But either way, Jesus tells his disciples, rejoice that your names are written in heaven. Rejoice that you were sealed in baptism. Rejoice that when your name was called, you answered; you came up, you used the weakness of the moment to seize God’s promises for you. That’s the miracle. That’s the defeat of Satan and his empty promises and his power.
In the story Jesus tells, the Samaritan doesn’t say any of that. He is moved with pity. He sees the wounded man and doesn’t see a moral puzzle to solve. He isn’t out looking for ways to do good or make himself into a better person. He simply sees a fellow human who is suffering, who will die if he goes without water for four days, who will bleed to death in minutes or hours if his wounds are not bound up, who will wither away from infection if he is not cleaned. Who sweats and breathes and passes gas and loved his mother and misses his children and is less than perfectly honest and could do better and be better but who most importantly is there. Before the Samaritan’s eyes.
But what if these three assumptions are not always true? What if people don’t feel the need to build their Sunday—much less their life—around God? What if people have reason to believe they will not be greeted warmly at a church, whether because of their sexual orientation or their ethnicity or anything else? What if people really have felt unwelcome and unwanted, even among good church goers?
It’s as if he were to say, “Go, seek God, have spiritual experiences, work for social justice, redeem the academic project, build a growing and spirit-filled worshiping community if that’s what you want to do, but please, please don’t follow me. It will only bring you sorrow and bitterness.”
If you’re operating a plough, you need to make a straight row. If you’re looking back at your house—there are your friends waiting for you; there’s dinner being cooked; there’s your bed, which you left too early and will get back to late—you’re going to make a crooked row. And each row that follows will be worse. But in the mouth of Jesus, this country wisdom takes on a new meaning: If you put your hand to the plough of discipleship and look back, you’ll never be fit for the kingdom of God.
We spend our lives in this world trying to find a home. Trying to make a home. We rent a place or buy a place or we stay with friends. We bring our bag of belongings to a church basement. We get on a plane to go from a refugee camp to a new country that’s been willing to receive us. We decorate. We personalize. Even detained immigrant children will try to give some beauty to their surroundings.
Too bad we had to walk down, I said to one guy. Yeah, it would be better if we could float. The stars and moon and the water and the friends and the chemical enhancement made the proposition sound almost plausible–as if the world would make a special arrangement for us that one time to mark all we had done and been in that place and to acknowledge the love and gratitude we overflowed with so painfully.
Meals make us human. But this meal, that you are celebrating for the first time today, is the most important of all. Every meal shared around a table connects us to each other. This meal connects you to Jesus. Every meal creates community. This meal creates you anew in Jesus. Every meal gives us part of the world. This meal gives you heaven. Meals make us human, but this meal makes you one with God.
It’s good to have projects. It’s important to expand oneself with tasks that go beyond the boundaries of daily needs. And it’s hard to live with only the exigency of the moment. Closer and closer it comes–the meal, the sermon, the meeting, the Wednesday night Lent worship talk, the coughing that pierces the night, the shopping for baseball gear–like the secret police, narrow escape after narrow escape until the knock comes before you’ve had the chance to slip out the back door.
These arguments are, briefly, all balderdash. Yes, the stories are strange and filled with mystery. No, they do not create one consistent picture of that morning and the days that follow. But the doubt and confusion are written into the story from the start. This is not a confidence game or a fraud or a metaphor. The stories would look totally different if they were. The people who were there believed this had happened. What and how, exactly, they couldn’t say. But it was unbearably, unbelievably real to them.