Deuteronomy 30:9-14 & Luke 10:25-37
The Rev. Melanie McCarley
The well-known athletic corporation, Nike, launched a slogan in 1988: “Just do it.” It’s been wildly successful, in part because it can be heard as intensely personal or universal in scope. So successful has this motto been that it has been trademarked. I like to think that Moses and Jesus could have put in a claim for the catchphrase as well. “Just do it.”
In the Old Testament lesson for this morning, Moses is speaking to the people of Israel. In verse 9 he assures them that the Lord wants to bless them. As proof of this, Moses points to the way God has treated their ancestors. Saying: ”For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” I suspect much of this could have been heard as “white noise” to the people of Israel. “Yada, yada, yada….they had heard all this before. But what Moses says next is worth listening to. He says: “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you.” And he goes on to point out that knowing the right thing to do isn’t a matter of receiving some kind of information that is elusive or difficult to come by—in fact, if we pay attention to our inner conscience, we discover that it is as close as our own being. Moses says: “the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” In other words, the Commandments of God are something to be internalized. Once they are written on our hearts, they become the guide to a life of blessing. How does this happen?
Think of it this way: Repetition. Reading the words of the Bible, studying holy scripture, participating in worship (as you are doing this morning), and praying; do these things often enough and they become a part of you; challenging you, at times, giving peace and comfort at others. Repetition strengthens a faith that eventually becomes as close as your own being.
There is, I believe, something to this. Take the story of Eli Estrada as an example. In 2008, Estrada found $140,000 in cash in a bank deposit bag on a street in Cerritos, California. He later discovered the money had been lost by a Brinks Armored truck at the Bank of America in the parking lot of the Cerritos Center mall. Passers-by said it looked as though a guard left the bag on the truck’s bumper when it had driven off.
It was a tempting sight, all those unmarked $20 bills bundled into wads of $20,000 each and bound for ATMs. All of it untraceable—take a moment to imagine how tempting that must have been. The 40-year-old had been working to keep his artificial grass and landscaping business afloat – he bought into the Tuff Turf franchise – and the money would have been a nice cushion considering the economic downturn hitting Southern California at the time.
Estrada also had a cloud of credit-card debt hanging over his head. And then there were his upcoming wedding and the associated costs. What’s more, he had recently taken his mother into his home as she had recently lost her house to bankruptcy due to a fumbled refinancing plan.
Estrada said: “I’m not going to say it wasn’t tough, but I know returning the money was the right thing to do.”
The soft-spoken said he knows plenty of people who would smack him upside the head if they knew he passed on the money. After all, who would have ever known?
But the people who matter most, his fiancée and his mother, are proud of his choice. His mother said that her son has always been concerned about doing something unethical or illegal. “He wouldn’t be able to sleep if he didn’t turn it in.” she said.
As to whether he’s a good guy, or simply crazy, even Estrada admitted he can’t say for sure. “Some days, when things are hard, I think I was nuts,” he said, laughing. “But they always say, `do what your gut tells you,’ and I know in my gut that to keep that money would be wrong.”
“The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” Integrity is telling yourself the truth. Then…just do it.
In the Gospel lesson for today a lawyer approaches Jesus and asks: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds: “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer answers: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus says to him: “You have given the right answer, do this and you will live.” What follows next is the parable of the Good Samaritan—and the point is made clear, the Good Neighbor—the one who does the will of God, is the person who responds to the individual in need with love and compassion. The Good Samaritan is the one who listened to his heart and acted.
Let’s presume that the lawyer, who approached Jesus, to inquire: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” was asking his question in all sincerity. He really wanted to know what was required if he was to inherit salvation. This man followed the commandments, he had studied the law—more than likely he had learned all these things as a child. It’s worth noting that Jesus doesn’t hand him a clear-cut answer. Instead, what our Savior does is to challenge him to consider how what a person does reflects the truth of what is in an individual’s heart. The answer is, as Moses points out in today’s lesson, “very near to you. It is in your mouth and in your heart.” It is your conscience. It’s the values and faith you’ve internalized over the years; it’s part of who you are.
At the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus turns to the Lawyer and says: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers. The lawyer replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus says to him, “Go and do likewise.” Just do it.
If you think about it, the same could be said of each of us. The truth is there, it’s right there in our hearts—it’s what we’ve internalized about what God wills for each of us. Our challenge is to live lives of integrity—paying attention to the truth that is in us. Listen to what your conscience says. And then…Just do it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.