Who Is My Neighbor?

Aloha friends.  I’ve recently returned from 2 weeks’ vacation in Hawai’i (O’ahu) and am between assignments.  I’ll be starting the first part of my first call in Washington State in August, and until then I’ll post as able.  Today I preached at midweek worship at the ELCA Pacifica Synod office, on the text for this coming Sunday.  I hope this breaks the story open a little more for you.  Blessings.

Sermon Notes – Pacifica Synod Office Midweek Worship, July 10, 2019

Vicar Mary Shaima

Text:  Luke 10:25-37

Luke 10:25-37

25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He 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.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus 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. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He 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.35The 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.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Dear friends, grace and peace and the wind of the Spirit be your rest and your guide this day.  Amen.

I’m honestly not sure if there is a more familiar parable in all of Scripture.  We know it generally as “the good Samaritan.”  It has been the topic of endless interpretation, both from a theological standpoint and from its relative place to human life.

It’s such a familiar story that we run the risk of not really hearing it.  We can almost recite it from memory; certainly we can paraphrase it from memory.

And the risk of not really hearing it means that we can tune out and miss the subtleties that are always present in Jesus’ parables.

So I was intrigued when my first glance at the Sundays and Seasons page for this Sunday summarized this lesson as “parable of the merciful Samaritan.”

Merciful.  Not “good.”

I thought about that for a while, and the more I did, the more sense it made.

Particularly in the context in which we find ourselves today.

Because the other big takeaway from this story is the question Jesus elicits from the lawyer: “who is my neighbor?”

And we are utterly inundated with examples all around us of where this question needs not only to be asked, but to be answered.

In our neighborhoods:  who is my neighbor?

In our cities and towns:  who is my neighbor?

In this Synod: who is my neighbor?

At the border: who is my neighbor?

In the places of suffering and oppression: who is my neighbor?

Jesus’ teaching method is brilliant here.  By way of storytelling, he prompts the lawyer to answer his own question.  Who was neighbor to the man?  The one who showed him mercy.

The one who showed him mercy.

Not the one who was “good.”

That’s a value judgment we’ve put on the Samaritan.  And when we consider the standing of Samaritans in that society, it’s a value judgment that speaks more to redeeming his standing as “other” than to his innate character.

You see, “good” is a term that is utilized by the dominant power structure to describe those who adhere to the structure’s rules.  If you’re a “good” student, you’re following the rules and getting good grades.  You’re not making trouble.

If you’re a “good” citizen you’re voting, obeying the laws and not making trouble.

If you’re good, you’re not making trouble.

But as we know, the trouble with not making trouble is that it just covers up more trouble.

The Samaritan in Jesus’ story was unconcerned with whether he was welcome, or whether what he was doing was “ok” with the powers-that-be.  He was merciful to the man who had been attacked.

The Samaritan did what needed to be done: he showed mercy to a fellow human being who was suffering.

I submit that the most pressing places where we might be merciful today are in the situations of migrant detention camps.

If we are “good” then we will stay away.  We’ll “stay out of ICE’s way”.  We won’t interfere.

As we have seen, this is not merciful action.  Rather, it is enabling action – enabling evil to continue unchallenged.

Jesus is clear on this.  Scripture across the board is clear on this.

I don’t need to remind you of all the places we’re told in our sacred texts about what God expects of us when it comes to the stranger, the foreigner, the refugee, the migrant.

In those expectations, the concepts of welcome and mercy are constant.

But it’s not always that we find ourselves in the role of the Samaritan as mercy-giver.

Sometimes we are the Samaritan as the outcast.

Sometimes we are the wounded person.

And I think it can be helpful to consider this story from different perspectives so that we don’t fall into a trap of easy platitudes and lofty exhortations.  So we don’t default to the most honorable role in the story.

If I think of myself as the wounded person, who would be my equivalent of a Samaritan giving me help?  From whom would I recoil in horror, seeing their face through my pain?

Can this story help me see them as neighbor?

If I’m the Samaritan as outcast, maybe I’m finding myself having to explain at a protest or in a community action how I live my faith, because the folks around me fear they can’t trust me due to the behavior of certain so-called people of faith.

Can I see through this story that my actions are critically important, that whether or not I stand with the oppressed says more than any words I might use?

And what about the innkeeper?

The one person in the story about whom we hear almost nothing.

It’s interesting to note that the word usually translated here as “inn” is pandocheion – which literally means “all are welcome.”  When we think “inn” we think about the one in the birth narrative, right?  That’s a different word, translated more accurately as a kind of guesthouse.

But here the author of Luke has Jesus making a distinction.  This is the “all are welcome” inn.

(Having run a B&B, I’ve gotta say: that’s kind of a risky thing to name your inn.)

Isn’t that just like Jesus: use a play on words to open our minds to a picture of the peaceable realm of God.

This All Are Welcome Inn is a place of hospitality and healing, of respite and rest, of wholeness and of renewal.

It’s a place to which we bring people, and to which we are brought.  Where the Samaritan is not questioned about his motives, and the wounded man is tended and healed.

It’s a place – but it’s not a place.

And herein, I think, is one of the great challenges for the church.

We are quick to think of this place, this “All Are Welcome Inn”, as an actual physical place.  (Specifically, our church.)

But I am certain that God is bigger than that.

I don’t think this inn is so much a place as it is The.Actual.Peaceable.Realm.Of.God.

It is a way of living in the world that cares for all, and allows oneself to be cared for as well.

Dr. King called it “the Beloved Community.”

If we imagine God’s peaceable realm as the inn, and Jesus as the innkeeper – then I suspect our answers to the question “who is my neighbor?” might have some bearing on how the world sees and experiences the inn.

Jesus’ reputation precedes him as the innkeeper.  I’m more and more aware of how people generally have a pretty accurate picture of what Jesus said and stood for.

And the words I hear from them tell me they are looking for the inn.  They are looking for that place where being “merciful” completely eclipses being “good.”  They’re looking for that place where their hands are needed at the table.

And they are looking for that place where “neighbor” is not only the whole human family, but all of creation as well.

Who is my neighbor?

It is the person living next door – but it is also the person I’ve never met, who has just arrived as a refugee on the other side of the country.

Who is my neighbor?

It is the charter member who cares deeply about every aspect of church life, and it is the person who likes coming to church, but doesn’t see what the point of membership is.

Who is my neighbor?

It is the person with whom I completely agree – and the person who argues with me on every single topic.

Dear friends, when we answer that question, let us follow the example of the Samaritan.

Let us be merciful, instead of good.  For such is the kin-dom of God.