Is there anyone here who has never heard Luke’s story of the Good Samaritan before today? Upon hearing it, do we say under our breath “Boring!” or think “Here we go again with the laying on of guilt for all the times I didn’t give money to a panhandler”? Stay with me and hear me out. I hope I can give you a better perspective on this important Scripture passage.
Those of us who were fortunate enough two weeks ago to hear Charlotte Voigt read the letter Family Promise received from a man named Jim, have already heard my sermon for today. What a powerful witness this man provided for the compassion he and his family have been shown as they recover from the beating circumstances gave them.
If I remember correctly, this family was actually from Milwaukee, but there was no shelter available there, and so they were directed to call 211—the non-emergency resource service line. Could we have said, “We’re sorry, sir, but you live east of 124th Street and so you’re not eligible for—or entitled to—compassion from us in Waukesha County? We only look after our own!” Perhaps we could—if we weren’t Christians and didn’t follow God’s commandment to serve the needy, to love all our neighbors as ourselves.
(I’d refer you to Emmanuel’s T-shirts if you need a reminder of whom we’re called to love: thy homeless neighbor, thy Muslim neighbor, thy Black neighbor, thy gay neighbor, thy Jewish neighbor, thy Latino neighbor, thy disabled neighbor, thy addicted neighbor—and yes, even our grouchy neighbor.)
So, who is my neighbor? Anyone who’s on the other side of the outside of my finger is, by default, my neighbor. And how do I learn to love others? I have to be carefully taught. I’ve been taught through the example of others, through teachers, through church, and through my family of origin. I’ve heard family described as a place where we learn to wound and heal each other, where we practice the life lessons we take into adulthood. But not all families are capable of teaching lessons of compassion, healing, and love—and none of them does this perfectly—and so we carry brokenness into our lives.
Ernest Hemingway is attributed with the saying on today’s bulletin cover, “We are all broken. That’s how the light gets in.” Yes, we’re all broken, but we’re also the light—called to cast out the darkness of the world’s woundedness.
Let me share two examples from my family, situations where my father’s actions taught me to respond to others’ needs. My father used his summer vacations to work double shifts at the State Fair. He was a sergeant on its police force. When I was quite young, he brought home with him a Black family from “down South” who had been stranded at the fair. The family stayed with us until they could arrange for their return home. Then, when I was out marching in the streets in the ‘60’s, my father cooked meals for those participating in Milwaukee’s Open Housing Marches. He was not healthy enough to march with us, but he did what he could to support this social justice movement. These are endearing memories for me. I’m grateful for the example my father gave me—and I hope you can remember, with gratitude, meaningful teachings from your own past.
Now, you’ll probably be surprised to learn that, despite this extraordinary upbringing, I can sometimes be quite judgmental. More often than I’d like to admit, I find myself finding fault with someone and thinking I could “fix” them if they would just take my sage advice. Maybe the priest and the Levite in today’s Scripture felt the same way toward the man who had been beaten. Their actions—or rather inaction—hint at their intolerance and victim blaming.
I recently came across a useful passage entitled “Empathy” and written by Thich Nhat Hanh. Maybe you will find it helpful, too.
When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilization, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet, if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.
Now, getting back to today’s Scripture, we hear the lawyer asking Jesus, “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? What do you read there?” He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” “You have answered rightly,” said Jesus, “do this and life is yours.”
An interesting thought came to me after I read this. In the Jewish tradition, there was no concept of an afterlife, of an eternal life toward which the lawyer was striving apart from his worldly existence. So, in reflecting on this idea, two Old Testament passages struck me as being seemingly related and offering a viable commentary on Jesus’ response, which was, “. . . do this and life is yours.”
The first passage is Jeremiah 29:11-14. It’s one we have heard often as a message of God’s benevolence and a sign of hope. “I know the plans I have for you, . . . plans for peace, not disaster, reserving a future full of hope for you. Then when you call to me, and come to plead with me, I will listen to you. When you seek me you shall find me, when you seek me with all your heart; I will let you find me.” The second passage is Micah 6:8: “This is what the Lord asks of you: to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.”
To me, then, it seems that God’s plans for us—for peace, not disaster—are not some plan of predestination, but rather are the result of our carrying out the dictates of Micah: if we act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with our God, we will have a future full of hope and we will truly live in God’s presence now. It appears the Good Samaritan already knew this.
Most of us are familiar with Angels Grace Hospice in Oconomowoc. They provide such wonderful end of life care—though I still wish I had never needed their services. I bring them up because they live out Micah’s precepts for so many—and the facility is located on Servants’ Way! Isn’t that an incredibly appropriate address? I want to build a house there and live on Servants’ Way! It would be a powerful reminder for me of what I’m called to be—what St. Francis called “an instrument of God’s peace.” And I’m called to be that not just by seeking out robbed and wounded souls on the highways and byways, but by loving everyone in my life, whomever and wherever that may be.
Let me close with a reminder of how simple, yet significant, our acts of kindness can be. I do not know the author of this, but I offer it as a closing reflection on how we serve others.
You may think you are completely insignificant in this world. But someone drinks coffee every morning from their favorite cup that you gave them. Someone heard a song on the radio that reminded them of you. Someone read the book your recommended, and plunged headfirst into it. Someone remembered your joke and smiled, returning home from work in the evening. Someone loves himself a little more, because you gave them a compliment. Never think that you have no influence whatsoever. Your trace, which you leave behind with even a few good deeds, cannot be erased.
And so I remind us again of the precept the Good Samaritan knew and the lawyer hoped to learn: act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God. Herein lies the joy of living.
Scripture Reading for 7-22: Luke 10:25-37
A reading from the Gospel of Luke:
There was a lawyer who, to disconcert Jesus, stood up and said to him, “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? What do you read there?” He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” “You have answered rightly,” said Jesus, “do this and life is yours.”
But the man was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of brigands; they took all he had, beat him and then made off, leaving him half dead. Now a priest happened to be traveling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him. He went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He then lifted him on to his own mount, carried him to the inn and looked after him. Next day, he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbor to the man who fell into the brigands’ hands?” “The one who took pity on him,” he replied. Jesus said to him, “Go, and do the same yourself.”
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.