It’s Complicated (a modern sermon on the Good Samaritan)

I‘ll admit it. I’m that person who gives money to people standing on freeway ramps or street corners.  My friends regularly disapprove saying “You know, you’re not really helping them when you do that. They might spend it on alcohol.”

Yes, they might and that is not my concern.  Here’s why I do it. There was a time when my son Jeremiah lived on the streets, I asked him how he survived out there.  He said while many people ignored him, many helped him with his next meal.  Those were the people who kept him alive and for that I will always be grateful.

But yes it’s complicated.

When you live in a large city like when I lived in San Francisco, you might never make it to your office on time if you stopped for every individual with a need. It’s OK to help if and when you can.  And its ok when you cannot.

The story of the Good Samaritan is likewise complicated. We so desperately hope to be that Samaritan and…we are too willing to judge others who are not.

Some commentators give the priest and Levites a pass citing their religious purity restrictions.  That my friends is a reason but it’s not an excuse to cross to the other side. The man in our story was naked and bleeding and no religion should keep you from helping.  Again, it’s complicated.

Thankfully the lawyer in our story sets us up by asking, ”What must I do to inherit the kingdom?  He was testing Jesus but it was a good question!

We all need regular reminders and constant instruction, of what it means to be a citizen in the Kin(g)dom of God.

Karoline Lewis of Luther Seminary writes that, “Embodying the Gospel in the world [today] should be a daily calculation. We should, really, wake up each day and ask Jesus, pray fervently, where and how can I act out the Kingdom [today]?

And speaking for myself. I’m paying attention to those who are ignoring the needs that are right in front of them.  Those who are normalizing inaction for any reason.

Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in Cambridge, MA on 9/8/04. 

This week we have watched people from both sides of the political aisle essentially cross to the other side of the road, failing to advocate for more than 40 young girls who were molested and raped by a man AND a system stacked against vulnerable women.

The legal case may be complicated but their response of looking the other way complicated what should have been simple.  You don’t prey on young girls. Period.

If the week weren’t already full of injustices, we cannot look away from the humanitarian crisis at our southern border.   As a result a group of nuns I know from Indiana traveled to witness the conditions first hand.  When they returned they spoke at the convent’s Justice Task Force. This is a group of lay women and women religious who work to educate and take action wherever they are needed. My Kathy is on that task force.  They stress that before anyone can be moved to action we must first put ourselves in the place of that vulnerable person- feel what they feel, understand their plight and then give voice to the voiceless. In other words have empathy or develop empathy through education and experience.

Moving back to our gospel, what made the Samaritans the ones that stepped forward was that they had empathy. They knew what being hated and dismissed felt like first hand. They were despised by their Jewish neighbors largely because when the northern and southern kingdoms of Judah separated, the Samaritans married foreign women from Mesopotamia and Syria. And by doing so had supposedly harmed the pure Jewish bloodline.

I find it heartbreaking and unthinkable how easily we can justify hatred over kindness, war over peace, justifying it all the way to the graveyards!

That’s why the Samaritans could NOT pass by the man in need.  They could not go silently to the other side of the road.  Inaction and silence always helps the oppressor, never the oppressed.

Martin Luther King Jr. had something to say about those times when we are silent. “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Today ICE agents are conducting raids all over the country, raids that will separate families, deporting a mother or a father while the children bang on the sides of vans as parents are driven away. I’ve seen an ICE raid first hand.  It is hauntingly painful and something you never forget…

Yes, it’s complicated. We need to address illegal immigration but we need to address it humanely.

To conclude, I invite you to imagine that you are the one who has been left for dead in a ditch.  How would you want to be treated?  How would Jesus treat you if he came upon your bleeding and broken body? Would Jesus dress your wounds and bring you to shelter?  Why?

Because it is our calling to finish the story– to go and do likewise, but also, to keep on asking Jesus what does it look like to follow him.

Be like Jesus. It’s not complicated.



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