Neighbors

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, Tx.
The lectionary readings for the fifth Sunday after Pentecost are here.


So, for those of you who were here two weeks ago, what do you remember about the Samaritans?

For those where weren’t here, here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Samaritans are a religious people group who are descendants of the Levites and tribes who settled in the northern part of the Promised Land. They consider themselves, to this day, to be the true people of God who stayed faithful to Yahweh through the civil war that split the Israelite tribes and the exile and return. Suffice it to say, the Samaritans and the Israelites did not think well of each other. In the bit we read two weeks ago, we have a ‘bad’ group of Samaritans who weren’t welcoming of Jesus. Today we have a story of a Good Samaritan. Hmmmm. What, on earth, do you think Jesus is up to?

Let’s take a look at the cast of characters in the story Jesus tells: We have a man who is beaten and left for dead by some robbers. We are not given the identity or nationality or any affiliation of these folks.

And then we have two Israelites: a priest and a Levite – a keeper of the temple and a keeper of the law. Each one saw the wounded man and each one walked on by. Now, I’ve heard folks try to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they were on their way to work and could risk being ‘unclean’ by touching blood. But, and those of you who made it all the way through the Torah in our BibleProject will know this, there is no law against the blood from a wound or injury. They walked on by because they thought what they had to do was more important than being inconvenienced by the wounded man.

And, so, Jesus introduces another member of the cast – a Samaritan. And everyone listening to this story would have thought “a Samaritan, what’s he going to do, finish the man off?” I’m sure Jesus left a long, dramatic pause in his telling as he looked from person to person letting them think what he knew they were thinking before saying, “and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion.”

Ok, before we continue, you may have noticed that I used a different word than what is printed in your bulletin. I used compassion rather than pity. The Greek word that is translated pity here is the same word translated compassion elsewhere. I don’t know why the NRSV uses pity here and compassion elsewhere but I’m sticking with compassion and here’s why: Pity evokes a hierarchy of sorts – you are worse off than me and I may have what you need to improve your circumstance but if I help it will be to make you more like me because why wouldn’t you want to be just like me, I’m better than you.

Compassion, on the other hand, moves us to do something to relieve another’s suffering because compassion understands that when one suffers we all suffer. I see you and your suffering and I want to work with you in relationship to alleviate your pain because I know that when you thrive so do I. It’s like the difference between a soup kitchen and a potluck supper. In a soup kitchen, there are those that have something to offer on one side and those who supposedly don’t on the other; the only interaction between the groups is the giving what I have to you in a one-sided transaction because I don’t think you have anything to offer. At a potluck we all bring what we have and share, each offering and receiving; we serve each other and come together in relationship. When Jesus saw hungry crowds, he was moved with compassion, he asked for what they already had and fed them. In this story, it’s the priest and the Levite may have had pity, we aren’t told. But, the Samaritan – gasp – compassionately helps.

Jesus tells this shocking story of a Good Samaritan in response to a question about how to inherit eternal life. The lawyer asking the question knows the answer: Love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourself, quoting the instruction that Moses gives to the ancient Israelites.

Jesus gives him credit for the right answer and summarized the rest of Moses’ teaching by saying, “do this and you will live,” present tense, here and now, every day, not someday. Moses made it clear that God’s commandments weren’t just a checklist but a way of life. God’s word is to be in our mouths and in our hearts. God’s way is the very air we breath, our nourishment, our way of speaking. And being “in our hearts” isn’t some Hallmark-styled sentimentality. In their understanding of the human body, the heart is what guided everything, even our thoughts. Life, eternal life, everlasting life, life as God intends it for everyone, is life lived God’s way, the way of love, compassion, grace, and mercy.

But that’s not what the man wanted to hear and he looks for a loophole. He looks for a way he can just achieve a goal rather than living with a purpose. He sees the world transactionally not relationally. He wants a checklist he can accomplish and then live however he chooses.

And so, with this story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus reminds him, everyone listening that day, and each of us, that life as God intends it for every human being is a life of relationship, working with God and each other for God’s purpose – the redemptive work of bringing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, being with God, stepping into what God is doing, doing life God’s way, following Jesus as our Savior and King.

Throughout the history of our faith ancestors, the people who entered into covenant with God wanted to look like all of the kingdoms and empires around them. And God kept showing them a better way, the way of heaven on earth, the Way of Love. But the people chose instead to believe the lies of this world: That one people group should dominate another, that life is about self-preservation and gaining power by any means necessary.

And God’s truth, the counter to the lie that I am more important than you, is that self-giving love is the only solution to the violence and injustice and oppression in this world.

God’s kingdom is a people, a family in which we all work together to take care of everyone’s needs, and in which we all recognize the image of God in each other. God’s kingdom is a potluck supper in which we offer ourselves so that we all flourish. No one is above another, no one is left out, as we walk together this journey of life, following Jesus in the Way of Love.

If Jesus were to tell this story today, he’s use groups like, Texans and Californians, Longhorns and Aggies, republicans and democrats, Russians and Ukrainians. When we toss an entire people group into a label bucket, we lose sight of their humanity, of their belovedness, of the image of God in them. And, we are not following Jesus.

When Jesus wraps up this story of the Good Samaritan, he turns the lawyer’s question back to him. The lawyer had wanted to know which groups he was required to label as ‘neighbor’ in order to check the “I’m a good person” box on his resume. Jesus leads him to the understanding that we need to work at being a neighbor, being the one who shows mercy to all. When we go and do likewise, we are living as God created and calls us to live on earth as in heaven. Amen.

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