Scripture: Luke 10:25-37

Our country seems to have gone a little mad, doesn’t it? We are SO polarized. Everyday it seems there is some terrible news about something dreadful that has happened, and it seems to be getting worse and worse. And the worst part of it is, there seems to be so little that we can do about it. Anything you say can be jumped on by somebody who disagrees with you, or even someone who agrees with you in principal, but doesn’t agree with the way you state your case. If you were horrified at the recent killings of unarmed black men, “you don’t understand what the police go through.” And if you were horrified at the killing of 5 police officers at a peaceful rally in protest of those other deaths, “you don’t know the depth of racism among the police.” Jon Stewart, the comedian and social commentator made a point two years ago when a similar issue was in the news. He said: “You can truly grieve for every officer who’s been lost in the line of duty in this country, and still be troubled by cases of police overreach. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive. You can have great regard for law enforcement and still want them to be held to high standards.”

We have such a hard time knowing what to say, what to do, what to think in situations like this, and I would guess that most of us just want it all to stop. Well, Jesus had some words for us about what to say and do with regards to matters like this, and in fact, with regard to how we need to live our lives in general if we want the world to be a better place. Today we begin a 4-week series on Learning to Live as Disciples. Today’s chapter is on loving. Next week we will talk about Listening, followed by Praying, and finishing up with Possessions.

In today’s reading we hear a lawyer stand up to test Jesus. He’s probably a religious authority, rather than a lawyer as we think of the word. But of course, in those days, the religious law was the law. Just like in politics today, there were sides to every issue, and groups that were politically opposed to each other. People on each side try to trip each other up, make their opponent say something wrong, hoping to get the sound bite that will put a stop to their opponents momentum. Some things never change.

So the lawyer is there to “test” Jesus. And he asks, politely enough, but perhaps with some sarcasm, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” So Jesus puts him to the test, just a little bit. He asks him what is written in the law, what he reads there. And the man correctly answers something that, according to Matthew and Mark’s Gospels, Jesus himself said. In those Gospels, when asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus had responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind (and Mark’s version adds ‘and with all your strength’). This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it; ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” So Jesus tells the lawyer that he has given the right answer, and if he does this, he will have eternal life. It sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Just love everybody.

But the lawyer presses on. He wants to justify himself, according to Luke. And so he asks an interesting question. “Who is my neighbor?” Think about it for a minute. In some ways it is a whole lot easier to love the “neighbor” who lives across the world who you don’t really know but can love in principle, than it is to love the one literally next door who complains about your weeds growing across the property line, or your dog barking, or who won’t discipline his kids who keep running through your flower beds.

Jesus tells the story we have come to call “The Good Samaritan,” which in those days would have been an oxymoron to the people who were listening. To them, there was no such thing as a GOOD Samaritan.

The story starts off innocuously enough. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.” This might have raised a little anxiety. This is a rough road. But many people did traverse it. He “fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.” That’s scary. Because this is some unnamed man, they could picture this happening to them on that road. We can imagine this happening to us on some dark deserted road too. “Now by chance,” Jesus said, “a priest was going down that road.” We might think this is good news. If anyone is going to help, it would be a man of God, right? But that is not how the story goes. “When he saw him, he passed by on the other side.” A Levite, which was another order of Priest, perhaps an assistant to the high priests, did the same thing. There are all kinds of suggestions in the commentaries about why these men might have passed by. Touching blood made one unclean, and the purification rituals took time, so if they were on their way to worship, they couldn’t touch that man and still conduct their services. The law might have come before their compassion. Jesus had things to say about that. He didn’t like it. Some say they might have been afraid. Perhaps the robbers were still in the area, and would beat them too. Who knows really, why they didn’t stop. But THEY didn’t. Then, Jesus said, a “Samaritan while traveling came near him.” This would have sounded like bad news to the original hearers. Samaritans were hated. They were a group of people who resulted from mixed marriages between pagan folks and Jews who had been carried off in times of war. They had lost their devotion to Judaism. They worshipped various gods. It was thought that God despised them, and that by associating with them, you could bring down the wrath of God upon yourself and your good people. Jesus taught by example that people were wrong about this. But good Jews in those days would walk miles out of their way to avoid going through Samaria and being contaminated by association. Can you think of anyone whom we are encouraged to think about like that today?

The Samaritan though, “was moved with pity.” He stopped, perhaps at risk of his own life. What if the robbers were still there? He might have suspected that the injured man, were he healthy, would despise him and be rude to him. Why should he help? But he treated the wounds, bandaged him up, put him on the animal that he himself had been riding, and took him to an inn, where he cared for him overnight. Then he gave the innkeeper some money, and told him to care for the man until the Samaritan could come back, at which point he would pay him for any other expenses the innkeeper incurred. Jesus asks, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? The man correctly answered, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” This is the way a disciple lives life.
It’s all about love: Love that takes precedence over personal convenience; Love that moves us past previous slights and hurts; Love that triumphs even when personal safety is at stake. Jesus praises a member of the most hated group, and tells people that if they want to follow Jesus to eternal life, they should go and do like the Samaritan did.

So what does this mean to us today? How do we become like the Good Samaritan? There is a story that made the rounds on Facebook yesterday. It was a post that got picked up and shared by bunches of people. But the original post came from a young black woman named Natasha Howell, who entitled her post “Feeling hopeful.” Here is what she said:

“So this morning I went into a convenience store to get a protein bar. As I walked through the door, I noticed that there were two white police officers-one about my age, the other several years older- talking to the clerk-an older white woman-behind the counter about the shootings that have gone on in the past few days. They all looked at me and fell silent. I went about my business to get what I was looking for, and as I turned back up the aisle to go pay, the oldest officer was standing at the top of the aisle watching me. As I got closer, he asked me, “How are you doing?” I replied, “Okay, and you?” He looked at me with a strange look and asked me, “How are you really doing?” I looked at him and said, “I’m tired!” His reply was, “Me too.” Then he said, “I guess it’s not easy being either of us right now, is it? I said, “No, it’s not.” Then he hugged me and I cried. I had never seen that man before in my life. I have no idea why he was moved to talk to me. What I do know is that he and I shared a moment this morning that was absolutely beautiful. No judgments, no justifications, just two people sharing a moment.” She closed with the hash tag #foundamomentofclarity. The man on the side of the road might have posted something similar if he had had Facebook in those days.

What do we do in times of great division, in times where people feel free to hurt and kill others who seem to be part of a group that they don’t like? How does a disciple deal with such things? Disciples reach out with compassion, allow themselves to be moved by the plight of another, whoever they are, and take action to help. It might be as simple as speaking calmly with those with whom you disagree, or speaking up kindly but firmly when you hear others saying things that widen the divisions between us. It might be offering words of reconciliation and peace, as the officer did, to someone who might appear to be on the other “side” from where you appear to be. It is recognizing that God does not want us to be divided in this way but rather to see each other as brothers and sisters, and do whatever we can to work on that in ourselves, because all of us have deep seated prejudices that we have been taught over the years, and it is up to us to work against them. Over and over again we hear how peoples opinions change on divisive issues like mental illness, or same sex marriage, when they discover that they know and care about someone who doesn’t fit their negative stereotypes, someone in whom they can see the brother or sister or child or parent in Christ. Jesus tells us to love God and our neighbors, and that our neighbors are everyone, and everywhere. It’s all about love. So simple, and yet so hard. But we have to start somewhere. Let’s start with ourselves. Amen

Learning to Live as Disciples–Loving

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