Ok.  Here’s my sermon (draft, at least) for Sunday:

I think it’s hard for us to feel and understand the full impact of what we’ve come to know as Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan today.  Today, because of the role this story has played in our cultural history, the term “samaritan” is synonymous with being a do-gooder.  In Jesus’ day, it would have been more like being a voodoo witch doctor:  someone who might still bear some of the outward trappings of our religion, but who’s rites and practices were clearly perversions of the real meaning of our faith.  In fact, I’m feeling that I’m overstating the case against someone who practices voodoo.  But I’m pretty sure jews in Jesus’ day would have felt I was understating the case against Samaritans.  It was so bad that jews from Galilee had to travel in large groups to pass safely through Samaria.

Jesus, by the way, is in a very adversarial situation when he tells this story.  He’s being questioned by his enemies, who are looking for something they can use against him.  A debate between presidential candidates might be friendlier!  They ask him what they must do to inherit eternal life.  He asks them what is written in the law.  The response is basically the summary of the law we associate with Jesus:  love God and love your neighbor.  Jesus assures him this is the right answer – but we need to remember that the word we translate as “love” is really an action verb which has the import of taking care of or for the other (that is, to actually do something to help them).

This is where the trap is sprung.  Who is my neighbor?  Who are you telling me I have to take care of?  What are the rules that I must follow?

I think the lawyer is looking for a series of rules from scripture and jewish tradition (and is confident that as an educated expert in this field, he can score points off of Jesus – whatever answer he gives).  But other than telling us to love each other as he has loved us, Jesus does not deal much with rules.  Jesus tells stories.  So Jesus responds by telling a story.

A man is attacked by robbers and dumped, naked, to die by the side of the road.  A priest, a good and decent sort one would think, happens by, sees the man, and passes on the other side of the road to avoid him.  A Levite, another good, religious sort one would think, sees the man and also passes him by on the other side of the road.

Then a Samaritan, one of those people who not only prey on good jews headed to Jerusalem for the religious festivals, but also has perverted our sacred faith, a Samaritan comes down the road and sees the man.  And stops to administer first aid.  And loads him on his animal.  And takes him to an inn.  And takes care of him overnight.  And pays for him to remain at the inn during his recovery – making an open ended commitment to cover whatever expenses this may entail.  And then goes on his way, asking nothing in return.

Now answer me, Jesus says, who acted as neighbor for this traveler?  Who gave him loving care?

It must have galled the lawyer to have to reply that it was that awful Samaritan.  How could Jesus tell such a story, making villains of good people and heroes of villains?  How could he tell a story where the accepted standards of good society are trashed and obliterated?  How could he tell a story that, rather than limit his obligation to others, challenged him to make a neighbor of even those despised by society?

But isn’t that what we so often do?  We look out for people like us.  We look out for people who can help us and give back to us.  And we look away and pass by on the other side of the road when we see the woman being assaulted five stories below, the immigrant passed out from the heat while harvesting our food, the homeless person looking for a handout in the street, the eighteen year old sent packing from foster care with no idea of where to go from here, the pregnant single woman and her child as they wait in the ER for health care they can’t afford …

People like this haven’t earned their place in society.  They shouldn’t have a claim on us, should they?  Does Jesus really expect us to spend our resources and take care of people like that?  Seriously?

Mind you, Jesus hasn’t given us any new rules here.

His story has simply changed the terms of the debate.

The question is no longer “who am I obligated to recognize as a neighbor and take care of?”

The question is now “who can I be a neighbor to and help care for?”

And Jesus leaves the answer to us.

Because it’s our hearts and minds Jesus wants to win.  Jesus wants us to be so attracted to what God offers that we willingly choose to follow where he leads – that we willingly see the world through God’s own eyes, where every person is a beloved child of God, cherished and cared for in their own right.

Which is a tall order.

Because none of us has the capacity to care for everyone we meet (even if in God’s economy we live in a world of plenty, not scarcity).  None of us, on our own, can do it all.

But together, as a parish, or a denomination, or a country, we can certainly do more.

And as individuals, we can all choose to do something.  Mother Teresa was pulling survivors out of the bombed out ruble of a building in the Middle East one day and carrying them to medical aid on a stretcher.  A reporter stopped her, and asked her, given how many had died, and given that there was no end to the conflict in sight, did she really think what she was doing made any real difference?

She looked down at the child on her stretcher and replied, “It makes a difference to this child.”

We can’t do it all.  But we all can do something.  And what we can do makes a difference.  And what we can do together …

Well, maybe that’s enough to let the love of God shine forth in this world of ours.

I say this to you in the Name of God:  Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Amen.

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