Text: Luke 10:24-37
This is one of my favorite t-shirts. For those of you who can’t or haven’t read it, it says: “I love Jesus, but I cuss a little.” I love this shirt for many reasons. 1) I think it is important that we destroy all expectations that pastors should be holier than though, perfect people, who never cuss, drink, smoke, challenge traiditions, or make us uncomfortable because all that has done throughout the years is destroy many a person who has been called to ministry. As a result, the average person in ministry quits after five years. 2) I think it is also important that we quit making unbiblical standard such as cussing, drinking, or perfectly following the law as the measuring stick – the plumb line – behind which we judge whether or not one is a “Good Christian.” Because these standards have caused the core of the Christian faith – the incarnation of God’s love in Jesus Christ – to become nothing more than a putrid, rotting, and lifeless corpse. A mental exercise about how well one follows draconian rules that enforce “niceness” and “social acceptability.” About how well one follow unbiblical values about not being “offensive” or “political.” Because if you actually read the scriptures carefully, you will find that the Prophets like Amos and even Jesus Christ himself goes against every one of those modern American “Christian” values. Remember: The prophets were not oppressed and Jesus was not crucified because they were “nice guys” who “followed the rules” and “supported the government.” The Prophets and Jesus were oppressed and crucified because they were radicals who broke both the religious and political rules and spoke against government systems that oppressed the poor and foreigners in the land. And what we now call “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” is one of the most offensive stories that Jesus tells in scriptures because it attacks the rules of the religious establishment, attacks religiously reinforced racism, and attacks theocratic government beliefs about who is and who isn’t one’s neighbor.
At the time of Jesus, a new group of religious radicals were arising known as the Pharisees. The Pharisees was the religious lay movement that held to a strict obedience to the Law or the Torah. Unlike the Sadducees – who were the Temple priests that did NOT believe in eternal life after death – the Pharisees has begun developing this new theological idea about eternal life that they had stolen from another religion called Zoroastrianism. And they connected the possibility of gaining eternal life with perfectly obeying all the rules of the Torah. And so, when Jesus comes along speaking about the possibility of “abundant life” (NOT eternal life) in the here and now, the Pharisees try to challenge Jesus’ beliefs about God and the Torah with their own. And so a religious lawyer comes along and tries to challenge Jesus’ knowledge of the Torah by asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ response isn’t as simple as it seems because it attacks the literal reading of scripture common to the Pharisees and to many in evangelical Christianity today.
So Jesus says to the lawyer, “In the Law, what has been written? How do you read it?” In other words, “What is written in the Torah? AND How do you read or interpret what is written? In other words, it’s not okay to just accept the written word at face value. You must also interpret what is written there. And so the lawyer – with his emphasis on getting the Law just right – recites Deuteronomy 6:5, “You will love your Lord God out of all your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your strength and with all of your mind.” And then the Lawyer interprets what it means to love God by reciting only part of Leviticus 19:18, saying. “and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus responds, “You answered well. Do this/Fulfill this/Acquire this, and you will live.” Notice two things about Jesus’ response: 1) Jesus says that life comes from doing/fulfilling/acquiring what the Law commands (NOT “believing in Jesus” as Christianity has come to believe) and 2) Jesus says that the man “will live.” It can also be translated “you will beathe” or “you will be among the living.” Jesus says NOTHING about the man having “eternal life” as he asked. It’s a subtle but important point to notice.
But the Lawyer is not convinced and seeks to prove Jesus wrong. Because the Lawyer purposefully left out the other half of Leviticus 19:18 which says, in it’s entirety: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” In other words, those who kept the Law literally, like the Pharisees, knew that your neighbor was ONLY those who were considered “your people.” In other words, only other Jews who looked like you and believed like you. Everyone else was NOT a neighbor and NOT subject to the “love of neighbor” command. So the Lawyer responds tritely, “And just who is my neighbor?” And so Jesus, being a good rabbi, responds NOT with an actual answer, but with a story – a story that would offend everything that the Lawyer believed about what it meant to be a “Good Jew” who followed God’s Law. Jesus shows the Lawyer just how much his own religious beliefs have made him into an idolater of the Scripture instead of a follower of God, a religious racist instead of one who sees the image of God in all they meet, and a one who prefers government enforced law and order over mercy and human dignity.
After Jesus tells the story, he asks the Lawyer, “Which of these three do you think, to the man who had fallen among robbers, had become a neighbor?” The Lawyer is offended by the story because a Samaritan – the most hated and despised people by the Jews - is made the hero of the story, meanwhile the holiest of the Jewish people – a priest and a Levite – are made into the epitome of evil apathy and uncaring. Jesus flips the Lawyer’s question from “Who IS my neighbor?” to “How I BECOME a neighbor?” And that is the question we need to start asking ourselves in our nation today. Quit asking WHO and start asking HOW. Quit asking Jesus WHO you have to help (because the answer that Jesus gives in the story is EVERYONE) and start asking Jesus HOW you can help everyone. Especially those who find themselves demonized and marginalized by the dominant religious and political powers – which was the case for the Samaritans.
And yet, I still don’t think we get how offensive this parable was to the people of Jesus’ time. And because of such, I felt it was important for us to understand this story in terms of our own times. So here is the parable of the Good Samaritan for today.
Immigration Officer Rodriguez was finishing his shift after a long day the border control. He was a proud man – born and raised in this United States. He loved his country and served 15 years in the U.S. Army – including 3 tours in Afghanistan. And now he was serving as an Immigration Officer because he felt that America was a land of opportunity where his great-grandparent first immigrated and made a life for themselves. So, he wanted to help other people like him discover the same opportunity in America as his great-grandparents.
Officer Rodriguez went to his locker, changed his clothes, then got in his car and drove home through the darkness of the early morning hours. His eyes began to close as he drove the highway along the border wall, when he suddenly went off the road, and was flung from his car. His body landing a few feet from the wall. Immigration officer Rodriguez laid there, his clothes torn, his body broken and bleeding, half-dead, with no one around to help him.
Well, it just so happened that Franklin Graham’s bus was headed down the same road when they saw the accident. The bus pulled over and Rev. Graham rushed to Officer Rodriguez’s body. But only seeing the man’s ethnicity, Rev. Graham assumed the officer was a criminal who had stolen the car from an American. He ordered his team to report the accident to the police – because that was the “right thing to do” – got back in his van, and went on to his appointment.
Next came along an American Militia group who felt called to protect American borders from invaders. When they saw the accident, they too stopped. But when they saw the man’s ethnicity, they too got back in their vans, and drove away.
Then, a refugee from Honduras came walking up to the border wall, carrying his 2-year-old daughter in his arms. Upon seeing the man lying there, he rushed to his side. Seeing the man’s broken and beaten body, the Honduran refugee remembered his own experience of seeing broken and beaten bodies in the streets of his hometown. His own experiences of suffering moved the refugee to have compassion for this nameless man he found along his journey. So the Honduran refugee quickly opened the backpack he had been carrying for the last 3 months, took out the last bottle of water he had, and gave it to the officer. He then took out what little first aid materials he had to bandage the officer’s wounds. The refugee then carefully picked up Officer Rodriguez and, while holding this young daughter’s hand, walked him down to the nearest port of entry another 2 miles down the road.
Upon arrival with Officer Rodriguez, the refugee was detained at the border. His 2-year-old daughter was ripped screaming from his arms – though he was told that she was going to be given a bath and returned to him. And Officer Rodriguez, unrecognized by his fellow officers, was set aside while paramedics were called to care for him. The refugee was placed in a cage with 200 other men. His daughter was placed into a cage with 150 other children between the ages of 12 months and 12 years. Three months later, and the two still haven’t seen each other. The two sleeps on cold concrete floor each night while the father drinks water from a toilet because the guards told him that it was “clean enough to drink.”
Now which of the three – Rev. Graham, the Militia Group, or the Refugee – became a neighbor to Immigration Officer Rodriguez who needed help?
Go and do the same. And you will live.