Luke 10:25-37 After Pentecost
Elizabeth M. Deibert 5 June 2016
Not many of us like to embrace weakness. In recent weeks, I’ve had an increasingly debilitating problem with my left shoulder. This past week the pain became severe enough to interfere with my life. It is no fun to be weak – to be unable to do what you think you ought to be able to do. It is worse to have chronic pain. For those of you have experienced that, I am sorry. I have a new appreciation for how difficult even a day or unrelenting pain can be.
So last week’s sermon was about hanging on to your faith, and the next ten weeks, starting June 12 will be our summer series on the Top Ten Bible Characters. Realizing that we would be skipping over some of Jesus’ best parables in the Gospel of Luke this summer, I looked at them to see what we might miss. So I figured if we had focused on the first four commandments on loving God last week, we might move to the other half – loving neighbor this week. And what better story than the one of the Good Samaritan because it gets at love of neighbor from every angle.
We’ll read the story in a moment and you’ll see what I mean. But first, let me talk about embracing weakness. People who are able to cultivate in themselves compassion for others have the courage to embrace weakness. And conversely, those of us who are most tempted to pass by are the ones who hate weakness in themselves and others.
Let us pray silently for God’s Spirit to illumine us as we hear this familiar parable…..
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.
"Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?"
27 He answered, "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."
28 And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
30 Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,
and fell into the hands of robbers,
who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.
31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him,
he passed by on the other side.
32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him,
passed by on the other side.
33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him;
and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them.
Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said,
'Take care of him; and when I come back,
I will repay you whatever more you spend.'
36 Which of these three, do you think,
was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"
37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy."
Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Let’s talk about the robbers first. Often we overlook them in the story and spend all our time talking about those who came by afterwards. The robbers attacked and stole from the man, leaving him to die on the road. They broke three commandments – Do not steal, do not murder (yes, they left him for dead), and do not covet what belongs to someone else.
There’s the religious authorities, failing to show compassion. They broke the golden role – do to others as you would have them do to you. How can you pass on the other side? You can try to justify yourself by saying, “It is just too dangerous. The robbers may still be there. Or it could be a trap to catch me – he’s just pretending to be hurt.” You can try to justify by saying you don’t have time. Someone else will take care of this problem – the psychological principle of diffusion of responsibility. Studies show that when there are more people who are in the area of an incident, each person is less likely to be helpful, because they assume someone else will help. You can blame the victim “He should have been careful. There are always robbers in this dangerous part of the road.” Or the victim’s family, “Why did his family let him make this trip alone?” Or you can say, “I did not hurt the man, so it’s not my job to help.” Or you might try to come up with solutions like, “There should be more police on the road to help people like this.” Or “He should have been carrying a weapon, so when he was attacked, he could defend himself.” You can start thinking about what you would do to prevent something like that from happening to you – yet another distraction from caring about the hurting man on the road. The religious authorities in Jesus’ day had the excuse of purity. “I cannot touch things that are unclean or I will not be able to perform my duties as a priest.” Law over compassion.
Bottom line on the religious authorities is that they are more concerned with themselves, their own protection, than they are in a man who is going to die, if no one helps him. Everyone understands self-preservation. It is easy to justify, and that’s why this story is such a challenge to people like us. We justify our own self-preservation all the time. We are free to walk past. We do not HAVE to stop. His problem is his problem. It is only my problem if I decide to get involved. Clearly Jesus thinks getting involved is the good neighbor response.
Finally, we consider the character of the Samaritan, the unlikely good neighbor. You know the lawyer wanted Jesus to define WHO is the neighbor whom I must love as I love myself. But Jesus turned that question on its head by defining what it means to be a good neighbor. He does so using the example of a generous, merciful act done by one not ordinarily trusted, one seen as unclean, unworthy.
Of course, the parable makes clear that the Samaritan, the one who risks himself and gives of himself, is the true neighbor of the wounded traveler. The merciful stranger was of a different ethnic group, and seemed to understand that all humanity is tied together. Neither predators nor passersby can be safe in a world where misery, famine, plague, and hatred are the scourge of millions. The Samaritan, like Jesus, was willing to embrace weakness, to come alongside suffering, and take it on as his own problem. Jesus did not walk past us when he lived on earth. He bridged the gap between our suffering and his power by taking on our weakness.
The Samaritan neighbor has flipped the implicit question asked by the passersby (what will happen to me if I help?) and acts on the question "what will happen to the wounded stranger if I don’t help?" It is this, and his effective action to render aid, take the wounded traveler to safety, and subsidize his treatment that makes the Samaritan a good neighbor.
What the Samaritan did was decide that the abject neediness of the guy was not something to run from, but something to engage. To love the Mexican neighbor means you worry less about what will happen to us if he or she comes into our country, and you worry more about what will happen to them, if they cannot find work and feed their family. To love the Syrian neighbor, one must consider the danger of terrorist, yes, but not just in our country. It is to worry about the terror of Syrian lives, of little children growing up in refugee camps, at no fault of their own. To love the neighbor who stands with a sign asking for money on a nearby street is to be concerned for the living conditions and the social structures which make begging his or her best option. To love the Beth-El neighbor is to bring monthly food and to be concerned for the fair wages of farmworkers.
Martin Luther King Jr said, "A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring" (King, April 4, 1967).
There are many ways to improve the Jericho Road. One is to send Good Samaritans down it to rescue those in trouble. Another might be better policing to protect travelers. Another might fund a public works project to straighten out some of the most dangerous spots. And still another might be the transformation of society such that fewer people are tempted to become robbers. But it all begins by having God change our minds about who is valuable in this world.
We become good neighbors by having the courage to embrace weakness in others and in ourselves. Fearing weakness, we walk on by. Fearing that even acknowledging their pain will make us less powerful, we do not even make eye contact with the homeless, those struggling with poverty, and the refugees who might weaken OUR economy or diminish OUR safety. Those are real concerns. I get it. We can justify quite easily – just like the priest and the Levite.
The calling to be a good neighbor can mean a personal and collective effort at transforming a society such that compassion is cultivated in all people for all people -- the people who are different from you, the people who scare you, the people who look down on you, the people who challenge your way of thinking. As a church named Peace, I hope we will always make an extra effort in a polarized culture to cultivate compassion which crosses over the chasms ofdifferences so that we may truly care for others by suffering with them, by embracing weakness. It will not be easy, for Christ-like love is costly.