Two friends had been arguing over a conversation that went on for many years. One of them claimed that Jesus was white. The other claimed that he was black. The years had gone by and they soon died (surprisingly, they died on the same day). Both of them ended up in heaven. The apostle Peter happened to walk by and they immediately ran to the gates of heaven. "Excuse us," they said. "We have been arguing for many years and now it will all come to an end. Tell us, is Jesus black or white?" Just then, Jesus walked up to them and said, "Buenos días".
As I have lived on this earth, I have come to realize a characteristic of human beings. It is the quality of "selective" hearing. I'm sure all of you ladies know what I'm talking about with spouses and kids. Maybe some of the gentlemen can relate as well. In one of my preaching instructions earlier in school, I was taught to: tell the congregation what you are going to tell them; then tell them and finally tell them what you told them! But we are dealing with this characteristic of human beings in a rather profound way this morning with Jesus and the Jewish Attorney of the Jewish Law.
This gentleman seems to be in his own high regard and is approaching Jesus to apparently show Jesus he's not as 'smart' as the lawyer thinks that Jesus thinks he is! Strangely enough, Jesus lets the man answer his own question by responding to a question WITH a question. Don't you hate that! A pastor once asked a rabbi, "Why in the Hebrew tradition does the teacher always answer a question with a question?" He answered. "I don't know. Do we always do that?"
But as all things with our Lord, he knows how to take the opportunity of a teachable moment. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan as we have come to know it as we have grown up in the Church. What we may not have realized is some of the subtleties of this story. There was a bit of selectivity in the Jewish observance venue of Jesus' day that Jesus had no problem pointing out by again letting the listener answer his own question.
When God gave the Israelites the command to love your neighbor in Leviticus 19:18, the Israelites felt confident that they knew who that was fellow Israelites of course. They were tribes; all somehow related through their ancestors the 12 sons of Jacob.
But here comes that selectivity. They only read in practice, the earlier part of that chapter and left out the uncomfortable part that came a few verses later: " When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God." (vss 33 & 34) Not content to leave well enough alone apparently, the doctor of the law says: "but who is my neighbor?"
Jesus begins what we call the parable, (or literally story beside a story) of the "Good Samaritan". A man was going down the 17 mile stretch from Jerusalem to Jericho. In that short distanceCthrough a very barren and arid terrainCthe ground drops 3000 feet. It is an ideal place for robbers to hide and ambush travelers. As fate would have it, robbers attacked him and stole his clothing and beat himCleaving him to die. Now is when this gets interesting.
A priest happens byCthen a LeviteCa liturgist, a professional charged with the maintenance of the Temple worship. They both go way over to the other side of the road. What is wrong with this picture? This is somewhat a scandalCsurely these religious men should have done something! I know…excuse! Even today we can always come up with one of those for something we don't particularly want to do! Perhaps they were afraid that the robbers were still near. Perhaps they thought the man was already dead and to touch him would make them ritually uncleanCso they would be unable to serve in the Temple.
Whatever it wasCthey ignored him..and no doubt Aself-justified.@ Certainly everyone was expecting an anti-clerical twist hereCsurely an Israeli lay person comes by, Ayou know those clerics! Hypocrites. The laity, now they are the true believers, the good guys@Cbut IHS throws them a curve.
A Samaritan comes by. They must have thought: "a who?" "what?" Now this must have been quite a jolt. A Good Samaritan? Jesus always seems to have a Ajolt@ in his stories; a cosmic reversal; an unexpected twist! It must have taken Atemerity@ for Jesus to put a Samaritan in the story!
The Jews felt about the Samaritans like the German Jews feel even today about Nazis and other "groups" pitted against other "groups" seem to feel about each other these days: avoidance, distaste, dislike or even unbridled hatred! Some history: the Samaritans were a half breed peopleCJews left in the land during the Babylonian captivity, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple. They had intermarried with the Assyrians from years earlier. They had opposed the rebuilding of the Temple and said they were the only legitimate heirs to Jewish worship. They had their own Temple on Mount Gerizim. Jews considered them as heretics, apostates who denied the faith. Despicable people whom they looked at odiously. You know that Aodious@ look. AWho does she think she is@. ADon=t lower yourself to his level.@ The Samaritan heretic, the one generally treated despicably by the Jew, takes care of the Jewish manCdisinfects his wounds and takes him to an inn and leaves about two month=s rent with a promise of more if it is needed. And IHS asks Awho was neighbor to the man?@ The lawyer replies, and you can almost see him gritting his teeth trying to get the words out: Athe man who showed mercy.@ You can almost hear the people thinking: "is it getting warm out here?" Is Jesus hitting a bit close to home?
The lawyer had really been askingCWho is not my neighbor? What are the limits to my responsibility? That is a question each person who believes in Christ must ask constantly. It would be nice if we could choose to be neighbor to the people who we like and who could do us some good! But that would make us no different from every other person born into the world without God=s love in them. IHS calls us to love people we don=t like and people it is of no earthly advantage to know. Indeed, it is the contrast between erosCthe love that demands its own interest and agape the love that is generous in its interest in others. But love, true love is not some weak sentiment. Song of Solomon (8:6) says Alove is as strong as death@ (NIV) It is able to conquer all other things. Sometimes that is tough love. Parents often have to administer tough love. It is very hard on the parent, but is for the ultimate good of the child, although the child may kick and scream at the penalty of his or her actions and say horrid things to the one painfully loving them. Even harder with another adult!
A question we must ask ourselves isCAwith whom do we identify in the story?@ I mean REALLY? I think we should be conscious that we are at least in one sense Samaritans. We have by our lives denied the faith in thought, word and deed and yet... In spite of our birth right to be sinners, Jesus has redeemed us and made us Agood sinners@...@good Samaritans@.
In the baptismal covenant we pledge our determination to love neighbor, and to strive for justice and peace among all people respecting the dignity of every human being but honestlyCdo we not often walk on the other side afraid to dirty our hands? Do we need to justify ourselves? Who are the Samaritans in YOUR LIFE? Whom do we feel Ajustified@ in despising, rejecting, pre-juding? When do we side with the priest and the Levite? With _______ you fill in the blank. With anyone different from us? Someone we feel treated us unjustly or a friend unjustly? Everyone is neighbor for the Christian. The question is will we be neighbor! Martin Luther King Jr.: "The first question which the priest and Levite asked was "If I stop help this man, what will happen to me?" But…the Good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"
If God=s love flows through us, is in usCit must be acted out in the love of neighbor. In I John 4:19-21 we readCAWe love because he first loved us. If anyone says, AI love God,@ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.@
As IHS saidCAGo and do likewise.@ As NIKE once saidBAJust do it!@