Lectionary 15 + Sunday, July 14, 2019
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts
Text: Luke 10:25-37

Watch Here (Minute 19:45)

In the name of Jesus. AMEN.

Today we find ourselves on a rocky road. The road twists and turns, we don’t fully know how we got here or where we are going. Predators lurk, looking to take advantage of us in our vulnerable situation.

That’s how theologian Dennis Hamm describes the Jerusalem to Jericho road in today’s gospel. Rocky, winding, isolated, it was one of the scariest roads in Palestine. Not surprisingly, it was on this road we find a victim of a mugging. A victim both naked and mute, stripped of identity cues that might have communicated his origin, economic class, education, and ethnicity. He was a generic human being of the male sex.

Not surprisingly, people passed by this victim. Filled with fear about their own safety and survival, the Priest and Levite passed by on the other side of the road.

Surprisingly, however, we find someone who did stop – the Samaritan. The Samaritan, from Samaria, a foreigner, an outsider, one who had more reasons than the other two to rush by quickly.  If he was found kneeling next to the beaten man, would he be to blamed for the what happened to the man? Aren’t foreigners always blamed when citizens are suffering?

But in this story, it was the foreigner, the outsider, the one with the most to lose, who stopped. It was the Samaritan, who setting aside fear and risking his own safety, who responded with compassion. It was the Samaritan, who had every reason to ignore the man who, according to theologian Dennis Hamm,writing in the Paulist Biblical Commentary:  recognized a human bond beyond borders and acted with compassion.

Jesus asked the lawyer: “Which of these three, do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

Today, on our rocky and lonely road with predators lurking, God’s Word expands our understanding of both who a neighbor is and what a neighbor does. In the Gospel reading, Jesus asked the lawyer what the law said about righteousness. In response, the lawyer referenced Leviticus 19:18 – “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

As theologian Dennis Hamm points out, Leviticus 19:18 includes a surprising definition of who neighbor is.   The full verse, Leviticus 19:18, includes this:  “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countryman.”

Our neighbors are not just those closest to us geographically, our neighbors are also those with whom we share a piece of land – against our countrymen and women: “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge.”

And there is more, as Dennis Hamm points out, the full 19th Chapter of Leviticus, expands this understanding even further.  For the full law the man referenced for Jesus would have been this: recorded in 19:34: “You shall treat the foreigner who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for the foreigner as for yourself, for you too were once refugees in the land of Egypt.”

Our neighbors are not just those who were born here, not just those who look like us and think like us, our neighbors include all who are here – treat the foreigners who live among you no differently than the natives ­– says God’s Word.  In neighborliness, there is no distinction, no insider and outsider, all deserve the same treatment.

All of this context for what seems to be the main point of today’s parable, driven home in the final interaction.

“Who was the neighbor to the man?” Jesus asked.

“The one who showed mercy,” the rich man replied.

Jesus said to him: “Go and do likewise.”

Go, and do likewise.  Go, and be merciful. Go, be a merciful neighbor across borders, across socio-economic divides, across religious boundaries, across political differences.

Go, and be a merciful neighbor to all, to any, who are stripped, beaten, ignored, abandoned, and left for dead.

Go, be merciful, and kneel before the hurting, bandage the wounds, carry the weak, place the hurting into relationship with those who can provide shelter and safety.

Pastor Tim Knauff summarizes it this way:  “To Jesus, neighboring is an action verb, a full-contact calling that sometimes gets us down in the ditch and sometimes means we’re the ones reaching for help.”

So let’s be real.

We must confess, that in our sin, both as individuals and as a society,  we are far too often the Priests and Levites who pass by and do nothing. We must confess that in our privilege, we are the ones who turn to our comforts, and pass by and do nothing for people in pain.

We pass by as others are literally beaten, and robbed, and killed by xenophobia, racism, transphobia, and all sorts of other evils.

And, we must acknowledge, that on this day our President has claimed that ICE raids will begin … and on this day when detention camps, which some have called concentration camps, are housing our neighbors in inhumane, unsanitary, and unthinkable conditions … the Holy Spirit uses this parable today to ask us who we will be. 

Will we be priests and Levites today  who pass by and say do nothing?

Or, in faith, as the body of Christ, will we respond with neighborliness, with compassion, with strong and loud voices and actions insisting that to be a follower of Jesus Christ, is to insist that all humans be afforded with respect, dignity, and compassion?

I don’t think it’s coincidence that this Gospel story shows up in our lectionary today. In our day, in this moment, the Holy Spirit is asking us, will we obey the command of Jesus, “To go and do likewise?” 

It is a decision between life and death, but not just death of migrants, but our own life and death as people of faith and as citizens of the United States.  Are we a people of faith, and a country of the world, that kneels with compassion for those hurting?  Or, are we religious people and a country of priests and Levites who pass by, who keep our distance, and who do nothing?

Back to the gospel story, for there is one more surprise. 

Certainly, the man robbed, beaten, and left for dead was a victim. But, I also think, that in choosing to pass by, the Priest and the Levite were also victims! By choosing to do nothing, by choosing to ignore the plight of the dying man, they were beaten, stripped, and robbed of their humanity,

They were left dead in their sin, dead men walking, as they went on their way, dead in their humanity that might have led them to tend to the wounded man.

We who pass by, who are stripped of humanity, we are robbed of compassion, we are left for dead, separted from the beauty, vitality, and vibrance of the full diversity of creation God has blessed us with on this planet.

Making this honest confession, in repentance, we can turn towards the Good News today. 

The Good News today, is the depth of Christ’s compassion for the wounded, the hurting, the ignored, the abandoned. Christ, the Good Samaritan lives, and loves, and forgives beyond borders.

Christ the liberator, meets us and is alive in the scary, isolated and lonely roads. Christ is with us, and leads us through, through the valley of the shadow of death. Placing us into relationships with one another where we would know God’s grace, healing, forgiveness, mercy, and life.

Ultimately, what the Good Samaritan did for the wounded man, was place him into relationship with the inn keeper. Being a good neighbor is about fostering relationships where hurts and wounds are tended and healed.  That is the work of God in Christ – reconciling us and placing us into relationship with each other, restoring what sin has destroyed. Lifting the dying man from the road, and turning priests and Levites, turning us, towards one another in love and compassion.  It is the work of Christ in us and among us, turning us towards one another where hurts and pain are addressed in a community of compassion and healing.

May the Holy Spirit grant you the courage, the strength, and the grace, to be a good Samaritan, a merciful neighbor to all in need.

May the Holy Spirit grant you the faith, to trust that Christ kneels before your wounds and hurts, tending to you with forgiveness, mercy, and healing.

May the Holy Spirit continue to place us in relationship with each other, and in those relationships, bless the world with life and healing.

Indeed may it be so.