A British massacre of German sailors

What Jesus calls essential: The loving care of the other

The British ship HMS Dorchester played a key role in sinking the German battleship Bismarck on 21 May 1941.  Then, in an act of vengeance and hatred, the HMS Dorchester sailed away and left 840 German sailors of the sunken ship Bismarck to drown.

That sad action is by contrast with the message of our gospel reading today from St. Luke 10:25-37.  This gospel reading begins with the great command of love, the summary of the law or Torah (Deuteronomy 6:5 with Leviticus 19:18): “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and your neighbour as yourself.”

Then Luke’s gospel continues with Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.  This parable is about the loving care of the stranger who is in need, and who is also from another ethnic group.  The antagonism between Jews and Samaritans appears at several points in the Gospels.  In this parable, Jewish leaders fail while it is the Samaritan who fulfils the by the summary of the Law and so gains the eternal life promised.

In our first reading today, from Deuteronomy 30:9-14 we are told that doing God’s law is not difficult.  Indeed, loving-kindness to our neighbor need not be difficult at all, except for our prejudices, racism, and hard heartedness!

Our psalm today (Ps 25) affirms that God “guides the humble in doing right, and teaches his way to the lowly” (verse 8).  That is, the proud, self-righteous, and arrogant will not find God’s way.

Around us at present we have cases of prejudice, hatred, vengeance, cruelty and violence in all the events of Ferguson, Orlando, Baton Rouge, St Paul, and Dallas; in Aurora, San Bernardino and in Sandy Hook; and in Paris, Turkey and Iraq in the week up to last Sunday.  Each action and reaction seems to be an increasing vortex of evil.

I remember a moment when a friend and colleague of mine named Phakamile Mabija was murdered by the authorities in 1977.  For some time, I was wracked with anger and the desire to retaliate, and indeed took some steps in that direction.  But the moment came that I felt I met with God directly, and God simply and quietly said to me that that was not the way.  I personally know those feelings of anger, vengeance, and prejudice, and I know that they are not the way.

On the other hand, we have wonderful examples of human beings who have shown a love which reflects divine love.

To me, one example of this is Eleanor Roosevelt.  She suffered great personal disappointment.  She could have turned inwards.  She could have taken vengeance just as HMS Dorchester took vengeance on the German sailors.  But rather, Eleanor Roosevelt decided to turn her energy and abilities outwards to others.  She is famous for the way in which she lovingly cared for others.  She built up the women of the USA, and loved her country.  She built up the world through her contributions to the United Nations.

Through this parable in our gospel reading, Jesus asks us all, “To which person are you a neighbor?”  Which stranger in trouble, in need, would say that we gave loving care to them?  This week, who will say that we expressed divine love to them?

As individuals, perhaps for good reason, we may feel frightened or angry; but Jesus calls us to reach out beyond that.  If your love is insufficient, you can know that God loves them.  Borrow God’s love, and lovingly care for some wounded and ignored person or group of people, however and however repulsive they may seem.

As Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) wrote: “Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blest, well-spring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest! Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are thine: teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.”

(The music to the above is adapted from Hymn To Joy by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

July 10, 2016 at Trinity Church Whitinsville and St John’s Church Millville MA

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