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Friday, December 11, 2015

Who is Our Neighbor?

Clarence Jordan was a farmer and New Testament scholar, who in 1942 co-founded Koinonia Farm, an intentional religious community located in southwest Georgia that practiced racial integration in a time when it was highly unpopular to do so and played an instrumental role in the founding of Habitat for Humanity. When the Civil Rights movement gained steam in the 1950s and 60s, Koinonia was repeatedly harassed by locals by means of boycotts, bombings, and drive-by shootings.

Jordan was also well known for his books, the Cotton Patch Gospels, in which the Gospel stories are set in the deep South. For a time they became quite popular (they're still in print) and were later turned into a musical for which Harry Chapin wrote the music and lyrics. As an example, consider the Cotton Patch version of The Annunciation (Luke 1:26-29):
During the sixth month of her pregnancy the messenger Gabriel wa sent from God to a city in Georgia by the name of Valdosta, to a young lady named Mary. She was engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, from one of the old-line families. The messenger went in to her and said, "Hello, you blessed one. THE LORD IS WITH YOU!" She was nearly bowled over by this, and wondered what to make of such a greeting.
Or again, consider the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37):
[The teacher of the adult Bible class asked Jesus] "Just who is my neighbor?" 
Then Jesus laid into him and said, "A man was going from Atlanta to Albany and some gangsters held him up. When they had robbed him of his wallet and brand-new suit, they beat him up and drove off in his car, leaving him unconscious on the shoulder of the highway. Now it just so happened that a white preacher was going down that same highway. When he was the fellow, he stepped on the gas and went scooting by. Shortly afterwards a white Gospel song leader came down the road, and when he saw what had happened, he too stepped on the gas. Then a black man traveling that way came upon the fellow and what he saw moved him to tears. He stopped and bound up his wounds as best he could, drew some water from his water-jug to wipe away the blood and then laid him on the back seat. He drove on into Albany and took him to the hospital and said to the nurse, 'You all take good care of this white man I found on the highway. Here's the only two dollars I got, but you all keep account of what he owes, and if he can't pay it, I'll settle up with you when I make a pay-day.' 
"Now if you had been the man held up by the gangsters, which of these three--the white preacher, the white song leader, or the black man--would you consider to have been your neighbor?" 
The teacher of the adult Bible class said, "Why, of course, the nig--I mean, er...well, er... the one who treated me kindly." 
Jesus said, "Well, then, you get going and start living like that"
The Rev. Lance Allen, an acquaintance of mine from high school and currently pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Santa Ana, California, recently channeled Clarence Jordan in composing a contemporary paraphrase of the Good Samaritan:
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from New York to Washington D.C., when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A minister happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a rabbi, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Muslim, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man in his own car, brought him to a hospital and took care of him. The next day he took out his wallet and paid the hospital bill. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
Amen and amen.

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