Our passage this morning is perhaps among the most infamous scriptures of all-time, for Christians and non-Christians alike know it. There are churches, schools, social organizations, charities, and hospitals named after The Good Samaritan.
And yet, this teaching of Jesus did not begin with him.
It is echoed throughout the Torah (teaching or law), the prophets of old, Jesus’ life and ministry, and within the letters of the Apostle Paul.
And yet, after all these centuries, we continue to talk the talk but we do not often walk the walk.
Within these past weeks, I have encountered numerous quotes on Facebook, in text messages, and otherwise that communicate this teaching well. But day by day, it seems that our world is becoming more and more divided. We live within a charged environment, where everything is used as a means to divide ourselves.
For example, a friend posted a song with one of its lines on Facebook, neither the line nor the song had political undertones. And yet, he was informed on Facebook, on the phone, and face-to-face that he should not associate himself with the artist or their music because of the prevailing assumption that the artist belongs to a particular political party.
For example, I have been identified as and criticized for belonging to a particular political party because of the cellphone I carry. Honestly, I am still trying to figure out how that works.
And so, we live in an environment where EVERYTHING, from our music of choice to our phones, is used to divide us from one another.
C. S. Lewis has a quote that sets the mood for Jesus’ teaching and our environment. He wrote:
I didn’t go to religion to make me ‘happy’.
I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.
If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable,
I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is not intended to comfort us.
It embodies the radical teaching that is our scriptures, is the life and ministry of Jesus, and is our baptismal vocation (calling).
In The People’s New Testament Commentary, it is written:
This story that has become well known in the culture quite apart from the Bible
has an obvious meaning that must not be lost:
the way of God is the way of compassion and active help for those in need,
even at personal risk, even against cultural expectations of what is proper.
The parable has two holy, righteous men versed in scripture and tradition, educated in their minds, and their heart did not convince them to act against the cultural norm to help the man, who may or may not have been ‘the other’.
The parable, however, has a Samaritan who is ‘the other’ and is moved to action.
According to scriptures, the Samaritans were considered ‘bad people’ and yet the Holy Spirit (as expected) drags us into a better future were that prejudice and its division is traded for love.
Our 2019 Synod Assembly had the Good Samaritan as the themed scripture and proposed the question: “Who Is Our Neighbor?”.
Who is our neighbor?
In our scripture, the lawyer is attempting to justify himself, his hate, and his lack of love towards the ‘other’ by asking Jesus to define ‘neighbor’.
- Who do I have to love?
- Who do I have to seek justice for?
- Who do I have to act with compassion and mercy towards?
- Who do I have to serve?
In the words of an unknown person:
I’m fully convinced that the greatest thing you can do for someone;
the most Jesus-like, God-honoring thing, is to err on the side of loving them.
But again, who is the neighbor? Who is the ‘them’?
In the words of another unknown person:
When Jesus said love your neighbor, he knew your neighbor would
act, look, believe, and love differently than you.
Its kind of the whole point.
And it is true. Jesus did not live in a vacuum. First century Palestine was diverse.
Jesus knew your neighbor might not be the same race, ethnicity, or culture as you.
Jesus knew that your neighbor might not act or think the same as you.
The neighbor might be conservative or liberal, democrat or republican.
(Oh the HORROR! I know).
Jesus knew that your neighbor might not believe like you.
The neighbor might not be Christian.
The neighbor might not be Lutheran (specifically ELCA Lutheran).
Jesus knew that your neighbors would be different.
Jesus knew that his teaching was radical.
And I am confident that Jesus would agree with these words from another unknown person:
The idea that some lives matter less
is the root cause of all that is wrong with the world.
How often do we reach across the divisions?
How often do we reach to one another as neighbors across those divides?
And in our politically charged environment, I will share again words from “A Southern Pastor”:
Preaching that we are to love our neighbors,
welcome the stranger, and stand up for the marginalized
does not mean you are making political statements.
It means you are making Biblical statements.
So, how often do we reach out across the divisions to live out our baptismal vocation (calling):
- to proclaim Christ is word and deed?
- to seek justice?
- to act with compassion and mercy?
- and to love and serve ALL people?
The newest quote I have stumbled upon, which deeply echoes within me is from Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor:
The only clear line I draw these days is this:
When my religion tries to come between me and my neighbor,
I will choose my neighbor…
Jesus never commanded me to love my religion.
Jesus commands us to love God and our neighbor (not our religion).
In our scripture, Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as yourself, which has a loop-hole. I do not know about you, but I do not always love myself.
So here is the challenge, in John’s gospel, Jesus tells us to love one another as he first loved us.
We are called into a higher standard of love, where our words, deeds, and lives reflect the love of God towards ALL our neighbors.
This is especially challenging in a world that is so divided and divisive, where you may think evil and hate has won the day.
I share that sentiment and experience those moments, at which time I turn to a song. The song is wrote and performed by Garth Brooks, who is the artist my friend was criticized for listening to. The song is The Change, which was wrote after the Oklahoma City Bombing shook his hometown:
This heart still believes that love and mercy still exist
while all the hatred rage and so many say
that love is all but pointless in madness such as this.
Its like trying to stop a fire with the moisture from a kiss
and I hear them saying you’ll never change things
and no matter what you do its still the same thing
but its not the world I am changing
I do this so this world will know that it will not change me.
As long as one heart still holds on then hope is never really gone.
May we be the Good Samaritan.
May we hold on to hope.
May we reflect the justice, compassion, mercy, grace, peace, and love of God
in our lives to ALL our neighbors whether they
look, act, believe, think, and love like us or not.