By Rev. Dr. Karen Schuder
Message on Luke 10:25-37
July 14, 2019
Recently we had our youth mission trip to the Twin Cities area. During this week we spent time in a variety of settings serving others, having fun and sharing during devotional times. We cleaned buses for a Head Start program, made lunch for teens at a homeless drop-in center, sorted books going to Africa, packed meals for seniors and children around the world, and spent time with individuals at a memory care unit. We also played at the beach, ate at an Ethiopian restaurant and a Mexican Mercado, and watched the fireflies dance around our cabins. We learned from a dear young man from the Congo & South Africa what it is like to be a refugee and immigrant in the U.S. Like each of the mission trips over the past few years, the week was filled with wonderful, meaningful moments while being with our terrific youth.
One of the greatest lessons of the mission trips is getting perspective of what life is like for people who have very different life journeys and challenges from our own. Today’s Scripture story from Luke with the great commandment and the parable of the Good Samaritan is a wonderful opportunity to consider different perspectives of how to live. This Scripture was what we focused on throughout the week for our daily devotional times. While studying the parable of the Good Samaritan, one of the youth came up with our mantra for the week, “No bystanding.” Let’s take a look at this powerful Scripture reading to see what it might mean for our lives today.
Jesus was in the midst of his journey when he was tested by the expert in Jewish law. By this point he had healed many, taught about discipleship, commissioned others to proclaim God’s kingdom and predicted his death and resurrection. Jesus had been challenged in a variety of ways, so the lawyer’s question trying to illuminate Jesus’ heretical perspective was probably no surprise. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he asked. Jesus turned the table by testing the lawyer’s knowledge and drawing from him what we consider the greatest commandment, and what everyone listening to this exchange knew as part of the Shema, the holiest of Jewish Scriptures. “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.” The lawyer did not give up the fight and asked Jesus to clarify who his neighbor was. Jesus’ answer with the parable of the Good Samaritan was one the lawyer could not refute, yet it turned all the listeners’ expectations upside down. Let’s look at the parable and its context to get the deeper meanings of this beloved story and exchange between Jesus and the lawyer.
In Jesus’ day, Jerusalem was the center of Jewish life and worship. Jericho, a present day Palestinian city, was a beautiful city considered to have been cursed at times. The cities were about 15 miles apart and connected by a crooked, dangerous road. Despite the danger and relative disdain for Jericho, the road was commonly traveled by Jews and others. To get a better perspective of the different characters of this parable I just so happen to have Letters from the Road to Jericho. (At least letters I think could have come from the road to Jericho.)
First we have the letter from one of the robbers who beat the man and left him on the side of the road.
Robber: I am one of the robbers. Don’t look at me that way; you know with disdain and hate. Here’s the way I see it – that guy was stupid. People should know this road is dangerous and if they are alone chances are they are going to get jumped. If we didn’t do it, there was probably another group down the road who would have gotten him.
Why would we rob the man? We were desperate and he clearly had more than enough for himself. I have asked for help, but pity is so belittling and often nothing is given. So why should I treat other people differently? Why should I treat people kindly, when I have been so mistreated over and over again?
It is so easy to discount such a perspective isn’t it? The tragedy of doing so, however, continues the denial of systemic problems and overlooking the possibilities of learning what changes could prevent future violence. Take a moment to think about this perspective and what it can mean for our lives, our world today.
Now we move on to a very different perspective, that of the priest who was coming from his duties in Jerusalem.
Priest: Holy is my God! I stand in awe of the creator and am so proud to serve Yahweh. When I have completed my scheduled term in the temple, I feel so right before my God and it is hard sometimes to go back into the world. I love feeling close to Yahweh; the divine power!
This was spoiled that day I finished my term, headed to Jericho for a break and saw that pile on the side of the road. As I moved closer, I could see it was a man. I hesitated for a moment, but realized if I went to him this may preclude me from fulfilling future temple duties. Mosaic Law is very clear on the issue of blood: 31 Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, so that they do not die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst. (Lev.15:31) Who’s to know if this man was clean before he was beaten or even Jewish; that would make it even more complicated. So I went to the other side of the road.
Don’t stand in judgment of me. I give much of my time and resources to God at the temple. I am constantly doing things for others through wisdom or prayers. To help one man and sacrifice the ability to serve my God and help many others do so does not seem to make sense. How could anyone even expect me to cross the road?
We like to think we stand in a very different place than this perspective, yet how often do we hesitate or fail to act because we are too busy. We give money to help others and sometimes spend time helping, but in reality convenience is usually integral to helping. Generosity from this perspective is swallowed up by greed and convenience. We may not be literally walking by someone lying in a ditch, but metaphorically speaking we do so whenever we get too busy and think giving a few dollars absolves our responsibility to help others.
Like the priest, the Levite reminds us of other risks involved in helping others. This is another perspective we would like to distance ourselves from, but to get the fullness of Jesus’ lesson let’s now look at the Levite’s letter from the road to Jericho.
Levite: I am a Levite. There are great responsibilities that come with this. My life is so busy! I am constantly doing things for the priests. Yes, I remember that day; the day I was on my way to Jericho. There were so many things I had to get done! I was trying to move fast and came upon this man. For a second I wondered if I should stop and help, but all that was pressing on me, I just couldn’t. I went to the other side of the road.
Yes, part of me does feel bad, but I really couldn’t take the chances or spare the time. I do so much in the world and I am working really hard to improve my standing. Well, missing work for one unknown person just wasn’t worth it. To be honest, I was frightened. If I had stopped, those who beat that man could jump me as well. That’s a dangerous road. So I raced on, it just wasn’t worth the risks.
Take a moment to think about this perspective. Once again we are reminded how busyness can move us away from living as Jesus calls us to, but now we also see more of the risks. Risks of being hurt or made vulnerable. Risks of not being received how we expect or accomplishing what we hope to. So like the Levite, we get caught in the anxieties and dangers of our world and rush by hoping not to be harmed or noticed.
Now we move on to the individual who did not turn his head or rush by, the Samaritan. Before I read his letter, it is important to note who Samaritans were in the context of Jesus’ day. Samaritans were descendants of a mixed population who opposed the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple and established their own place of worship on Mount Gerazim. The Jews of Jerusalem considered them to be unclean, social outcasts and religious heretics. In other words, definitely not their neighbors. Jesus picked an unexpected hero when countering the lawyer’s challenge. Let’s now look at the Samaritan’s perspective.
Samaritan: Life is a journey and if we are lucky enough, the right people are there to help us when we need it. Yes, I was on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Jerusalem is a beautiful city, but being Samaritan does make it a challenge to be there at times and I get nervous traveling on that road. Although the Jews in Jerusalem think we are so different, we really aren’t. When I came upon that poor man my first thought was: that could have been me. So I just did what I would want someone do for me.
Was it hard giving two days salary to help him? No, not at all. I am thankful for what I have including the many people I can count on for help if I need it. I don’t know who that man was, but he was certainly hurt and I was there to help him. May God provide for me at times when I need such help.
This is the perspective we most often think we relate to. It is natural to see ourselves aligned with the one who does a good deed, the altruistic standout of any story. Yet when we look at the Samaritan’s risk and generosity, we are most often challenged to see ourselves as needing to grow in our understanding of generosity and care. This is one of the things Jesus was getting at when telling this story about a social outcast demonstrating the depth of what the great commandment means. God’s love and God’s will for us to love goes outside of our social circles.
Jesus was also trying to get listeners to redefine their understanding of neighbor from the perspective of the one who was completely vulnerable and needed help. Here is the final letter from the road to Jericho, given from the perspective of the man who was robbed and beaten.
Man who was Robbed: That was the worst day of my life! I have taken that road to Jericho before and knew it was dangerous, but so many people who are wealthier than I make it safely. I really didn’t think I would be robbed.
My life was changed that day. Yes, I saw the priest and Levite pass me by. I can’t tell you how much I felt like a nothing when they crossed the road to move away, rather than help me. I used to love going to Jerusalem temple to worship. Now…. I just feel too hurt even though I know it is God we should be going to see at temple, rather than the priests and Levites.
Who was my neighbor? It was not the people who were too self-righteous, busy or fearful to help. Those bystanders, who did not go out of their way to help me and were silent about my suffering. Of course it was the Samaritan. Of those people who would you consider neighborly?
Can you relate to this perspective? Hurt by others and left unnoticed until someone kindly reaches out to help. During the times we are lying in the ditch, we often pretend to be one of the other characters. Stoic societal norms can leave the cry for help stuck in our throats or provide a convenient denial when someone reaches out to help. Such a sad perspective, because we are created to be communal people who can care for and help each other. Perhaps allowing yourself to receive help is a place to grow.
After considering the different perspectives, where on the road to Jericho are you? Where are we as a congregation? Are we acting out of anger, walking by others who are hurt and vulnerable, crossing to the other side of the road, lying in the ditch or stopping to help? This Scripture story challenges us just as the lawyer had been thousands of years ago. Starting with the great commandment: love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind; love your neighbor and love yourself. Living with this as our guiding foundation encapsulates a faith life lived believing God is at work with the resurrection love Jesus so profoundly demonstrated. A generous, no nonsense love that takes risks, gives hope and tears down walls between people.
Knowing he was on his way to the cross, Jesus countered the Lawyer with insight to how God’s love completely redefines who our neighbors are. They do not simply fall in the category as people who think and act like ourselves. In order for him to grasp Jesus’ lesson, the lawyer had to grow beyond his own perspective to see through the eyes of others. So too we are called to see beyond our own perspectives to learn more about how we can live as God calls us to live.
During mission trips our youth have exemplified the value of learning what life is like for others by turning expanded perspective into passion for helping others. No matter how many years of experience and living we have, we are to continue growing our perspective by learning what life is like for others. No more turning our heads or going to the other side of the road when we see someone hurt. We are at a stage in life and faith that we are supposed to be beyond bystanding. Knowing God’s love demands we expand our definition of neighbor and increase acting with a love that tears down walls.
Wherever we are on the road to Jericho, may we open our minds and hearts to hear and act on Jesus call: Love God, love neighbor, and love self. How will you do this more? How will we as a congregation do this more? Doing so while remembering busyness, fear or any other reasons do not remove us from the call to generously care even for those who are very different from ourselves. Knowing God’s love and generosity gives us the ability to do so. Amen.