The Rev. Linda Taupier – July 14, 2019
“Moses said to the people of Israel, “The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, … For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you…… 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.”
Isn’t it wonderful to have a God that wants us to prosper? All God asked was that they follow the laws and they did that because they believed the law came from God. The prophets recognized that by following the law, they would be offering a sacrifice to God. These were the laws of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The laws demanded all of your heart and soul “the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” Anything that demands that much is a sacrifice.
Now, enter Jesus, a rabbi-a teacher, talking about a God of love with some new rules to follow. Today we heard the very familiar story of the Good Samaritan. A lawyer tests Jesus by asking what he must do to inherit the Kingdom of God. Jesus knows and respects Mosaic law. Jesus turned it back to the lawyer asking what the law said. The lawyer knew and repeated the law replied correctly “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.” Do that said Jesus.
Then the lawyer wants a definition of neighbor which leads to the story you all know. Just who must he love? Certainly, only those worthy-those following the law, those he liked, those who went with him to temple. Those who were like him. He wanted to justify his actions and not make this loving thing too difficult. As a lawyer and as many of us do he was thinking in legalistic terms. It’s good to be able to justify ignoring those who are unlike us. A neighbor isn’t a definition, it is a person.
Now, let’s face it most of us, certainly speaking for myself, we tend to prefer to be with those like us.
There are at least 36 times in Hebrew Scripture that commands ‘love the stranger’. For example: Exodus says “you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of the stranger-you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt. And, in Leviticus ‘When a stranger lives in your land, do not ill-treat him. The stranger who lives with you shall be treated like native born.” That’s a tall order. They are being reminded that they were strangers and strangers should be treated well.
Jesus seemed to prefer being with those who would be considered strangers-those unlike those that fit into the lawyer’s mold. Jesus doesn’t exclude anyone and to make the point very clear gives us this parable. The Jews and Samaritans were convinced the other had defiled God’s revelation to Abraham. To say they didn’t get along would be an understatement. They viewed each other as an enemy. So, for religious reasons they would never do anything with one another-they didn’t talk with each other, worship together, touch one another. For Jesus to use these two types of people together-those who despised each other makes the point about inclusion and who our neighbor is. A Samaritan would never be the hero of a Jewish story.
And so, looking at this story Jesus is telling us to break down any barriers that have been set up either by ourselves or anyone else. We don’t get to judge who is inferior or who might be worthy.
I must admit that I have been that Levite and that priest. I have walked by many people in my lifetime who are in need. They may not have been lying on a road, but they have been hurt by what life has given to them. They have been clearly in need. What I realize is that I can’t do everything, but I can do something. I can at the very least pray for the person. I can go out during the winter in Big Blue. Recently, through a donation I was able to purchase tents and sleeping bags and have let people who work with the homeless know they are available. I can also work to treat everyone with respect as a child of God. Sometimes that isn’t easy, so I go back to praying. I can practice generosity and I invite you to these things as well. We have no idea where the Levite and priest were coming from or where they were going. I’m sure they were loved and respected and were good neighbors to those who were like them. We need to do better than that. All three traveling the road saw the wounded man yet it was the Samaritan that saw with his heart. He didn’t see a Jew, a Muslim, a gay person, a straight person, a refugee, a homeless person, he saw a person in need. He looked with compassion. He wasn’t making a political statement he was showing a heart that cares. God shows us compassion every time he meets us on the road. He is the Samaritan.
The day before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated he gave a speech in Memphis and mentioned this parable. He reflected on why the first two travelers might not have stopped for the wounded man. He believed that they were afraid. It was well known that the road they traveled was dangerous.
Dr. King said “And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’” That should always be our question. Our response can’t help but be love.
What would happen in the world around us if we stopped worrying about ourselves and offered to help the strangers in our midst and those at our border? What Dr. King is saying, I believe is that we should be more concerned about what happens to people when we neglect them.
Thomas Merton said, “Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things.” When Jesus saw the multitudes, he had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. Paul says, “Clothe yourselves with compassion” (Colossians 3:12). Desmund Tutu says, “If you are going to be compassionate, be ready for action.”
Have you encountered a Samaritan in your life? If you think about it, I’m sure you’ll remember at least one. In reflecting I have remembered many Samaritans who have shown up in my life. Putting people on our path as we need them is part of God taking delight in us. Now, “Go and do likewise.”