“The Choices We Make” The Rev. Jen Van Zandt
So, friends, the story of the Good Samaritan, which we’ll be reading in a moment, is a wonderful way to deepen, and even change, the way we understand the Love of Neighbor in our Lenten time. But, if we listen even more closely with courage, we will hear and identify with more than one of those characters in this story. So, try to listen with new ears and a new heart.
NEW TESTAMENT LESSON Luke 10: 25-37
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
It’s only natural, I think, to want to identify with the Good Samaritan and, in many ways, with the fine mission that we do here, I think that’s certainly appropriate. But this parable goes even deeper than even that. This Samaritan was not just a non-Jew living on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Samaritans were despised people—to the priests and to the Levites, including the lawyer. Samaritans were perceived as enemies. They aided Syria in their war against the Jews and refused to help restore the temple in Jerusalem after the fall of Judah and their deportation to Babylon. The Jews, in turn destroyed the Samaritan temple in Mount Gerizim. So, suffice to say, these were not friendly neighbors, but something quite a bit worse than the Hatfields and the McCoys!
The lawyer, who seemingly wants to get his future affairs in order (meaning eternal life) is a bit like a student who is brown-nosing a teacher to ensure the best college recommendation, as well as, to show the rest of his own classmates how ‘special’, how ‘brilliant’, and how ‘talented’ he is. As much as we don’t like to admit it, we do that, too. But Jesus is more than just a teacher, He is the embodiment of God. He’s eager to ensure that we understand that knowing what we do and doing it with humility, are two very different things. Again, if we’re honest with ourselves, (and we should be because it is Lent after all), when we care for our neighbors, secretly, we are so proud of ourselves.
The priests and the Levites? they’re even worse. They are blinded by their own status. They are literally born into families with lineage that give them front row seats and keys, literally to the temple. In short, they are, people of tremendous privilege. Touching, let alone caring for an unclean, non-Jew is literally beneath them. Their only perceived neighbors are those of the same faith, same ilk, same levels of blessings–those who dwell together and embrace the covenant with Yahweh.
The Samaritan, on the other hand, has no connection to the temple in Jerusalem or in Judaism, as a whole. The Samaritan is in the lonely and lowly position of being a merchant. He’s literally a travelling salesman. He is despised. He’s an outsider with no privilege. He, is actually the one that calls us all out. Without education and understanding with the Torah, how could he possibly know what to do? How could he have the courage to touch and bind up a beaten, left-for-dead man in a ditch, put him on his animal, and take him all the way into an inn for recovery, getting him out of harm’s way and then even leaving money for lodging and care for a perfect stranger?
See, the Samaritan didn’t have a limited view of who his neighbor was. He didn’t judge him by his skin tone or his language, his education or his clothing or anything that might determine his stature. The Samaritan wasn’t just good, he actually was compassionate. The text literally says that the Samaritan was “moved to pity”. And in the Greek, it actually means deep, deep compassion and care. I mean I’m sure the priests and Levites felt bad, but they kept on walking, hiding behind their pedigree and their privilege.
My friends, this text is calling us all to recognize our privilege—our white privilege—and to open our eyes to all of who our neighbors are. Jesus uses the despised, but compassionate Samaritan to help us see our near-sighted views of our neighbor, and, as the daily headlines remind us, racial injustice is a failure to stop and look and listen and attend to the wounds and the scars that are on the inside of all of the outsiders.
A number of years ago I used an illustration about a photo I had seen in black and white. It was powerful and it was a picture of an emergency room with all black medical workers working on a white man on a gurney, still in his KKK uniform. I have since learned that that photo was, in fact, staged as part of an ad for a magazine in Australia. Part of the campaign tagline was “People that think bigger than they are.”
There was an article in USA Today debunking all of this and fact-checking it. And the quote was: “This was an optimistic comment on how we can rise as one human race and come together despite divisive histories, horrific abuses, evil ideology, economic hardship and physical impairment, i.e., if we are bigger than our thoughts and aren’t constricted by hatred or prejudice, we can actually achieve huge things like saving lives, feeding the poor, love, and maybe even end war itself.” That was written by Jay Furby, the man who was the Creative Art Director behind this staged photograph.
I think that’s what Jesus is getting at in this text. And, yet still, eventually, he got on a donkey just a week later, knowing He would die for all those sins and our all of sins. And He did it all in the name of Love. Friends, it is our turn to carry on the legacy of loving all neighbors, near and far. May it be so. Amen.