Sunday, July 14, 2019


One afternoon 43 years ago,
when I was younger and dumber,
            I was hitch hiking from Denver to Greeley.
Two young men 
in a seriously dented car picked me up.
They were fresh out of prison
            on parole for serious felonies.
One of them intended to rob me.
The other did not.
Unfortunately, their communication with each other
            was unworthy of partners in crime.
Criminals, like spouses, need to talk to each other.
 The one without larcenous intent
            told me way too much about them.

They drove out into the beet fields
            Northeast of Ft. Lupton and Southeast of LaSalle, flashed a gun,
            relieved me of my $15, and put me out of the car.
Then they realized they’d told me their names,
            their parole officer’s name, etc.
            so letting me live wasn’t a smart option.
They came back and ordered me 
            into the car.

I had by now smartened up enough 
not to get back in that car.
So one of them got out and started to drag me in.

Then, the miracle. 
A car came driving down that dirt road.
With a surge of adrenalin,
            I dragged my assailant into the path
                        of the oncoming vehicle.
He let go and I started flagging down the car.
When I saw the driver, I knew I was ok.

He was a well-dressed, clean-cut young white guy
            -- my kind of people.
I knew I was saved.
He nearly killed me – sped up 
            and rushed right past
            as I had to leap out of his way. 

The robber resumed dragging me 
toward their car.
Then, miracle of miracles,
            another car came up the dirt road.

Again, the robber let me go.
Again, I tried to flag it down.
But this time when I saw the driver,
            my heart sank.
 I heard myself think,
            “I am definitely dead.”

The driver was a Latina mother,
            a poor person, with a car load of kids.
No way was she going to stop for me,
-- not in a dangerous situation.

She didn’t stop.
She slowed down, threw the passenger door 
open for me to jump in on the run, 
then hit the gas and sped me to safety.

She turned out to be the wife
            -- someone with a strong reason
to avoid situations.
That family were precisely
            the kind of people we are deporting today.
But I’m kinda glad they were here in 1976.
If they’d been legally in Mexico
Instead of illegally in Colorado,
            I’d be sugar beet fertilizer in Weld County.

Our Gospel lesson starts with a lawyer
            saying our eternal life depends
              on loving our neighbor as ourselves.
But he asks: who is my neighbor?
Jesus answers with the Samaritan story.
A Jew was beaten, robbed, and left in the road.
The Jewish priest and Levite, 
            who were bound by race,
            religion, nationality, community, and vocation
            to help their fellow Jew, just passed him by.  

Then along came the Samaritan
            -- wrong race, wrong religion, wrong nationality,
            --  wrong everything.

But he stopped and helped
beyond what might be expected of anyone. 
That Samaritan is Jesus’ proto-type
            of the neighbor we are to love.

So, why did I assume the young white guy
            would save me?
Why did I think the Latina mother would not?

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt says
            our basic attitudes are evolutionarily wired 
            into our heads by things our prehistoric ancestors 
found helpful to survive in their context.

One of those primitive attitudes is about 
who we owe help to and who we don’t, 
            who we can count on and who we can’t.
It’s the attitude of  tribalism -- us vs them  -- 
our group vs their group:
White vs Black, Christian vs Muslim, 
Liberal vs Conservative, Straight vs. Gay, 
Native vs Immigrant.

We fought the Cattle vs Sheep wars 
largely because cattlemen were white and spoke English
            while shepherds were brown and spoke Spanish.

Dividing into antagonistic groups is human nature,
wired into all of us.
It’s the way of the world.

But enter Jesus.
He said, In this world you will have trouble.
He might have elaborated,
            You will have racism, classism, 
            divisions of religion, politics, and language.
Jesus said, In this world you will have trouble.
            But take heart. I have overcome the world.
Jesus wants to set us free
            from those constraints that separate us 
-- divisions that shackle our minds,
            holding us back from  full humanity. 
They make our hearts tighter, 
our minds narrower, and our lives smaller.

Philosopher Martha Nussbaum, in her book, 
The New Religious Intolerance,
            discusses our capacity for participatory imagination,
            the ability to see things 
              through another person’s eyes,
                        walk in their shoes, feel what they feel.
Basic empathy expands our experience 
           and therefore our wisdom immeasurably.
Nusbaum calls this capacity a fundamental part 
         of being human.

We call people who can’t connect that way sociopaths.    
But Nussbaum says today, 
       with fear intensifying our divisions,
we are regressing into tribalism 
and losing our capacity for participatory imagination. 
Without that capacity, our own lives are diminished.

Jesus said, I have come that you might have life
            and that you might have it abundantly.
To make our life more abundant,
            Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor,
then tells us our neighbor is 
            the wrong race, the wrong nationality and religion,            
            the wrong language, the wrong sexuality,
            the wrong political party, the wrong everything. 
Love that person as yourself
            and – bam! -- the size of your life doubles.

But how can we possibly go against human nature
to love across the divide?
The answer is grace 
– enabling, empowering, amazing grace.
Whatever Jesus commands us to do,
            he gives us the power to do it. 

To love across the divides
            is a supernatural act.
But we can do it – with God’s help.
We just direct our hearts toward anyone Jesus call us to love.
His grace will do the rest.