There’s a story buried in Second Chronicles, an Old Testament book we hardly ever crack open. The books of Chronicles, well, they chronicle the story of the tribes of Israel and their kings, particularly after Solomon’s death when the kingdom was torn apart by civil war. King Ahaz, the king of Judah, the southern tribes of Israel is, well, he is awful. And Second Chronicles chapter 28 tells us that God uses the king from the northern tribes to inflict punishment on this unfaithful king. By the way, I’m grateful to my friend Eric Baker for helping me to make these connections in a paper he’s written.[i]
Now, of course we know that the victor gets to write the history, which may be one of the reasons we tend not to crack open Chronicles very much, it seems a little biased and perhaps simplistic—sometimes it seems like a simple list of which king was good and which was evil. Regardless, something unexpected happens in the story that is worth noting as we take another look at the all-too-familiar parable of the Good Samaritan and its timeless message of compassion—a good message after the week this country has seen.
God sends kings from the north to punish Ahaz, the unfaithful king in the south. And punish they do, although as usual, it’s the citizens, it’s the people that seem to suffer the most. The numbers are monumental, apocalyptic even. Hundreds of thousands are slaughtered and even more are taken captive.
[i] This analysis is from an unpublished paper by Eric Baker: “The Good Samaritan(s): A Parallel Examination of 2 Chronicles, Luke 10:30-37, and Deuteronomy 7.”Now, none of this seems to be a problem, as it might sound to our modern ears, but what happens next is. In their anger, the conquering armies go too far in their war against the south. While the northern armies were acting as agents of God’s justice, they kill in a rage. At least that’s what Obed, a prophet in the north tells them: “Because the Lord, the God of your ancestors, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand, but you have killed them in a rage that has reached up to heaven.”[i]
And while we may not understand this finer point, they do. No one seems to argue. And there is one more problem that Obed brings up. In their rage they have also brought back hundreds of thousands of captives whom they intend to enslave. And this will not do either: “Now hear me,” Obed says, “and send back the captives whom you have taken from your kindred, for the fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you.”[ii]
And what happens next is what I want us to especially hear this morning as we prepare to celebrate the ordination and installation of elders and deacons, and as we think about the nature of leadership within our own story. Verse 12:
…certain chiefs of the Ephraimites, Azariah son of Johanan, Berechiah son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah son of Shallum, and Amasa son of Hadlai, stood up against those who were coming from the war, 13and said to them, “You shall not bring the captives in here, for you propose to bring on us guilt against the Lord in addition to our present sins and guilt.”
And what is perhaps even more amazing, they listened. The returning warriors handed over the captives and the plundered possessions, and then this happened. And I want you to listen carefully with the echo of the Good Samaritan story in your ears:
Then those who were mentioned by name got up and took the captives, and with the booty they clothed all that were naked among them; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kindred at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria.[iii]
Did you hear it? All the elements from Jesus’ parable are here. A man, or in this case, a people from Jerusalem, beaten and robbed, going to Jericho where the Samaritans returned the Judean prisoners, leaving them stripped and naked. The Samaritans have compassion, bandage their wounds, anoint them with oil and wine, give them shelter, provide clothes, shoes, food, and drink.[iv]
It turns out that Jesus isn’t just making up a story, he’s reminding his listeners of a story from their past, a story they would know, even though we may not, of compassionate and strong leadership, of leadership that refused to return violence with more violence, that woke up to what needed to be done and then made sure it happened. Here is a story of leaders who found the courage and clarity to interrupt what could have been more of a disaster when they remembered that these broken, conquered people were their neighbors, were their brothers and sisters. Here were a group of leaders who like Amos took up the call they were given, who could see the plumb line measuring what was straight and true and then found the courage to call it out for a people that had in their rage lost the line between right and wrong, between what is of God and what isn’t.
It seems to me we are in a time when we are again struggling to see straight and we need leaders who will help us. We are considering again that our neighbor may include many who we have left on the sidelines of our history. As we affirm that all lives matter, we are recognizing that black and brown lives continue to matter less and we need to fix that. We are growing in our understanding of humanity in relationship to sexuality. We are recognizing that violence returned with more violence and rage not only destroys our enemies, but us as well.
And yet, with every action there seems to be a reaction. Our culture seems to have taken sides when we need to remember we are one people; we are kin; we belong to each other. We have work to do in finding again that road that leads to peace, that mends the world.
So today, we give thanks for those whom God has called in our midst. Let us now seek to bless them and then listen to them as they take up their call. Amen.
[i] This analysis is from an unpublished paper by Eric Baker: “The Good Samaritan(s): A Parallel Examination of 2 Chronicles, Luke 10:30-37, and Deuteronomy 7.”
[i] 2 Chronicles 28:9.
[ii] 2 Chronicles 28:11.
[iii] 2 Chronicles 28:12–13
[iv] See Baker, p. 10, for a detailed comparison.
St. Andrew Sermons