Luke 10:25-37: Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 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.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
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. 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.’ 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.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight o Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer…
So, the Good Samaritan. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the story. Heck, even my friend who thought Easter was when Jesus was born and that’s why we have Easter eggs knows something about the Good Samaritan story. Although I don’t know what her version is. But it is certainly ubiquitous, this story. It shows up in secular culture all the time. There’s even a law, the Good Samaritan law. This is how prevalent this story is.
And so, it may seem like we can gloss over this one. I mean, this is already a shortened service as it’s Service of the Word. If we don’t tell Keith, we can all leave extra early. And, trust me, as much as I would love to say hey, you all know this stuff, let’s just plow through and we can all get home for a nap, I just can’t. Especially in the wake of the devastating and divisive decision made at General Synod.
Because this, I’m sorry not sorry, is a wake-up call. And it seems mean and pushy and perhaps heavy-handed to give it to you all this morning, especially because I know that you are good people with good hearts, you would not be here otherwise. But the problem is, that sometimes that’s not enough.
See, I think that in our efforts to focus on WHO is our neighbour, we miss WHAT is meant by love. Because we think we’ve got love all in the bag.
Now, that’s not to say that I think a discussion about who constitutes our neighbour is not important. It is, as all too often my neighbour gets correlated with who looks like me, or thinks like me, speaks my language, worships my God, someone whose care will benefit me. My child, my parents, my spouse, my friends. People I choose to care for and who I like.
And, obviously, that’s not who Jesus thinks is my neighbour. I mean, we get that message time and time again. My neighbour is the single mom, the homeless man, the struggling university student, the immigrant, the indigenous activist. My neighbour is also the local racoon and the wild foxes and the sea turtles. My neighbour lives in downtown London, and Detroit, and Haiti, and Myanmar. My neighbour is sick, imprisoned, impoverished, my neighbour is addicted, my neighbour is traumatized, abused, orphaned.
My neighbour is everyone who needs me, because that’s what it means to be community. That at some point, we all need help, and tomorrow it might be me, but today I’m doing the rescuing. And trust me, I think that message is so important, because while it’s spoken over and over again, we sometimes still have
trouble implementing it. Because people who don’t share our values or our culture or our tax bracket can seem different and scary and all too foreign to be our neighbour. And that is a real issue.
But what I think is at the heart of this all, and at the heart of the gospel message, is love. Not just who we give it to, but what it really is. Because here’s the thing about this story…
So, we have Jesus talking to a bunch of people, teaching them as he does. And he gets a question, what do I have to do to get eternal life? Now, this opens up a whole other can of worms, but don’t worry about that, that’s a problem for another day. But Jesus answers him, what does it say in the law? Or rather, what is your covenant with God? Because that’s what he’s talking about here, covenant, not like bylaws about how many garbage cans you can have.
What does your covenant with God say? And the lawyer answered, love the Lord my God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my strength, and with all my mind, and my neighbour as myself. And Jesus says, well, there you go. Just go do that. It’s like two things.
But the lawyer, much like I would assume any of us would be, was kind of puzzled and was probably thinking geez, Jesus, can you vague that up for me a little bit? Like that’s not an answer. So, he goes where I would assume a lot of us would go and asks, well then, who is my neighbour?
Now this is, I think, the magic of parables. Because Jesus doesn’t tell the guy, here is an analogy for who your neighbour is. Dude, I’m God and it’s everybody. And I’m going to tell you this story using a group of people that you hate as a good example so you see that I’m not kidding when I say everybody.
No, what Jesus does is just start telling a story. And our minds, like the lawyer, jump to the part where Jesus gives us an explanation of who our neighbour is. But we completely bypass the other huge part of this discussion…love.
Now, we are in a really rough place in the church right now. And there is a lot of pain and hurt and utter despair out there. There are a lot of people who have bravely stood up, told their story of being the other, and faced judgement on the status of their personhood within this church, and we cannot diminish that.
But what we also cannot do is pave over this pain with politeness and excuses.
I said this passage is a wake-up call to us all, and I meant it. Because while we’re busy worried about who our neighbour is, we aren’t listening to what Jesus is telling us about how we are to love.
We can accept that our neighbour is poor and lowly, that they are marginalized and oppressed. But love, we want that to work both ways. Actually, we want that to flow upstream more than down.
Because when we talk about loving dialogue and standing in solidarity with each other, what we usually mean is the marginalized must put aside their pain and suffering to put their arms around us and smile. To conform to the status quo that keeps them down in the first place. To be submissive to the system that broke them. Don’t fight hate with hate we say while we strip them of their dignity and safety and personhood.
But that is not the love that Jesus calls us to. We look at the Samaritan as an outsider, and so we say that the story is about how even those we don’t care for, those outside our systems, can be loving and kind. But what we completely miss is that the Samaritan was healthy and wealthy enough to pay a lot of money for that man’s care. He wasn’t another poor soul in the ditch, he was privileged.
He bent the knee to the dirty, dying soul on the side of the road, put him on his animal and took him to an inn. He lowered himself in service to another. His love was about humility and sacrifice.
That is the love of the cross. To empty oneself in sacrifice to another, to wash the feet of those who follow us, to eat and drink with outcasts and sinners. To give up our lives for the betrayer and the criminal.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray for the church right now. I pray that it will find healing and unity, but that cannot come at the cost of those we deem not important enough to care about. True love is paid by our own lives. Our own hearts, our own minds, our own strength, our own souls. If we would truly love as our Christ taught us, let us bend the knee to those in pain right now. That is the covenant. A sacred trust, that for those who are in the worst of it, we will be at our best.
That we will love with no thought of how they love us back, but only that our neighbour needs us.