Pastor’s eNote: I AM Your Neighbor

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus addressed grace and social responsibility by talking about the dangers of traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, something well understood by the hearer. But this parable is the response to two questions, not one, and that second question reveals a guilty conscience.

First the man asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Simple question but look who’s asking. An expert in the Law of Moses. Which is why Jesus asks him, “how do you, as an expert, read the law?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[c]; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Direct quotes from Scripture.

Jesus tells him to “do that and you will live”. But the expert in the law asks the follow up question because he must “justify himself”. Hmmm. If you blink, you miss it. The second question is the result of the need to justify what, exactly? He needs to justify himself which is a need to offer reasons, explanations, or excuses for an act, thought or opinion. In other words, he knows he’s guilty of something, and needs to be able to account for it and he’s hoping Jesus will make it easier by homing in on who is worthy of this neighborliness. Thereby making it easier to craft the “good reason” for what he knows he’s done.

Because he asks, “WHO is my neighbor?” we know it has to do with other people. And the hierarchy of the Jewish social structure placed people into categories within their society that was deeply ingrained into their culture, causing horrible inequality. The guy might as well have cut to the chase and asked, “which levels are worthy of love?”

The list, highest regard to lowest:Priest, Levite, Jew, Tax collectors/outcasts/sinners (all one category), Samaritans, and lowest of the low – Gentiles.

Of all the people in the hierarchy, Jesus shows “a certain Priest” who is also an expert in the law but was unwilling to help a fellow human in distress. Then “a certain Levite” who is also in spiritual leadership, also knows the law, and ignores the wounded man lying in the road.

Two people claiming they are set apart for spiritual leadership ultimately represent hollow religion. They play dress up at church but act no differently than the people who don’t go near the church let alone seek to put the law into practice in their own lives. They are Hypocrites who seem to believe God doesn’t see what they don’t do.

Who would the man expect Jesus to bring into the story next? Next on the list would be tax collectors/outcasts/sinners. Jesus skips that one and goes right to the Samaritan, who the man would have been raised to view as an inferior mixed race and less than human. Yet in Jesus’ example, the Samaritan is compassionate, caring, willing to sacrifice his time and money to see to the care of another human. Not because the human is worthy because of the boxes he checked on the worthy card, but because human life is a precious gift worth saving.

In the end, Jesus asked which passer by proved to be a neighbor. Rather than the question posed, which would be “what were the honorable reasons the Priest and the Levite passed him by?” In other words, who do I HAVE to love to qualify for heaven? Jesus challenges the expert to look inside himself because he MUST change his question to “what can I do?” rather than “who deserves what I can do?”

That is the heart of good Samaritan. That’s why you see that name used for hospitals and care facilities and places of healing. What can they do to heal you, not because of who you are but because of who God is? God is love.

In the kingdom of God, the Church eternal, you might be surprised who you will run into. Like a thief who was crucified next to Jesus, for example. Even our enemies are our neighbors because they are loved by God. Your ethnic and social standings are not a guarantee in any way of right standing before God, so keep that in mind. And the Samaritan’s choices and intentions are Jesus’ example offered of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. It’s all about your attitude toward others. Does it mirror Jesus’ attitude? Or a robber? Or a Priest or Levite? Or a Samaritan?

The robbers saw what the man had as theirs, and they took it.The Priest’s and Levite’s attitudes were what is mine is mine and I’m going to keep it.The Samaritan’s heart was what’s mine can be yours because I’m absolutely GOING to share it.

When your heart goes out to someone, it’s usually followed up by an act that helps them. When I see people hurting, and others coming to their aid in any way they can, I see the Samaritan. When I see people hurting and others talking a big game, dressing the part of peacemaker withholding their aid for fear they will lose something, I see the Priest and the Levite. When I see people hurting because they are being robbed, I know my choice must be to love them like the neighbor I am for them.

God moves constantly and that’s our focus during Lent. Join us Sunday to learn more!

With hands to the plow,

Pastor Theresa