Sunday, July 14, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
In last week’s gospel we heard how Jesus calls us to proclaim that that the kingdom of God has come near. Today, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan gives us an example of how do to just that. We hear a lot about Good Samaritans – people who do good things for others – like stopping by and helping someone when they have a flat tire, or jumping in the water to save someone who fell through the ice, or putting in quarters in a parking meter for someone else so they don’t get a ticket. I’d like to share with you a true story about another Good Samaritan. I saw a story on television years ago and have never forgotten it. The Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting for a very long time now and the Israelis continue to occupy land that belongs to the Palestinians in an effort to take control of all of their land. To many of us it seems so far away that we don’t pay any attention to it, but this story was too amazing to ignore. Ahmed Khatib was a 12 year old Palestinian boy who was shot by Israeli soldiers. It happens all the time, every day. What doesn’t happen all the time is what happened next. The parents, in a gesture of love and in the hopes to bring peace, heard of three Israeli children who needed organ donations and they decided – in their pain – to donate Ahmed’s lungs, liver, and heart to these Israeli children. They donated their son’s organs to the group of people who had killed him. I wonder if any of us could have done that. The natural human response is to want to kill those who kill the people we love. But that’s not what Jesus said. He said to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. That is at the heart of the Christian Gospel. But these people weren’t even Christians. You wouldn’t expect them to act that way.
That’s exactly what happened in today’s Gospel story. In Luke’s gospel we hear the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s quite an odd title because to any Jew who heard the story – there was nothing good about a Samaritan. Samaritans were the enemy. They didn’t practice the same religion as the Jews. They didn’t follow the same rituals, laws, or worship in the same way. They were considered unclean and were the enemy. That’s what is so shocking in today’s story for the people Jesus was speaking to. Unlike us, they knew that Samaritans were not good. They knew they were the outcasts and were to be avoided at all costs. Yet in the story, the Samaritan is the person who was the neighbor to the wounded and dying man.
And we have to wonder why? Why did the Samaritan help the man left for dead when he knew that they were considered enemies? Why did the Palestinian parents donate their son’s organs to the people that considered them enemies? Maybe it’s because those who are shunned, considered outcasts, judged as unclean, weirdos, and sinners know what it’s like to feel left for dead. They know what it’s like to be in pain and no one cares about them. It happens every day all around us to individuals who suffer from mental illness, are developmentally challenged, minorities, and people who just don’t think or act like the rest of society. Throughout history groups of people have been labeled no good and are treated like second class citizens. Maybe we don’t always say something outright mean to them, but maybe when we see them we turn our heads and look the other way judging them by our actions as outcasts as if we are better. I’ve seen the jeers that people with bodies covered in tattoos or strange makeup receive. I’ve seen the looks thrown at people who are Muslim – thinking they are all terrorists. I’ve heard the comments about any number of people who are different and labeled those people. Look at the current immigrant situation. Whether or not you feel politically that our country should help these asylum seekers or not is not the issue. These people are being treated inhumanely. They are being left in pits – cages without adequate water, food, and the basic necessities of life. Children are separated from their parents, perhaps forever. They too – like the traveler in Jesus’ parable – were journeying from one place to another – fleeing dangerous homes to find a better life, only to be treated in a horrific way. They have fallen, been stripped, beaten, and left half dead. Many have already died. Will we speak up against this atrocity? Where are the modern day Samaritans to help them?
Like the priests and Levites in our story, it’s easy to turn a blind eye and make an excuse for why we can’t help. Fears of them being criminals, taking our jobs, our healthcare, and our basic necessities are sited as valid reasons for condoning abuse. If these thoughts make us cringe that’s the point Jesus is trying to make. Everyone is our neighbor. Everyone is to be treated with mercy, compassion, and love. We don’t know the back story of the man who fell into the hands of the robbers in the parable, and it doesn’t matter. The Samaritan in the parable didn’t worry how much helping the person was going to cost him. And he didn’t just bandage up his wounds. He took him to an inn, paid for his stay, and promised to return and pay any additional medical expenses. He gave up two days salary for a person that was considered his enemy.
And the point goes further to ask us to examine if not only would we help these people, but would we let them help us? Or would we rather just lay there and die rather than be helped by one of those people? We refuse to think our sins are as bad as those of others, but the Bible says we have “all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” – all of us. We’d all like to think we would be the Good Samaritan and help those in need, but this story is about the enemy helping his enemy. I wonder what the dying person thought when he recovered and realized who it was that helped him. Did he say, “I wish that good for nothing Samaritan had left me for dead!” I certainly hope not, but the Samaritan didn’t care. He helped him anyway even though in all likely-hood he would still be considered this man’s enemy once healed. The lawyer in our story questioning Jesus finally got it from this parable that this Samaritan – the least likely person to be thought to be that merciful – was the one who actually showed mercy.
Jesus knows what it feels like to be stripped and beaten and left for dead. He knows what it is to die at the hands of someone else even though he was innocent! Jesus knew what it was like to go down into the pit. He went there to pick us up out of the pit of sin and death and bring us to eternal life. Through the waters of baptism our old sinful selves are drowned and we are raised to new life with Christ. We, the children of God, have not been left to die in sin, but have been restored to new life.
Today’s parable isn’t just a nice story about a person who helps someone. Jesus told this parable to cause us to dig deep within ourselves, and like the lawyer in the story to ask the difficult questions. Am I really following Jesus as best as I can? Is the kingdom of God evident in my life? What is God calling me to do or say today for those who are in need? The answers to these questions can be found through this parable. He said, “Go and do the same.” We are to treat everyone as our neighbor, just like the parents who donated their son’s organs to those who saw them as enemies. That is how God’s kingdom is revealed. Amen.