Do you have periods of time in your life where it seems that Scripture is trying to teach you something? Or perhaps, it’s that Jesus is trying to teach you something by using scripture and other events in your life? I feel like that is happening to me lately; everywhere I turn it seems that the message is the same… and it’s beginning to feel like the reminder is, shall we say, less than gentle.
The story of the Good Samaritan is one that most of us know well. I also suspect that most of us judge the priest and the Levite rather harshly, hoping that in our own lives that we are like the Samaritan at least most of the time. And, we very well might be. Do we also see ourselves as the poor man in the ditch, needing the help of whomever passes by, seemingly feeling abandoned by those whom we believed might help us?
I am sure that at different points in my own life I have occupied any of those places. Before we condemn the priest and Levite in the story, we should remember that if they helped the man in the ditch, it would have made them ritually unclean because of the blood and the possibility of the man dying. They no doubt had duties to fulfill in the temple that they would be unable to attend to if they were “unclean”. So, I have some sympathy for them. There is always more to a story than meets the eye. For them, in that time and place, loving their neighbor meant attending to their duties. What Jesus is emphasizing here is that loving our neighbor might look very different than we think it does. By having the Samaritan be the one that stops to help, Jesus is telling his listeners that their neighbor that they should love, is someone who is usually outside the religious circles his listeners are in. Samaritans are “less than” in the eyes of God, or at least that’s what many of them believe. But in this story, the one who is an outcast, is now brought in by Jesus and is seen as neighbor. The man in the ditch, whom we assume was a Jew, is also now neighbor to the outcast, despite their differences. The Samaritan showed great mercy to the other man, the kind of mercy that the priest and Levite felt they could not show.
“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.” Here are the great commandments given by Jesus, and the lawyer knows them well enough to be able to recite them. We too, know them well enough to recite them; but when we are confronted by the lawyer’s second question, “And who is my neighbor?” what do we say? Whom do we think of?
One morning, there was a young, developmentally disabled boy sitting alone at breakfast. His teacher placed his breakfast in front of him and left to attend to her other students. Teachers aide’s were also helping other children. Other students from other classes sometimes took food or chocolate milk from the disabled boy, and no one seemed to notice. One morning, someone DID notice. The school janitor reprimanded the kids who were bothering the boy. Then he went over and opened the boy’s milk and his silverware packet because he noticed the boy couldn’t do it himself. He also pulled up a chair and sat with the boy so he could help him. And he made sure that every day, that child had what he needed AND that he was able to use it to eat with. Whenever he and the boy saw each other in the hallways or other parts of the school, they exchanged a high five and the janitor, who’s name I have since forgotten, greeted the child by name.
This is a story from Danny’s life that was told to me by a teacher who watched it happen. And while I have forgotten the janitor’s name, I can see his face, and I can see him smiling at Danny. What touches my heart here, is how he took time out of his morning to protect and help Dan. And he didn’t use Danny’s disability against him like some of the kids did, or he didn’t call Danny names because he was different. He just loved and helped the kid that was in front of him.
Beloved, we are in serious trouble. I know I have said it the last few weeks, but I’m saying it again, we all must relearn the lesson of loving our neighbor, no matter who they are. The newsflash here is two fold; everyone is our neighbor, and second, God has a way of dropping people into our lives that we would never think of as our neighbor. It’s like going to an AA meeting and seeing the rough looking biker guy with the white supremacist prison tattoos who has been sober for 10 years, sitting in the corner doing the work of an AA sponsor with a young, newly sober, African American lawyer who is in a suit… never, would you think about those two people sharing coffee and their stories except at a 12 step gathering and in the Kingdom of heaven. And here’s the thing; the kingdom of heaven has come near; and you and i are the workers in the kingdom; but I truly fear that we are in serious trouble. The tone of political discussions has become deadly. We are holding our neighbors at arms distance because they don’t look like us, they don’t believe what we believe, or someone else has convinced us that they are the evil “other” and we are the righteous. Here’s another news flash; no one, not even us, is righteous, except through Jesus; we do not earn or deserve God’s love and favor; but… because God lived as one of us in Jesus, and because Jesus conquered death on our behalf… we now are the beloved of God… and so is everyone else. God’s image resides in ALL people everywhere. ALL. PEOPLE. EVERYWHERE. It’s not for us to judge; the commandment for us is to love God and love our neighbor… and we cannot truly love God if we do not love our neighbor because God’s love isn’t passive… it’s active and it acts all the time; and that means it’s time for you and I to get out of the Holy Spirit’s way and actively love our neighbor. And I believe that what that is going to mean in part, is that we stop trying to shout louder than everyone else. We all have perspectives on guns, on abortion, on the death penalty; and no matter our personal perspectives, we cannot shut Jesus behind the church doors during the week when we aren’t here; we do an amazing job as a community of faith of welcoming people into worship; we come to the altar as friends knowing we do not agree… what are we doing when we leave? Loving our neighbor is an active, sacrificial love that isn’t very safe; we already know that if we stand up for the kingdom of God in the public square, that there are those who will shout us down and tell us we do not belong. And perhaps they are right. Perhaps we do NOT belong in the fray of who is right and who is wrong; but we are citizens of the kingdom of God and we do have something to say about what it means to love and what that looks like. People say over and over again that politics doesn’t belong in church, and I certainly agree to a point. However, the church, you and I have PLENTY to say and to do in the issues that affect our world because this the world that Jesus loved so much that he was willing to die for it. If that isn’t active love lived out, then I don’t know what is.
The world is in trouble, beloved. Children are getting killed in classrooms. 10 year old rape victims are being forced to seek abortions in states where they do not live. There are people who are hungry and living in their cars in 100 degree heat. What would Jesus do? He would find ways to love; and he would find ways to love even the shooter in a tragedy because even they are a child of God. And, I know that I don’t often love in those ways. I block the Holy Spirit’s voice within me. I suspect we all do to some degree. Beloved, we are all in trouble. It’s not just “them” out there. It’s us. There is no “Them” in the kingdom, there is only us. Everyone in our neighbor; and even when we are met with hatred and violence, our call as children of God is to love as Jesus loved; we cannot love God if we do not love our neighbor. Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”