrisy.

The solution to such crimes along with robbery and violence is not found in religion, theology or temple sacrifices. It lies simply in compassionate action – in “being there” for victims.

As always, then, Jesus’ words invite us to reconsider our very understanding faith, and our favorite categories of “good” and “evil” — and the identity of God Herself.

Perhaps religion is not that important for followers of Jesus after all — nor to the Great Cosmic Mother..

When the Government Turns Criminal: Edward Snowden and the Good Samaritan (Sunday Homily)

Snowden

Readings for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time: DT. 30: 10-14; Ps. 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 34, 36-37; Col. 1: 15-20; Lk. 10: 25-37. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071413.cfm

In his recent book about the parables of Jesus (The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus), John Dominic Crossan poses the question: What happens to your world when the “best” people act badly and only the “worst” do what is right?

That scenario seems to be playing itself out in the case of Edward Snowden.

Snowden, you recall, is the NSA contractor and CIA employee who last month disclosed a vast secret program of U.S. government spying on its own citizens and on individuals, corporations, and governments throughout the world.

The program (Prism by name) seems to violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Snowden made his disclosures three months after James Clapper, the Director of U.S. intelligence had denied its existence in testimony (under oath) before the Senate Committee overseeing the U.S. intelligence program. Snowden’s disclosures also followed hot on the heels of President Obama’s publically expressed concern that China was illegally spying on the U.S. in exactly the same way (though on a smaller scale) that the U.S. turns out to have been spying on China and its own allies.

For his troubles in exposing such lies, hypocrisy, and violations of the Constitution, Snowden himself has been designated a spy, traitor, and enemy of the United States – categories applied to its worst enemies. As a pariah in his own country, he has fled the United States and sought asylum in various countries including China, Russia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Snowden (and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International) alleges that if extradited to the U.S. he is unlikely to receive a fair trial, but instead to be tortured and indefinitely imprisoned like other whistleblowers such as Bradley Manning.

All of the countries just mentioned have histories less-than-friendly to U.S. interests, which they have each described as criminally imperialistic. Other “good” countries such as France and Germany have (under great pressure from the United States) refused Snowden asylum.

Meanwhile, James Clapper has not been charged with perjury, and President Obama has managed to deflect attention away from constitutional violations to the search for the fugitive Snowden.

In other words, the Snowden Affair presents us with a “Spy,” “Traitor,” and “Terrorist Sympathizer” obeying his conscience in his exposure of government crime. He has done the right thing. Meanwhile, the President of the United States, himself a constitutional lawyer, has been caught violating the Constitution, and the Director of Intelligence has been exposed as a perjurer. And on top of that, friendly countries often lauded by the United States as models of democracy refuse to respect International Law governing asylum seekers. Only the “bad countries” are willing to honor that law.

In this situation, the question Crossan posed earlier finds uncomfortable relevance: “What happens to your world if a story records that your “best” people act badly and only your “worst” person acts well?”

As I said, Crossan asks that question in the section of his book commenting on “The Good Samaritan” which is the focus of the gospel selection in today’s Liturgy of the Word.

The parable, of course, is very familiar. Almost all of us know it nearly by heart. Typically sermons find its point in simply calling us to be “follow the Samaritan’s example, treat everyone as your neighbor, and help those you find in trouble.”

That’s a good point, of course. But Jesus’ own intention went beyond simply providing an example of a good neighbor. More profoundly, it focused on the hypocrisy of “the good” and the virtues of designated enemies. As such, the story calls us to transcend those socially prescribed categories and look at actions rather than words of both the “good” and “bad.”

More specifically, the hero of Jesus’ story is a Samaritan. According hero status to such a person would be unthinkable for Jesus’ listeners. After all, Samaritans were social outcasts belonging to a group of renegade Jews who (by Jesus’ time) had been separated from the Jewish community for nearly 1000 years. They had also polluted the Jewish bloodline by intermarrying with the country’s Assyrian conquerors about 700 years earlier.

Jews considered Samaritans “unclean;” they were traitors, enemy-sympathizers, heretics and even atheists. They rejected Jewish understandings of Yahweh and the Temple worship that went along with it.

And yet in the story, Jesus finds the Samaritan to be more worthy, more pleasing in God’s eyes than the priest or Levite. That’s because the Samaritan’s actions speak much louder than the word “Samaritan” would allow. He is compassionate; so Jesus approves.

In the meantime, the priest and the Levite lack compassion. Their actions condemn them.

They say that slightly more than 50% of the American people think Edward Snowden is a traitor and spy. And this despite the fact that his accusers have advanced no evidence to that effect – and despite polls that indicate a solid majority believing that the government’s surveillance program is objectionable if not clearly unconstitutional.

Today’s parable invites us to reconsider – not just Snowden, but our very understanding of the world and its categories of “good” and “evil.”

Perhaps we’re looking for the real criminals, traitors, spies, and terrorists in exactly the wrong places.