Sermon July 10, 2022, The Good Samaritan Laura Healy
This parable, along with the Prodigal son, is one of the most well-loved and well-known of all the parables in the Bible. It has even made its way into secular culture in the form of good Samaritan laws that protect individuals who stop and render aid to others.
I think this parable looms large in our imagination because it is quintessentially and emblematically concerned with what “being a Christian” is all about. And on the surface its meaning is pretty clear. Everyone is your neighbor. You should help them even if it is dangerous and even if they are your enemy.
Whenever I approach a bible story or parable, I often ask a Godly Play question to help find my way in – Where are you in this story? What part of this story is about you? The priest and the Levite on a bad day and the good Samaritan on a good day, yes?
We would see the bloodied and broken victim and be moved with pity – the Common English Bible says moved with compassion – and the Message puts it this way: his heart went out to him. On a good day.
On a bad day, we may be in such a hurry, our heads filled with to do lists and errands to run and all the things we’ve got to do when we get down to Jericho – we might be moving so fast we don’t even notice what has happened in the ditch and who might be lying there. If we are travelers on the road (whether it’s a good day or a bad day) if this is where WE are in this story, where is God in this story? In this story – a story particularly well suited for this place and this time.
The road we are traveling right now, socially, culturally, and politically in this country has been called an apocalyptic road. Apocalyptic in the truest sense of the word – these past few years have been an unveiling, a revealing, a revelation.
The author Sarah Bessey says: Everything that was hidden has been dragged out into the open. We are exposed. The lights are on, and we are blinking helplessly into the honest mirror of our culture, our selfishness, our racism, our rampant individualism, our lack of neighborliness, our injustice – all of it.
Our country and our culture is in crisis – afflicted with racial injustice and ongoing violence and so much hatred.
And we are all just so worn out from the pandemic from shutdowns and openings and closings and mask wars and worry and covid tests. We are worn thin and tired with an exhaustion that no self-care regimen or extra hour of sleep can relieve.
We have been leveled and underneath all of this exhaustion is a pervasive hopelessness. Maybe things won’t get better – or at the very least, we have no idea how to make anything better. We don’t even know where to start. As a friend of mine says, I just can’t. Shorthand for feeling hopeless and exhausted and adrift.
So where might we begin? What are some of the things we know? I know this – we are connected and interrelated, and we cannot survive without each other. God’s work is always to knit God’s children together in a communal fabric. So maybe, we are every character on the road down to Jericho – the bloodied and beaten victim, the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan, the robbers…
At VBS this year we sang a song whose chorus proclaimed “obedience is the good stuff” I joked that would be my next sermon mic drop – obedience is the good stuff. Because we all know what God wants us to do – obedience to God in this case – is to love God with all our heart and soul and strength and mind and to love our neighbor. Obedience is the good stuff.
But we are human and our human cares and concerns and worries and prejudices get in the way of obeying God. Sometimes we are too busy, sometimes it just seems too hard.
And exactly who is our neighbor? We understand that the people of Jerusalem and the people of Samaria were enemies. By the time Jesus spoke the words of this parable, the enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans was ancient, entrenched, and bitter. They disagreed about everything that mattered – how to honor God, how to interpret the scriptures, how and where to worship. They practiced their faith in separate temples, read different versions of the Torah and avoided social contact with each other whenever possible. They hated each other.
And if we are going to locate ourselves in this parable, I have to ask… who do you hate?
We are tribal by instinct and by habit. We are most comfortable with and usually care most about those who are like us. I only have to look at my own social circles to see this. My Facebook feed is littered with opinions that echo my own, the values I think are important, the political views I share.
In this country, at this moment, I think this is our Jew/Samaritan divide. Somehow, we have begun to hate and distrust and mock the people who disagree with us. Somehow, we have decided that people with political or culture or social viewpoints that are different from ours are stupid or lesser, that people on the other side of the aisle are not loved by God quite as much as we are.
These are terrible and difficult things to say, I know. But I have seen this kind of thinking play out within this very congregation. It is way too easy to demonize someone whose beliefs are different.
Our good Samaritan story might go something like this:
A racist white police officer is robbed, and a black teenager saves his life or
A border patrol agent is robbed, and an undocumented immigrant saves his life or
A progressive liberal democrat is robbed, and a conservative republican saves her life…
You see, what Jesus did when he declared the Samaritan “good” was radical and risky. Jesus was asking those listening to wrap their head around the upside-down kingdom of God. He was asking them to consider the possibility that a person might add up to more than the sum of their political, racial, and cultural identity.
Surely that’s what Jesus is asking of us too. When I look at this country, this community, I see the disarray. I see all the things that are broken. I see the damage. I see the pain. But I also see people tending to that hurting. I see people, I want to be a person that is beginning to stitch together the places where our differences have torn us apart.
Perhaps we simply must work harder to act compassionately. Perhaps it is our responsibility to be more intentional about compassion. Compassion – which literally means to suffer with.
And how can we be intentional about suffering alongside those we fundamentally disagree with? How can we approach each other on this wilderness road with love and respect?
John Wesley puts it like this: Let us go and do likewise, regarding every man as our neighbor who needs assistance. Let us renounce that bigotry and party zeal which would contract our hearts into insensibility for all the human race, but a small number whose sentiments and practices are so much our own, that our love to them is but self-love reflected.
God has strongly bound us together.
To which I might add: Obedience is the good stuff.
Because what Jesus is trying to share with us today might sound something like this.
Do this. Draw close. Take a chance. Be vulnerable.
Offer up holy resistance and radical compassion.
See your differences but show up anyway.
Show mercy. Extend kindness.
Live out your faith in hands-on care for each other
because I imagine Jesus turning to the questioning lawyer we meet in this scripture and reminding him eternal life is not about theology.
It’s about love.