Thirteenth Day of Lent

Luke 11:5-10
5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

As I write this piece the house is quiet. I’m sitting on a nice, big comfortable chair with our younger dog stretched beside me, his head resting right beside the laptop. I can move, but only enough to reach the keyboard, and the one or two books I have placed close by on the arm of the chair. It’s actually quite cosy and I’m enjoying having this task to do.

Except here comes our older dog. She’s a bit agitated because, though it’s early morning, and our son is still in bed, his bedroom door is closed and she can’t get access to his room to crawl under the duvet with him (which she does very often). So now she’s sitting right beside the chair I’m in, with a pouty face on, and she’s crying up at me. But I can’t be bothered to move to disturb my comfort and that of my companion.

Boy do I know how that neighbour feels!

The thing is, unlike me, who is willing to let this silly dog ‘suffer,’ there is just no way this parable would happen. No way.

Like many Middle Eastern cultures even today the world functioned on the basis of shame and shame avoidance. This was true at both an individual and a community level. So Jesus tells a story of neighbours in a terrible dilemma late at night. It’s significant that the word ‘friend’ is used four times in just four verses. There are two friends who are neighbours and a third who arrives late at night. It was almost an inconceivable embarrassment for the host to have no food with which to welcome the traveller. But it was also shameful for the village.

So it was only if the friend in bed was completely anti-social and a total layabout that he would refuse to roll out of bed to find food for his neighbour and the guest.  

Everybody listening to Jesus tell this parable would know that no friend would refuse to help a friend in such a crisis, and certainly not because he simply didn’t want to get out of bed. No, the friend in bed would do what he was asked because of shamelessness.

A better translation of the Greek might actually be ‘no-shame’ or ‘not-shame,’ and it’s a little complicated to organise the pronouns at this point in the story. Is it the ‘no-shame’ of the person making the request? Or is it the avoidance of shame on part of the person in bed? It is simply not clear. What we know, however, is that in this culture there is no shame in the friend asking for food, even late at night.

Which leave us with the man in bed. Jesus tells us he will respond, if not because of friendship, then at the very least in order to avoid shame and to uphold the honour of the village. The story seems to be saying that even a lazy person will respond to a request for help if for no other reason that he avoids shame and keeps his honour intact.

How much more then will God respond when God’s people ask for help?

And now I have to respond to this crying hound.

God of all good gifts
You are more willing
To respond to our cries
Than we are to call.

Help me to believe that.


Twelfth Day of Lent

Luke 10:30-35
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

The thing about this story is that the priest and the Levite do exactly what they are supposed to do, and everyone listening to Jesus tell this story would do the same. The Law REQUIRED them to pass by on the other side. And nobody would think any higher of the Samaritan for doing what he did because, well, he’s a Samaritan, and they didn’t keep the Law anyway.

That’s because the Law as they understood it was a Law of limitations. They were required to know the minutiae of the Law so that they would know what to do and what not to do. The expert in the Law who prompted Jesus to tell the story, given that he was an expert, had probably kept the Law in its entirety as they understood it, but his question is important. “Who is my neighbour?” said the man (Luke 10:29).

The form of the question is critical to understanding an approach to Law that was the common heritage of many Jews of Jesus day, and, if we’re honest, of many Christians todayl. The intent of the question is to elicit a response which will direct me towards those to whom I owe the duty of neighbourliness, and by extension those to whom I have no responsibility. It is a Law of limitations.

For the priest and the Levite in Jesus story, as well as the expert in the Law who questioned Jesus, the Law always trumped compassion. Faced with a situation in which I am challenged to extend neighbourliness in such a way as would break the Law, then I must ALWAYS keep the Law.

So the priest and the Levite do the right thing. The Law always trumps compassion.

At the end of the story though, Jesus very cleverly changes the question in a quite fundamental way, which reveals Jesus attitude to the Law. Jesus asks “Who was a neighbour to the man?” (Luke 10:36)

For Jesus there is no limitation on neighbourliness and compassion. This is quite revolutionary, even today.

For in Jesus’ understanding, neighbourliness ALWAYS trumps the Law.

Faced with a situation in which I am challenged to extend neighbourliness in such a way as would break the Law, then I must ALWAYS be a neighbour.

Therefore in this parable, the priest and the Levite should have broken the Law to extend help to the beaten man.

I should never hide behind Law, if doing so relieves me of being a neighbour.

And if I am ever in a dilemma of the right thing to do in a situation, then best to err on the side of compassion. Always.

God of love and grace
It would be so much easier to be a disciple
If I could just keep the rules;
If I didn’t have to navigate
The dangerous territories of compassion.

But you seek disciples
With hearts of flesh
And not of stone.

You seek disciples
Who are always willing
To lay aside the law
To bind up wounds.

Make me one of those kinds