Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 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.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 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. 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.’ 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.”
The light turns yellow and the woman begins to blow the car horn, flips him off, and screams profanity and curses at the man. The man, looks up, sees the yellow light and accelerates through the intersection just as the light turns red.
The woman is beside herself, screaming as she misses her chance to get through the intersection. As she is still in mid-rant she hears a tap on her window and looks up into the barrel of a gun held by a very serious-looking policeman. The policeman tells her to shut off her car while keeping both hands in sight. She complies, speechless at what is happening.
After she shuts off the engine, the policeman orders her to exit her car with her hands up. She gets out of the car and he orders her to turn and place her hands on her car, then handcuffs her and takes her to the police station where she is fingerprinted, photographed, searched, booked, and placed in a cell.
After a couple of hours, she is let out of the cell and escorted back to the booking desk where the original officer is waiting with her personal effects. He says, “I’m really sorry for this mistake. But, you see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping the guy off in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ bumper sticker, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday School’ bumper sticker, and the chrome plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally I assumed you had stolen the car.”
It would seem that many have a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to the topic of Christianity and Christians. I recently read a bumper sticker that said, “I’ve got nothing against God. It’s his fan club that I can’t stand.” Not necessarily original, you have all probably heard the Gandhi quote from several years ago, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” However, the Christian “image” seems to be deteriorating even more these days, there was a picture going around on Facebook: Jesus was walking down an old dusty road with Hitler seeming to have a very intent conversation with him. Worse, Jesus had a backpack and a rifle slung over his shoulder. I wrote a caption in my head for that one, Jesus said to Hitler, “So, how did you decide which ones could be members and which ones couldn’t? Oh… and what did you do with the ones that didn’t agree with you?” Christians are getting a bad name, but its really no wonder, so called Christians run around with placards declaring such things as “God Hates Fags” and others are quite comfortable with judging and categorically condemning to Dante’s ninth level of hell anyone who disagrees with their theology.
Now, please don’t misunderstand, I am in no way lumping you all in with these Christians. I am not suggesting that you are guilty of this type of behavior. In fact, what I have seen of you is quite the opposite, you all actually seem to be quite compassionate and loving. You are not guilty of this behavior, but in the eyes of many in the world today, you ARE guilty. In a sense, guilty by association, because we all live under the banner of Christianity.
For some, the appropriate response is to separate, attempt to isolate themselves, and shout with their loudest voices, “We are different! We are better! We have the answer!” Does this resolve anything? No. In all likelihood, it only compounds the original problem because Christians begin fighting with other Christians and the rest of the world sits back and laughs at the hypocrisy. At the other end of responses, we have some who will simply walk away, disillusioned and frustrated with their experience with Christianity, because they had believed it was something different. They believed it held meaning for their lives and answers to life’s questions, and discovered it was no different – if not worse – than the secular world. In between those to extremes is really just a great deal of apathy.
Is there a way out? Absolutely. The answer lies in answering one simple question: “Who is my neighbor?”
Our Gospel reading today is probably one of the most familiar: The parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells the story after one of the rabbis asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life… Jesus answer is simple, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul.. and love your neighbor as yourself.” However, the rabbi was more interested in one upping Jesus than actually seeking knowledge, so he added a followup question, “Who is my neighbor.” In response, Jesus tells the parable…
A man – presumably Jewish – was attacked on a road and left for dead. A priest comes by, but does not stop to help. Another of the religious leaders comes by, but he does not stop to help either. It is the Samaritan that comes across the dying man and it is he that helps. To fully understand the parable, we must understand two important details of the story, 1) the relationship between Jews and Samaritans and 2) the perspective that the parable is being told from.
First Jews and Samaritans… the best way to understand that relationship is to look at the state of Jewish / Arab relations today. There may not have been open warfare between Jew and Samaritan, but the animosity between the two groups is similar to Jews and Arabs today – they don’t get along!
Second, generally we place the perspective of the parable on the Samaritan. He is the one deciding who his neighbor is. However, the perspective is actually the injured Jewish man and whether he can decide who HIS neighbor is. Bishop N. T. Wright – the Bishop of Durham, puts it this way, “Can you – that is, the injured Jewish man – Can you recognize the hated Samaritan as your neighbor? If you can’t, you might be left for dead.” Imagine, lying on the side of the road, beaten and bloody, half dead. Several people, maybe even your priest, see you, but can’t be bothered with stopping – too busy or whatever – and then, the one person you detest, despise, loathe more than anyone else comes by and instead of pointing at you and laughing and declaring, “I see you’ve finally gotten what you deserve!” Instead of doing any of that, they stop and begin to offer you help. What do you do? Because you detest, despise and loathe them.. are you going to tell them to stop? To get away from you? Or, are you going to think to yourself, “Perhaps this isn’t such a bad fella after all? Perhaps this person is my real neighbor?”
The world around us has a very poor view of Christianity. We are not going to change the world’s view, but.. but.. we – St. Luke’s Episcopal Church may be able to change our communities view of Christianity. We can show them that we are willing to set aside race, creed, politics, financial status, all of it… we can show them we are willing to set it all aside for one very simple reason… We want to serve.. we want to love.. In the process, they might decide that we are not such bad neighbors after all.
Will our community – the wounded and the injured – will our community know we are their neighbor if we shout out what we like or don’t like? Who we agree with or who we disagree with? By our staunch view on this topic or that? No. They’ll know what we think and maybe, rightly or wrongly what we believe, but they will not know us as their neighbors. Jesus said, “the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
We can change our communities view of Christianity by choosing to serve sacrificially as Jesus served.. by choosing to be true and faithful neighbors. We can change our communities view of Christianity by choosing.. to love.. with no exceptions.