July 2019

Mutually Exclusive Notions of Truth

5th Sunday after Pentecost – July 14, 2019
– Deuteronomy 30:9-14, Luke 10:25-37

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas

Jews and Samaritans were a people divided by a mutual hatred of one another embodied in cultural, religious and racial animosity.

According to the Bible, Moses led his people from persecution and enslavement in Egypt to the land promised to them by God, where the twelve tribes ultimately consolidated into a united monarchy of Israel,1 first under Saul, followed by David, who was then followed by hiss son Solomon. But when Solomon died and his son, Rehoboam, became king, his subjects rebelled over the heavy burden of taxes imposed upon them. A division arose among the twelve tribes with the northern ten tribes forming the Kingdom of Israel, the capitol of which became Samaria; and the remaining two tribes of Judah and Benjamin establishing the kingdom of Judah under Rehoboam, who ruled from the capitol city of Jerusalem.

When the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BCE, the inhabitants of the region were deported becoming what are now referred to as the “Lost Tribes of Israel.” They were replaced by foreigners (2nd Kings 17:24), who eventually assimilated to a diminished form of worship practiced by the people they replaced, prompting the author of 2nd Kings to say that “they worshiped the Lord, but also served their own gods.” (17:33) But such is the account of Jews about the northern kingdom, which they came to regard as a region tainted by foreigners and pagan customs that true followers of God were taught to avoid.

Samaritans, on the other hand, claimed that the deportation of the northern tribes was not all-encompassing, and that remnants of the house of Joseph, represented in the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, continued on; and from these tribes they were descended. Furthermore, while Jews in Judah worshiped God in the Jerusalem Temple, Samaritans believed that the true center of worship belonged on Mount Gerizim, where Joshua built an altar.

By the time Jesus enters the scene several centuries later, the regions of Samaria and Judah had come under the control of the Roman Empire, after having previously been conquered by the Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks. Yet despite their common oppressors, the mutual hatred Samaritans and Jews had for each other had not diminished. Both Jewish and Samaritan religious leaders forbade contact with the other group; members were forbidden from entering each other’s territory or even speaking to each other. In other words, each group had espoused a religious, cultural and racial policy of mutual hatred and segregation based upon mutually exclusive religious notions of truth about each other.

Children of God, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Social media has provided countless platforms for people to espouse countless notions of truth about what they believe, and rendering perspectives that disagree with theirs to the waste basket of fake news.

Now Jesus and his disciples were from Galilee, a region north of Samaria, where many Jews had eventually migrated and settled. And if you looked at a first-century map of Palestine, you would discover that the shortest path from Galilee to Jerusalem and the Temple, where Jews worshiped, was through Samaria, virtually rendering Samaritan-Jewish contact unavoidable.

It is through these unavoidable contacts that Jesus came to realize that his prejudice toward Samaritans (Matthew 10:5-6) was fake news. However, you can imagine that by proposing a parable of neighborly love, in which the Samaritan provided the example for Jews to follow, Jesus was offering his followers a meal too upsetting and nauseating for them to stomach. And it remains so for us today.

The Lord’s Supper is an acquired taste in which the vast majority of churches have difficulty swallowing, because the food is handled and served and sullied by the Christ who mingled with those many Christians regard as unclean.

The decision Good Shepherd made to become a church that welcomes and affirms members of the LGBTQ community, and advocate for racial and migrant justice, places us in a long line of few churches in number who, in every age, defied the majority of Christians and nations who claimed you had to look, believe, and behave a certain way if you wished to belong and be loved by God.

In a world where homosexuality is still considered a crime punishable by imprisonment or death in many nations; where clergy are disciplined, stripped of their ordination or excommunicated for officiating same-sex weddings; and where religious-sanctioned bigotry against those of other races and faith traditions is once again on the rise, we have chosen as a church to follow the Christ who identified with the unclean and the untouchables and, by so doing, have ourselves become unclean and untouchable in the eyes of fellow Christians. The unfortunate consequence of radical inclusion is radical exclusion.

It is, therefore, crucial that our faith and love of God not be bound up and focused in the walls and locations of a building, sanctuary or temple in which we worship, as was the focus of many Jews and Samaritans of Jesus’ day.

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple,” said the Apostle Paul, “and God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1st Corinthians 3:16) We will not find or create God’s temple beyond us until we first find and create and see God’s temple within us, each of us. “On this rock will I build my church,” says the Christ. (Matthew 16:18) And neither the gates hell nor fake news will prevail against it. Amen.

1 1Modern archeological research, articulated by professors Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman in their book The Bible Unearthed dispute the historical accuracy of a United Kingdom of Israel.