Who is My Neighbor?

+ A sermon given for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) – at First Lutheran Church, St. Peter, MN on July 10, 2016 +

Texts: Luke 10:25-37

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

My beloved siblings in Christ, this is the third sermon in a row where I have struggled to find words to encapsulate the grief our country has experienced in the prior week – and struggled even more to find gospel hope to leave you with. This week has been another difficult one for many people in our community and in our country.

Tuesday morning, Alton Sterling was shot and killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Wednesday night, Philando Castile was shot and killed in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

Thursday night, five police officers were shot and killed and another seven wounded while they were on duty at a peaceful protest in Dallas, Texas.

I’m sure news of these events entered each of our homes. Videos of these horrific acts were plastered all over social media and on a constant loop on cable news.

And after weeks of painful news from Stanford, from Orlando, from Istanbul, and Dhaka, and Baghdad, and Medina, there were times this week I had to just turn off the TV and get off Facebook, because the grief was too much to bear.
It was hard for me to hear people insist that All Lives Matter, even though it is our Black siblings that are being killed at disproportionate rates.
That Alton Sterling and Philando Castile should have done more to prevent their own untimely deaths.

So perhaps all the emotions of this past week is why I have so little patience for the lawyer in today’s Gospel reading. “Wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”

The Good Samaritain - Luke 10:25-37Let me back up a moment.
Today we heard what has been called the story of the Good Samaritan. I think it’s safe to say that this is one of the most well-known parables of Jesus.
We see reminders of it all around us: Good Samaritan hospitals, charitable organizations like Samaritan’s Purse, and Good Sam RV Club.
Politicians frequently cite this parable and it’s a favorite of many Christians to show that we should treat each other with love and mercy.

But I think something has been lost in the domestication of Jesus’ words here. It’s become so well known that the radical nature of Jesus’ parable has been sterilized.

When the lawyer tells Jesus that the law says that you must “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” in order to gain eternal life, Jesus says that he is correct.
But wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asks another question: well, tell me Jesus, who is my neighbor?
Lying just below the surface of this question is his true meaning: who exactly do I have to love as much as I love myself in order to have eternal life?
Or more subtly, who isn’t my neighbor?
Who don’t I have to love?
Whose cries for justice and help can I ignore?
Who can I hate?

So, in response the lawyer’s question, Jesus doesn’t answer him outright, but in typical Jesus fashion, he tells a parable.
And Jesus uses a standard storytelling technique to get his point across; he uses a set of three to play into the crowd’s expectations.
Today, it would be like if he said, “The Father, the Son, and the ________ (Holy Spirit)”.
Or “red, white and ______ (blue)”.
Or “Larry, Moe, and _____ (Curly)”.
Now I’ve been told that at the time, there was a similar expectation of progression for “a priest, a Levite, and…an Israelite.”
After hearing that both a priest and a Levite had surprisingly not helped this poor, beaten man, the crowd listening to Jesus just knew that an Israelite would be the one to come and save the day by rescuing this guy in the ditch.
But rather than conforming to these expectations, Jesus throws a curveball and makes the hero of this story a Samaritan – an ancient enemy of the Jewish people. It’s hard to overemphasize how shocking this would have been to the listeners – Samaritans were known throughout Jewish history to be oppressors, rapists, and murderers.
As Professor Amy-Jill Levine says, “In modern terms, this would be like going from Larry and Moe to Osama bin Laden.”
Indeed, at the end of the story, when Jesus asks the lawyer, who was the one who was a neighbor to the traveler, the lawyer can’t even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan,” but rather says “the one who showed him mercy.”
And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

“Good Samaritan” by He Qi

I wonder what the man in the ditch thought when he saw the Samaritan approach him.
Was he scared?
Was he angry?
Did he wonder if he would be beaten even more?
But the Samaritan man, the unlikely hero, was moved with compassion, a feel-it-in-your-gut emotion, to help this man, who society told him was his enemy. He looked past his prejudices he had about this Jewish man and saw a man in desperate need of help.

When the lawyer asked Jesus who his neighbor was, Jesus turned the question around and asked the lawyer who was the neighbor to the man who had been beaten, because Jesus is always more concerned with the man in the ditch than he is with someone who is trying to justify himself.

My friends, as followers of Jesus, we are called to go and do likewise. We simply cannot just cross the road and ignore the injustices around us like the priest and the Levite. It is not enough to try to avoid being racist in our daily lives.

We must learn from the example of the Samaritan and become peacemakers and healers in our community and in the world.

g5x6ubkqWe must be willing to declare that Black Lives Matter to a world that seems to forget that fact with alarming regularity.

We must truly listen to our Black siblings as they tell us the heartbreaking realities of what it means for them to live as people of color in a society filled with systemic and daily racism.

We must denounce violence as a means to express our differences.

We must stand with law enforcement officers as we also call for changes in police tactics and procedures.

We must recognize when we have been part of an oppressive force and realize that it is our neighbor, our siblings in Christ, who are lying beaten in a ditch and, rather than offering explanations or suggestions, we must be moved with compassion and do all that we can to reach out and to support them.

We must go and do likewise following the example of Christ who shows us yet again that God will come in the most surprising places.

Through the pain of this past week, and the weeks preceding it, there has been a song that has stuck in my head that has offered me some comfort and hope. I wonder if you might sing it with me. It goes like this: “Christ our peace, you break down the walls that divide us. Christ our peace, come make us one body in you.



One thought on “Who is My Neighbor?

  1. Pingback: Finding Life | Paul On Grace

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