Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Who is my Neighbour?

Yesterday’s sermon (copy attached) was a reflection on the Gospel for the 12th Sunday after Trinity in the BCP lectionary.  The Gospel appointed is Mark: 31-40 in which Jesus heals a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment.  As discuss in my sermon, Jesus has just returned from Tyre where he has his well-known encounter with a Syrophoenician woman (a Gentile) who begs Jesus to heal her daughter.  At first he rejects the woman saying, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She persists despite this harsh rejection and responds, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  As a result of her rather audacious tenacity, probably born of desperation, he grants her request and heals the woman’s daughter.
My understanding (which did not originate with me)  of this rather surprizing episode is that Jesus is beginning to realize that he has come to preach the Good News of God Kingdom not just to the Jews but also to the Gentiles—in effect to the whole world. With this realization he returns to his home territory and the events unfold as told in Sunday’s Gospel.  He receives another request to heal someone and reacts very differently from the request by the Gentile woman.  Jesus responds immediately in an intimate way.  He speaks in his native Aramaic language and touches the man’s ears and uses his own spittle to loosen the man’s tongue. 

From this perspective how do we understand this experience of Jesus today?  I did not explore this in my sermon and would like to do so now.  I think it is particularly relevant how we in how we relate to those who we consider part of our family, however that is defined, compared to how we relate to those who we consider are outside that familial bond.  The impetus for this came from Lorna’s response to my sermon   Lorna is my best critic in the best sense of that word and gives me many good ideas to consider and chew on and even sometimes even digest.  It is human nature to respond to those who we can relate to i.e. who are “family” in the broadest sense whether it is family of origin or extended family or church family or anyone who seem familiar and can relate to.  Even if we do not know the people personally if we can see them as someone who is familiar to us and can relate to we are more likely to respond to them.

This is the whole issue and challenge in responding to Jesus commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves.  He tried to illustrate this to us in his parable of the Good Samaritan.  One approach which stuck with me as to how we have a long way to truly understand and respond to Jesus’ teaching on this was demonstrated in a recent encounter at the Republican Convention to elect/crown their nominee for the U.S. president.  An interviewer engaged someone who identified themselves as a Christian who supported Donald Trump.  The person was asked if they believed if it was important to love our neighbours as Christians.  This self-identified Christian responded that of course it was otherwise how we could know if they were terrorist.  I don’t think this person actually understands what Jesus meant in that commandment.   

A situation has arisen recently which is closer to home.  We have received an appeal to support Erin Dance, the daughter of retired Suffragan Bishop of Huron Terry Dance.  Erin is unfortunately suffering from a potentially deadly form of leukemia.  The treatment she has received in Canada has sadly not been effective.  Erin is, however, a candidate to receive experimental treatment in the United States.  Unfortunately this is very expensive—in the hundreds of thousands of dollars—and the cost is not covered by the Canadian health care system as it is experimental.  The response has been gratifying and over $200,000 has been donated after a relatively short period of time.  It is wonderful to see this generosity and Lorna and I were happy to have the opportunity to contribute.  If you would lie to contribute here is the link to do so https://www.gofundme.com/helpforerindance
Another situation came to our attention with a request for assistance at about the same time.  This situation involves a family  of Martha and William who have 10 children still living with them who recently lost their home to a house fire and are asking for help to get re-established in a new home.  The goal of this campaign is a modest $5000.  There has been as response to date of $3500 including a donation by Lorna.  If you would like more information on this situation and possibly consider contributing you can go to https://www.gofundme.com/2jygxnpg

The two situations are not directly comparable.  Erin’s situation is a matter of life and death.  While the family of Martha and William are faced with the possibility the family will have to be split up if they cannot find suitable accommodation.  They do not have a broader family with the resources and connections which can respond with help.  However, it does point out that Erin Dance does have a much broader “family” with resources to provide significant support.  Martha and William are not so fortunate.  They are in many ways the “other” who we do not necessarily relate to easily. 
I have in the past related the challenge I experience when considering who I give to.  I give from my bounty to others but is it to the “other”.  I give generously to charity—I tithe as we are told we should to be a good Christian.  Well, I must admit I give to selected ones.  I give to the deserving charities that help deserving people.  If I am asked on the street for a handout I immediately assess the person.  Is she really in need?    Is he trying to rip me off? Will he just go and spend the money I give him on cheap wine?  I really wish Jesus had said to give to those who deserve it.  But he didn’t.

The resources that we have in life are to a great extent a matter of chance.  They depend on the circumstances we are born into and on the resources that we have been blessed with in this world both talents and gifts.  I was born a white male to a middle class family in Canada as part of the baby boom which gave me many opportunities.  I received a good education at relatively little expense and have a good life that is only in part due to my effort and due in part to help from others and circumstances which were beyond my making.  I have been blessed in many ways and I give thanks for that.  Many others have not been as fortunate as I have been.  How then do I decide how I am going to share that blessing with?  I do make choices and make decisions.  That is inevitable and necessary.  The challenge for me is to remember that charity does not only begin at home and that my neighbours can be people I have not even met yet.  Blessings.  

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