Sunday, July 14, 2013

8 Pentecost

Good Samaritan Sunday

July 14, 2013

Luke 10.25-37

+ So, let’s see if you know this. Consider this a quiz. What is this Sunday popularly known as? Any guesses? It is Good Samaritan Sunday. I love Good Samaritan Sunday.

And today—on this Sunday in which we hear in our Gospel reading the parable of the Good Samaritan—we find ourselves feeling a little good about what we hear. Everyone likes this story of the Good Samaritan. After all, what isn’t there to like in this story?

Well…in Jesus’ day, there were people who would not have liked this story.  The part of this story that most of us miss is the fact that when Jesus told this parable to his audience, he did so with a particular scheme in mind. The term “Good Samaritan” would have been an oxymoron for those Jews listening to Jesus that day.

Samaritans were, in fact,  quite hated. They were viewed as heretics, as defilers, as unclean. They were seen as betrayers of the Jewish faith. So, when Jesus tells this tale of a Good Samaritan, it no doubt rankled a few nerves in the midst of that company.

With this in mind, we do need to ask ourselves some very hard questions. Hard questions we did not think we would be asking on Good Samaritan Sunday.   You, of course, know where I am going with this. So, here goes: Who are the Samaritans in our understanding of this story?

For us, the story only really hits home when we replace that term “Samaritan” with the name of someone we don’t like at all. Maybe it is “Fundamentalist,” or “Republican” or “Conservative.” Maybe it is ‘progressive” or “Democrat” or “bleeding heart liberal.” Maybe it is “Muslim” or “Foreigner” or “Panhandler.”  Maybe it is “Redneck” or “Racist” or Misogynist” or “Homophone.” Or maybe it is George Zimmerman. It’s not hard to find the names.

But it is maybe hard for some of us to put that word “good” in front of some of those names.  It’s hard for a good many of us to find anything “good” in any of these people.  For us, to face the fact that the Good Fundamentalist, or the Good Republican or the Good Conservative or  the Good Democrat or the Good Redneck could stop and help us out might not sit so comfortably with us.

We—good socially-conscious Christians that we are—are also guilty sometimes of being complacent.  We too find ourselves sometimes feeling quite smug about our “advanced” or “educated” ways of thinking about society and God and the Church.  And we too demonize those we don’t agree with sometimes.

It is easy for me to imagine Jesus living in me personally, despite all the shortcomings and negative things I know about myself. I know that, sometimes, I am a despicable person and yet, I know that Jesus is alive in me. So, why is it so hard for me to see that Jesus lives even in those whom I dislike, despite those things that make them so dislikeable to me?

For me, this is the hard part. Not only recognizing that Jesus lives in others, but actually seeing Jesus alive in those people I have personally demonized is really one of the hardest things for me to do as a Christian.

The Gospel story today shows us that we must love and serve and see Jesus alive in even those whom we demonize—even if those same people demonize us as well. Being a follower of Jesus means loving even those we, under any other circumstance, simply can’t stand. And this story is all about being jarred out of our complacent way of seeing things.

It’s also easy for some of us to immediately identify ourselves with the Good Samaritan. We, of course, would help someone stranded on the road, even when it means making ourselves vulnerable to the robbers who might be lurking nearby.  But I can tell you that as I hear and read this parable, I—quite uncomfortably—find myself identifying with the priest and the Levite. I am the one, as much as I hate to admit it, who could very easily, out of fear or because of the social structure in which I live, crossing over to the other side of the road. And I hate the fact that my thoughts even go there.

But love changes this whole story. When we truly live out that commandment of Jesus to us that we must love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, we know full-well that those social and political and personal boundaries fall to the ground.

Love always defeats our dislike of someone. Love always defeats the political boundaries that divide us. Love always softens our hearts and our stubborn wills and allows us see the goodness and love that exists in others, even when doing so is uncomfortable and painful for us.

Now I say that hoping I don’t come across as naïve. I know that my love of the racist will not necessarily change the racist. I know that loving the homophobe will not necessarily change the homophone. But you know what? It does change me.  It does cause me to look—as much as I hate to do so—into the eyes of that person and see something more.  It does cause me to look at the person and realize that God does love this person despite their failings and their faults—just as God loves me despite my failings and my faults.

These are the boundaries Jesus came to break down in us.  And these are the boundaries Jesus commands us to break down within ourselves.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the lawyer asks Jesus in today’s Gospel. The answer is love.  We must love—fully and completely.

“You have given the right answer,” Jesus says. “Do this, and you will live.”

It not about our personal relationship with Jesus. It not about accepting Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. Yes, we should have a personal relationship with Jesus. But that’s not what saves us. He nowhere says that is what will save us.

What will save us? Love will save us. Love of God. Love of one another. Love will save us. Love will liberate us. Love will free us.  Jesus doesn’t get much clearer than that.

So, let us do what he so clearly tells us to do. Let us love God.  Let us love our neighbor.

Who is your neighbor?  Our neighbor is not just the one who is easy to love. In fact our neighbor is also the one who hardest to love.

Love them—God, your neighbor—and yes, even yourself. And you and I--we too will live. And we will live a life that will not ever be taken from us.

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