A version of this sermon was preached July 17, 2011; twenty four Jewish, Muslim and Christian children from the Kids4Peace program (www.kids4peaceboston.org) were present. Visit www.SSJE.org/galleries to see pictures from the morning.
I’ll bet some of you, when your parents see you, some of them will say, “Oh, Samih/Ma’or/Nicholas–you look bigger!” Maybe they’ll be teasing you a little bit. Maybe you’ll be only this much taller. But in another way, you will all be bigger. Even if we can’t see it when we look at you. Maybe after these two weeks of Kids4Peace you’ll look exactly the same as you did before, but you are somehow bigger. That’s what I’d like to talk about: getting bigger.
The story we just heard is sometimes called “The Good Samaritan”. But I think we could also call it “The Big Samaritan”. Now the story doesn’t tell us if the Samaritan man is tall or wide. But it does tell how he took care of the man who was robbed and beaten. Why could we call it “The Big Samaritan”? What is big about this man? He has a big heart. Lev Gadol. Qalb kbiir. Or we might say he has a big soul. Nefesh gadol. Nafs kbiir. He has a big heart because he has compassion for someone who is suffering.
The people Jesus is talking to in the story are Jewish. And the man who has compassion is Samaritan—and in those days Samaritans and Jews didn’t get along with each other. But this story isn’t only about Jews and Samaritans. It’s about everyone. Jesus could tell this story in any country, with any people. Jesus could tell this story with Christians. There are many different groups of Christians, and some of them don’t get along with each other. Sometimes Christians even kill each other.
But the man in the story, the Good Samaritan, has a big heart. We might ask, what makes us “bigger”? What makes us big in heart, big in soul? What do you think? I think for Paul it is love that makes us bigger. And I suppose if someone asked me to explain Christianity in one word, I would say love. It’s all about love: God’s love for us, our love of God, our love of one another. When we say someone has a big heart, we mean they have lots of love in their hearts. Love makes us big.
And maybe it’s love that makes us like God. Now, that’s a very strange thing to say—what could this mean? What could it mean to be like God? The first lesson we heard today was from the book of Genesis. It tells how God created the world and light and water and plants and animals. And finally, God creates human beings. And it says a very strange thing: it says God made human beings in God’s own image, in God’s image and likeness. This is very strange. We have no idea what God looks like—so what can it mean that God creates us in God’s own image, in God’s likeness? B’tselem elohim.
I have to say, I don’t know. These are mysterious words and words from the Bible are often mysterious. We often don’t understand what they mean. But whatever it is, it must be big. Because God is big—actually God is not big, God is bigger than big. I was on the Kids4Peace website a couple days ago and I heard Samih singing the Muslim call to prayer. In the call to prayer the muadhdhin sings “Allahu akbar”. In Arabic we have the word kbiir, which means big. And if you change the vowels you can make the word akbar, which means great or greatest. Allahu akbar. We human beings can be big, kbiir. God is akbar.
Let’s go back to the mystery words from the Torah: God made human beings in the image and likeness of God. We don’t know exactly what it means, so we need to try to solve the mystery. It might take us our whole life to try to understand what this means. But if you ask me today what I think it means, I think it means God has created us with the capacity to become big. We can become big, big in heart. Maybe not akbar like God, but big. If we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and if we love our neighbor as ourselves (like the Good Samaritan in the story)—then, we’ll be big.
A few weeks ago I went to a conference and everyone had to write down three goals for their life. I wrote down, “I’d like to live to be 101 years old”. Later I asked myself why I want to live to be 101 years old. I think it’s because I want to see how the story turns out. The big story, the story about human beings on this earth. Many interesting things have happened in my lifetime—I want to see more of the big story.
And the big story needs big people. In the little story of the Good Samaritan there is one big person, one man with a big heart. But the Big Story needs lots of big people, lots of people with big hearts. And you’re part of the story. And the world needs people with big hearts. People like you. So, keep getting bigger. Lev gadol. Qalb kbiir. A big heart. Nephesh gadol. Nafs kbiir. A big soul.
I’ll close with words from a song I heard you sing a couple days ago: Shalom Aleinou. Assalaamu aleina. Peace be upon us.
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