Series: The Outsiders
Title: The Neighbor
September 23, 2018
Rev. Sandy Johnson
Our lesson today is a familiar tale. We all know the story of the Good Samaritan. In fact, it is such a popular story there are hospitals and social service agencies worldwide that carry this name: The Good Samaritan.
This morning I want to look at this story through the lens of the outsider. We have two outsiders in this story, don’t we? The man who was robbed and left for dead, he was rejected and battered; and then we have the Samaritan who came along, a social outsider, although he didn’t behave that way.
Recognizing that our neighbors can be outsiders, it is up to us to change that narrative and to see our neighbors as potential insiders, as people we want to know and love and invite into a relationship with Christ.
Jesus was teaching a group of followers and a lawyer wanted clarification about what it took to inherit eternal life. Jesus tested him, asking, what does the Law say? What do you know from your training?
The lawyer correctly answered, pulling from Deuteronomy 6:5 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” And following up with Leviticus 19:18 he said, “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.”
The lawyer knew his scripture and Jesus affirms his correct answer. But then the lawyer throws Jesus a curve ball. The lawyer asks, “who is my neighbor?” The term neighbor means literally someone who is near. What he was really asking was “Who is close enough to me that I must respond with love, as the commandment says?”
Then Jesus gave usual response, he told a parable, a story to demonstrate his point about who our neighbor is. The story is quite simple. One man is walking from Jerusalem to Jericho, a distance of eighteen miles through a declining path going down some 3200 feet. This section of road was well known for being dangerous. It was so bad it held the nickname of “the Red, or Bloody Way.”
It was unusual that someone would travel by themselves, which begs the question whether this man had been traveling with someone, but they ran off when he was attacked and robbed, fearing for their own life. Some might even suggest that if he was in fact alone, then he got what he deserved. You couldn’t expect to travel this road without assault.
So, this man, beaten and in desperate need of help, was left lying on the road. Along came a priest, perhaps returning home from the Temple in Jerusalem, he sees the man but decides not to help. It is often suggested that it was because he didn’t want to defile himself by touching a corpse. Had he stopped he would have discovered that in fact the man wasn’t dead.
It’s possible he also couldn’t tell whether this man was a Jew if his cloak had been stolen. Maybe he was afraid to interact with a Gentile. Both he and the Levite steered clear of the man for their own reasons, although even the Mishna would have allowed contact in special cases such as this. So, there wasn’t a legal reason not to have helped. Why did they walk by without stopping to help?
Then contrasting these two, the priest and the Levite who walked past, we see a Samaritan enter the story. Samaritans and Jews despised each other. Jesus original audience would have been appalled at the suggestion that a Priest, Levite and a Samaritan would be the main characters in this story.
“Around the time of Christ, Jews often told stories involving a priest, a Levite, and an ordinary Israelite, not a Samaritan. The priest and the Levite would be cast as the bad guys and the common Jew would be the hero. Jesus used this same formula but with a twist. His parable began with a priest and a Levite passing by a man who had been beaten by robbers and left for dead. The audience was all set for the contemporary equivalent of Joe the Plumber to be the hero. But instead, Jesus shocked the audience by making the hero a Samaritan.”
“This throws a wrench in their thinking. Samaritans were “less than.” They were racial and ethnic “half breeds” (there was nothing “pure” about them) and they were religious deviants who practiced a form of Judaism that the Jews of the day despised. No one would use a Samaritan as an example of goodness and love. But Jesus did. The use of the Samaritan in this story was a stroke of genius by Jesus.”
This Samaritan stopped to help the man and not only bandaged him up, he put him on his donkey and took him to the nearest inn. He obviously had been there before, he was a frequent traveler because he was able to get credit from the innkeeper. He left the man there and said he would repay him if he spent more than what he had left on account for him. This Samaritan went out of his way to be the hero of this story.
When the story finished, Jesus askes the question, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” Which one indeed. We miss part of this story if we simply see the Samaritan as the “good” person who did the right thing. Of course, he did, and he is, but it is Jesus’ meaning behind this story that is provocative.
Jesus continually puts the outsiders into positions of importance in his lessons. The woman at the well who had had multiple husbands was instrumental in bring Christ’s message to her town. Zacchaeus and Matthew, both tax collectors, hosted Jesus and the disciples in their homes. Jesus sent a clear message that he had come for the outsiders, not the insiders, not the established religious elites.
To become like Christ, we too must step outside of our church and our homes and seek out those who are near. We must seek our neighbors, not just those who are like us, but also our neighbors who think the opposite of us. Too often we choose to be friends with only those people who look like us, sound like us, live like us and believe like us. It used to be said that variety was the spice of life.
It feels today that we don’t venture out much to spend time with people who are different, choosing to stay in our small little bubble of like-minded folks. I don’t think that is what Jesus is teaching us in this passage. In fact, I would argue that Jesus wants us to do the opposite. In this story we learn something remarkable about someone that the Jews though were “dogs!”
We learned that Samaritans have the capability to demonstrate love and compassion toward a stranger, toward someone that was very different than they were. Jesus uses this Samaritan as the standard, “this,” Jesus says, “is what we are supposed to do to our neighbor.” We are not to ignore those in need in our community, but go out of our way to offer help, not wait for help to be demanded or asked of us.
Our church is in the midst of a most divisive time in our history. We have been in disagreement for years about how we are to approach human sexuality in relation to our church doctrine and discipline, our church rules. No sooner had divisive language be introduced and placed into our discipline, others have been trying to get it removed. I have seen churches torn apart by the disagreement that have followed when people try to convince others that their “side” is the correct side.
In February our General Conference will be voting on A Way Forward, a proposal put forward by our Council of Bishops that will give our United Methodist Church the chance to be respectful toward one another. This Way Forward will give us an opportunity to demonstrate this lesson. Who is my neighbor? Who is Jesus asking me to love?
Jesus asks us to love and care for our neighbors who believe differently that we do, those who may say that if our church votes to allow ordination of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers they will leave the UMC. We must demonstrate love and concern for those who believe that it is ok to harm others, using the bible as a weapon. We must not demonize those who we feel are on the outside because they interpret scripture differently that we do. We are called by Jesus to love God and love one another, especially those whom we disagree with.
John Wesley says that “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.” I was taught all my life as a Methodist that we agreed to disagree.
Our United Methodist Church’s foundations are with John Wesley and his wise council that we can absolutely be united in the common goal of loving God and loving one another. Because we do all love alike. Jesus says, love God and love one another. It’s that simple. Amen.
 Barclay, William. Luke. 139