Being a good neighbor, by Pastor Noel

July 13 & 14, 2019    Proper 10C

 

      “And who is my neighbor?”

      This story we call “the Good Samaritan” is one of Jesus’ most familiar and enduring parables.

      If by some chance you have never heard this before, let me know and we can talk about it after church.

      The rest of us may nod off and say “yeah, yeah” as we hear it told yet again. It’s so familiar that are hospitals called “Good Samaritan” get called “Good Sam.” “Good Sam” doesn’t necessarily remind us of the power of the care bringer in the story.

      When something is so familiar we don’t pay attention. Our mind wanders and we miss new insights that are always possible, even when we’ve heard something hundreds of times before.

      Just hearing it’s a parable lets us know that there are many ways to interpret and understand Jesus’ words.

      It helps to find new ways to experience the story so we may find new insight and understanding.

      Once I was part of a group that acted out the story. Even the rocks that the robbers hid behind were given life in our reenactment.

      Another way to gain fresh ideas is to read it with a child who hasn’t heard it before. And keep asking them to tell you what’s happening.

      My grandson had a children’s illustrated Bible. Before he could read, we read it to him. After a while, the only story he wanted to hear was this one.

      He was looking for the answer to why there were bad men who hurt someone. A question that can’t really be answered—at least not to the satisfaction of a 5 year old.

      For now I have turned to Amy-Jill Levine, who looks at these stories from a Jewish and historical point of view.

      Lawyers were part of the Jewish religious leadership. They had a strong connection to Torah, Scripture, and were often lumped together with Scribes and Pharisees.

      Jesus’ listeners would have had positive feelings about lawyers. Luke’s readers know that Jesus is critical of lawyers. He accuses them of looking to their own interests, and not to the interests of the people.

      This lawyer looks to his own interests as he asks a question to make himself look pious. He is also “testing” Jesus, hoping to make him look heretical.

      The lawyer doesn’t realize it, but his first question is heretical. He asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”    According to Scripture, the answer to that is, “nothing.” Eternal life with God is part of God’s promise.

      Jesus parries with a question about commandments. He is not saying that following the commandments is a ticket to heaven.

      He is saying that because we already have this ticket, we follow the commandments in gratitude.

      The lawyer then asks a question that shows he has not understood Jesus. “And who is my neighbor?”

      Jesus does more than answer the lawyer’s question. He gives a strong commentary on law vs life with God, and criticizes the cultural beliefs of who is right with God and who is not.

      One cultural belief was about Samaritans. Short explanation—they worshiped God but not at Jerusalem. They were Hebrews, or Jews, who had split from the main body of Judaism.

      Their hatred for each other was like the iconic Hatfields and McCoys of legend.

      Jesus shows Samaritans being good in more than one story. And, we need to realize that he was showing all Samaritans can be good.

      When we single out this one man and call him “good” we are, in effect, saying the rest of the Samaritans are “bad.” This is not Jesus’ intent.

      Jesus is again showing that law and life can have different applications. Leviticus says that life with God is the more important and should extend beyond one’s family. Leviticus says to be loving to the stranger, also.

      The Priest and Levite in the story choose law over life.

      You may have heard that they didn’t stop because to touch a dead person defiled them and kept them from worship. These two were coming up from Jerusalem, so they had already been to worship. They had no excuse.

      And, Jewish law says that saving a life is the most important thing. And if the person is dead, burial is the next important thing. Both failed at these holy actions.

      The man they passed by is called by Jesus, “some person,” or “some man.” Anonymous. We know nothing about him except that he was a victim of violence who needed help.

      So, since this is a parable we can say, “what if?” What if he were rich, or poor, or heading to worship, or coming home from worship. He was on the Jerusalem road. Jerusalem meant the Temple and worship.

      Does his identity matter?

      To the robbers it didn’t. To the Samaritan it didn’t.

      He is a victim. He is in need of help. That matters.

      The Samaritan helps. The lawyer is so upset that this enemy would be a helper that he can only speak of him by what he has done, “the one who had mercy.”

      Barbara Brown Taylor says, “When my religion tries to come between me and my neighbor, I will choose my neighbor. Jesus never commanded us to love our religion.”

      “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

      The priest and Levite walked away wondering what might happen to them. The Samaritan stopped because he cared about what would happen to the man if he didn’t.

      Loving our neighbor matters. Sending “thoughts and prayers” instead of helping is not the way to show that love.

      Today there are so many situations where we are like the folks on the Jerusalem road. How do we respond? Are we sending thoughts and prayers—that may be all we can do, and prayer is no small thing. Are we taking action to help relieve suffering and fear and pain?

      As we ponder this parable, and how we respond to it, here are some thought-provoking, and action-provoking, questions.

      In Christian Century Kristin Burkey-Abbott asks, for example:

Who is in our path who needs help?

What do the wounds look like? Not everyone who needs help will bleed in obvious ways.

What roles do we play that might keep us from seeing those who need help?

When we can’t help in a direct way, how can we be like the innkeeper and play a supporting role?

What resources do we have to share?

When is sharing our financial resources the best way we can help? When do we need to play a more active role in bandaging the wounds?

What other ways can we show love for our neighbors? How do we translate love into action?

     Lots of ways to be a compassionate follower of Jesus.         Some we can do by ourselves, others need community support.

     How can you and I, and us—all of us together—be the help that is needed in our world?

 

     

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details