Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
On Thursday night our Bible Study group convened at Pitt Street Uniting Church for a workshop with Seattle-
A religion of Empire has to do with power concentrated in the hands of an elite group – power exercised in the interests of a wealthy king and a heavily fortified temple/city – power lorded over the majority, exploiting the faith of the poor, exploiting the earth and its resources – modeled on Babylonian, Assyrian and Roman rule. A religion of Empire has to do with identifying insiders and outsiders – internal conflicts are resolved by scapegoating strangers and others deemed impure, dangerous, morally suspect, and so on. The stories in the Bible that tell of the kings, of the kingdoms, conquests and humiliations, of desires for a powerful and impregnable city, a mighty warrior Messiah, model a religion of Empire. At base, a belief in redemptive violence (the violence of the righteous over the unrighteous) animates and motivates.
My own experience of this type of religion is an experience of fundamentalism – a religion of fear, rules, patriarchy/patriotism, racism, homophobia, conformity and collusion with dominant legal, economic and political forces. You might have your own terms and examples. I mentioned recently Søren Kierkegaard’s critique of the social-
A religion of Creation, on the other hand, has to do with the divine presence in the earth, in and through different cultures, creatures and peoples – the divine presence as power shared that all might be housed, fed, freed and valued. The Creation and Exodus stories, the words of the prophets in the name of justice, the apocalyptic unveilings of imperial seduction and manipulation – these are some of the examples of witness to the God of a religion of Creation.
Jesus was born into a thousand-
Today’s Gospel shows it very clearly. One form of religious identity and observance gives priority to ritual purity – the priest and the Levite do not stop to help a wounded traveler for fear of being contaminated by blood or death. The shocking element in the parable is that the Samaritan is the one who shows compassion. Judeans (later, Jews) and Samaritans regarded one another with suspicion and hatred. Each regarded the other an imperfect and impure expression of Abrahamic faith. The Samaritans traced their lineage to the ancient Israelites, and so hostilities between Judeans and their northern neighbours in Samaria carried memories of failed experiments in monarchy and a divided kingdom.
If the Samaritan is the exemplar of faith, then it ceases to matter who is in and who is out. What matters is neighbourly love – compassion for the wounded and the dying, costly generosity, simple kindness.
In responding to a legal nitpicker by way of such a parable and its injunction to “go and do likewise”, Jesus repudiates all claims to “eternal life” (holy life, righteous life, justice, the good life, wisdom, prosperity, blessedness) without reference to compassion. Any way we say this is likely to soften and weaken the Word.
Religious ritual is practice in compassion – and there is no limit to neighbourly love. How can there be when the invitation is to become a neighbour oneself? What we are given, the gift of Good News, as a great many scholars note, is an image of God’s own hospitality, God’s own compassion. “In the ministry of Jesus, which the Church has to continue, God offers extravagant, life-
“If one leads a life measured by the constraints of one’s own expectations and the cultural and religious expectations of one’s peer group, there can be no openness to the ways of God. God’s goodness to us and our goodness to one another can only have one measure: God’s love for us … Suddenly, whether we are culturally acceptable or not becomes unimportant” (Francis J. Moloney).
I do like Howard-
Where do you see this compassionate God? This Hospitality? This Egalitarianism? This Love? In the Churches? In Christianity? In Creation? Somewhere else? How is this Good News for you? … Amen.