St. John's, Centreville
July 14, 2019
Proper 10 C
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
If there is one story in the gospels that is familiar to most everyone, it is the parable of the Good Samaritan. The term "Good Samaritan" has made it into the public domain, and there are now "Good Samaritan" laws that protect those who stop and help others. Because the story is so familiar, it is easy for us to dismiss it because we already know it. It can be hard for the story to become alive for us. But each time we hear it, we can learn more about ourselves, about God and about our compassion for others.
The story of the Good Samaritan starts with the lawyer, who is an expert in the law of Moses, trying to test Jesus. So this conversation starts with an adversarial position. The lawyer is not inquiring to gain insight or information. He is trying to test Jesus and see if he can put him in a corner.
The lawyer asks Jesus two questions. The first is "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" As Jesus often does, he answers a question with a question. "What is written in the law?" And the lawyer replies, "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." Jesus answers, "You have answered right; do this and you will live."
The lawyer seems to be under the impression that eternal life is something that must be earned, something that is out there somewhere. He doesn't understand that it is a gift from God, something to be received with an open heart and an open mind. Because he is an expert in the Jewish laws, all 613, he may be of the mindset that everything has to be earned, that nothing is freely given. It's like checking off all the boxes and in the end, you will get eternal life.
Then the lawyer asks Jesus another question "to justify himself". "Who is my neighbor?" If he has to love his neighbor, he wants to know who that is. Tell me specifically who I have to love, and on the other hand, who I can ignore. He wants specific criteria - perhaps its just the people on my street or maybe those who live in a three block area. He wants some kind of definition of who is "in" and who is "out". He certainly wouldn't want to love someone who is not his neighbor. He couldn't possibly be asked to love everyone, especially those who are of different religions or nationalities. That would be absurd!
Instead of giving the lawyer a one or two sentence answer, or saying "everyone", Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Two very religious people pass by the man who is hurt on the side of the road. We can make all sorts of excuses for them - perhaps they think he is already dead and they do not want to defile themselves and not be able to lead worship in the temple. Perhaps they are afraid that it is a trap, that if they stop, they will be beaten and robbed as well. Whatever the excuse, they cross the road and pass by on the other side.
It is a man from Samaria, one who is despised and considered an outcast, who stops to help the wounded man. He then gets the man to the inn where he can recover and he pays the man's expenses. Not only that, but he will come back to check on him in a few days and pay any outstanding bills. The Samaritan man gets fully involved in the life of the injured man because he has compassion for him. He not only helps the wounded man, but then goes the extra mile to help him.
Jesus asks the lawyer, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
By using the Samaritan in his parable, Jesus deliberately shocks the lawyer by forcing him to consider the possibility that a foreigner with different religious beliefs might know more about love and compassion than a devout Jew blinded by his preoccupation with the rules. The Jews hated the Samaritans, seeing hem as unfaithful to the law of Moses and to the temple worship in Jerusalem. Jesus' use of the Samaritan as the hero of the story shatters the lawyers preconceived notions of who are and who are not the people of God - who is "in" and who is "out", who is my neighbor and who is not. The boxes that the lawyer wants to put people into, the labels that he wants to give them - Jesus blows them all away with this story.
Who is my neighbor? My neighbor includes those who suffer. My neighbor includes the poor. My neighbor includes everyone - even those who are our enemies. As we see pictures and hear of immigrant children being housed in overcrowded cages with no access to showers or medical help or toothpaste and soap or clean clothes, of older children having to care for toddlers and infants, of children being separated from their parents - they are our neighbors. What is happening at our southern border is not a partisan or political issue. It is a moral one. The issue is about how these people are being treated, not whether they are allowed to come into the United States. They are our neighbors.
It is because of our compassion for one another, for our neighbors, that we need to do something. We need to act. It is a reflection of who we are as Americans and as Christians. Jesus demands that we love one another, no matter their religion or nationality. We are called to love one another because we are all beloved children of God.
I commend to you the website of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande. The bishop there, The Rt. Rev. Michael Hunn, gives regular video updates about the situation on the border and what his diocese, and the other Episcopal dioceses in Texas, are doing to try to help. Their website is
. Their supplies of toothpaste and soap and diapers were not accepted at the American detention centers. He says that now that most of the immigrants seeking asylum are being held in Mexico rather than the US, he and his diocese are working with churches on the Mexican side of the border to try to provide supplies to those who are awaiting court hearings regarding asylum. But the court dates are 6 to 8 months away and the adults are not able to obtain work permits. They can't go home due to the violence and poverty and gangs in their home towns. So they are caught in the middle, restlessly awaiting their fate with the US justice system.
Who is my neighbor? Those at the border seeking asylum. Those living in poverty in India. Those who are living in war torn countries like Somalia. Those who are discriminated against because of their religion or sexual orientation. They are our neighbors just as much as those sitting next to you this morning.
Who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? The one who showed him mercy. And Jesus said, "Go and do likewise." Amen.