This past weekend I attended the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC. My husband, Gary, gave the sermon and provided lots of food for thought for the folks at Abiding Savior. I hope it gives you lots of food for thought.

The Good Samaritan

Sermon by Gary Mitchell

I took a look at today’s text about a month ago when David asked me to sub in for him today and thought, Halleluiah! Even an idiot could come up with a sermon about the Good Samaritan! I mean this is pretty cut and dried. Two characters in the story did the wrong thing, and one guy did the right thing. Let’s face it, even nonbelievers know the moral lesson in this parable: “Do the right thing” BOOM!…sermon done!  

     Then came my first mistake. I started reading other minister’s takes on this story. OY And here we go: 

     Then came all the questions!!!! Who is my neighbor? What made the Samaritan Good? What justified the Priest and the Levite passing on by the injured man? Did the Innkeeper give the Samaritan a discount rate because he was going a good deed?

     As you will soon know, I’m not the Biblical scholar my husband is. I wish I could say I have some great insight to share with you about this parable that will rock your world…Oops! Unfortunately all I have are questions! Questions that will, maybe, push you to look past the words of this story and reveal something about you to YOU. So here we go!………

     Are any of you born and bread “\”below the Mason Dixon Line” Southerners? How many of you were raised in “The North”…carpetbaggers as it were LOL. Any Midwesterners? How about West Coasters…How close are the traditional stereotypes Southerners are warm and welcoming, we hug and kiss everyone, we never meet a stranger and we love to know your business. I hear that Northerners are very direct, don’t care for small talk, and are generally suspicious of anyone outside the immediate family. Midwestern folks are dependable, conservative in conversation and actions and would help a neighbor if asked. West coasters are free thinkers, open to new and diverse ideas and are pretty much live and let live.

     I’m not sure how accurate these descriptions are, but the sake of our time together let’s go with it. It might be safe to say that we experience life, and possibly make life choices, through the lens of our regional heritage. This might influence the idea of who we think our neighbor is, and what responsibility we have for them as a fellow human being.

     We will assume for our story, since Jesus was obviously speaking to a Jewish audience, that the man who was attacked on the road was a Jew. We know that both the Priest and the Levite were both Jews so we can assume that they have the same general backgrounds as far as belief and practice.

     Both the Priest and the Levite were very important people in the religious activities of the Temple. The Priest was the go between for the people with Jehovah, and the Levite was the assistant, the ones who handled the day to day inner workings of the Temple. 

Neither one of these people took the time to stop and help the injured traveler. 

     The “why” of this question could be its own sermon, so I’m not gonna go there, the simple answer is: They didn’t stop to help. The reason why isn’t important. 

     The person that did stop however was the Samaritan. I don’t know why he was on the road. I have no idea what time constraint he was working under. All I know is he walked over to the injured man, saw his need, and acted! Samaritans were kind of “Jew lite.” They were Jews who had intermarried with non-Jews and were looked down on by “true Jews,” kind a like the Wisconsin Synod who thinks that ELCA Lutherans aren’t even Lutherans. In all their legalistic piety “True Jews” would rather walk a mile out of their way to avoid a Samaritan instead of having to interact with them. Yet, here is this Samaritan stopping to help this stranger simply because he saw he was in need and it was within his power to help. 

     We know the rest of the story, he puts the man on his donkey, takes him to the nearest Inn, pays the Inn keeper two days wages to care for the man, and says when he comes back he’ll pay him more if what he just gave him wasn’t enough. 

     Then comes the question to Jesus from the lawyer, a scholar of Talmudic law: maybe in an act of justification for his own actions, or lack there of, he asks a very CYA question: Who Is my neighbor? Unfortunately I couldn’t come up with any words more insightful than the ones my friend Rev. Karoline Lewis wrote, so I’m going to borrow those:

     “Who is my neighbor? means, according to Jesus, a commitment to coming near. Your neighbor is not just the person living next door—in a house you never have to enter, into which you might never be invited, to whom you never have to speak. Your neighbor is not one who happens to be convenient for you to help. Your neighbors are not those whom you can keep in their place. Your neighbor is not the one who meets the qualifications of your company. Your neighbor is someone who, without a doubt, is experiencing pain, struggles, challenges, and sorrow, and yet to whom you draw near. Your neighbor is someone who clearly has needs and you decide—I will help you. Your neighbor is someone who might even resist your assistance but you insist on it anyway.”

     Karoline goes on to say: “We expend a lot of energy in our lives toward decided detachment, disengagement, and disenfranchisement. Sometimes these decisions are very much justified–maybe for our own safety: as there are some people that it is not safe for us to help due to mental illness and violence, maybe for our own self-preservation. There may be family members and acquaintances that are simply black holes of need that can’t be helped, often because they aren’t interested in making the necessary changes that will move them forward to wholeness, or for our own self-care. Some people find themselves in careers that have an unending line of people in need. At some point we have to walk away or risk burn out and then we cant help anybody.”

     While on staff as assistant minister at FCUCC, I learned a very valuable lesson from my friend and colleague Rev. Amy Cantrell.  As many of you know, Amy lives in intentional poverty at Beloved House. She spoke to our staff one day when we were struggling with our mission to help the needy in Asheville. Amy was very wise when she told us, “You can’t do everything and you can’t help everyone! Decide what you can do and then do THAT! consistently and lovingly.”

     What will I learn about me when I draw near? Maybe I’m more raciest than I thought. Maybe I’m not as accepting of people as I thought when they aren’t my color, or my nationality, or my sexual proclivity. Maybe I’m more judgmental than I realized.

     I have to be quite honest with you, when I encounter a 20 something on the street in downtown Asheville at 2 in the afternoon, that looks perfectly healthy to me, strumming a guitar and asking me for a dollar or two, I really struggle with judgment. Good bad or indifferent, I must confess that I see that situation through the lens of my depression baby parents who raised me to believe that hard work will get you what you need and its your responsibility to find work and keep a roof over your head and food in your family’s stomach. Now I know nothing about this person, I have no idea what they are going thru or what has brought them to this place. Seeing through the lens my parents I think: “WOW! if you weren’t so lazy you”d find some work!”

     Then through the Jesus lens I have to ask myself: Were they abused? Are they mentally ill? Do they have anyone who cares about them at all?”

     Another thing I learned from Amy was that sometimes we can draw near by simply extending the homeless the dignity of looking them in the eye, acknowledging that you don’t have any change on you and wishing them a safe day.  My first thought was: well THAT’S a hollow platitude! But then she explained: people, all people, want to be SEEN!  We all need to have our existence acknowledged. 

     How many people do we walk by on a daily basis? Panhandlers and homeless we see downtown, old folks sitting alone on a park bench, the Vietnam vet holding a sign at the exit ramp of the interstate. Are THEY all my neighbor? As Amy told us, it can be overwhelming, so much need, so few hands.

     Did you ever stop to think: Maybe the injured man on the road wanted to REFUSE the help that was offered? Like I said, the man was obviously a Jew and the man who stopped to help was a Samaritan. Sometimes being a neighbor is found in the act of accepting help when offered.

     It’s such an American thing to try and be as self-sufficient and as invulnerable as possible, to not need anything from anyone. Is it pride, is it cultural heritage or is it simply fear? There is a dangerous virus raging thru our country right now that is doing its best to infect us with fear! Fear of “the other,” Fear that there is not enough, Fear of anyone who is’n’t white, who speaks another language, who was born into a culture different from mine, Fear of those who love differently than I do, Fear that if I help someone I will have less than I need. 

     Many of those in seats of power and influence want us to believe that all of those I’ve just mentioned are NOT our neighbor! They have the ability to reinforce that fear on a daily basis through TV news, the print media, and social media. The voices of hate we forced underground in the 70s have been invited back into public discourse by the shameful example set by those in power, to spew their hate, and to help reinforce the fear of “the other.”

     I wish I had been able to wrap this up with 3 strong points and a heart-warming story like the preachers of the 50s. Instead I decided to end like I envision Jesus ending, with a challenge! As we leave each other today I will again pose the question asked Jesus by the law scholar. Who IS my neighbor, and what is my responsibility for them? Amen.

Copyright ©2019 by Gary Mitchell