Scripture Luke 10:25-37 The Message
25 Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”
26 He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”
27 He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”
28 “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”
29 Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
30-32 Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
33-35 “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’
36 “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”
37 “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
We’ve heard this story at least a million times. Even non-Christians have a pretty good idea of what this story says. We have ”Good Samaritan” laws protecting people from being sued when they are trying to help someone they find injured or in distress. And may I just say how terrible it is that people will sue the person who was trying to help them? Anyway, in an attempt to get a different look at this very familiar story I decided to try the Message version today. And sure enough, there it was. The lawyer - which in Jesus’ time meant an expert in the Laws of Moses - was “looking for a loophole.”
Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School, has this to say about that. "For our parable, the lawyer’s question is … misguided. To ask “Who is my neighbor” is a polite way of asking, “Who is not my neighbor?” or “Who does not deserve my love?” or “Whose lack of food or shelter can I ignore?” or “Whom I can hate?” The answer Jesus gives is, “No one.” Everyone deserves that love—local or alien, Jews or gentile, terrorist or rapist, everyone.” (Levine, Amy-Jill. Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi (p. 93). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.)
It’s easy to pick out the other, depending on which side of an issue you stand on. It’s what we do when we are at war - we dehumanize the enemy. In Basic Training soldiers are taught to think of whomever the enemy is right now as somehow sub-human. This happens in all nations, in all conflicts. It is lots easier to hate someone enough to shoot them if they are either less than human or completely evil. Classic Us and Them - we are all things good and holy, they are demon spawn and criminals. Which is one thing for soldiers, in war time. But when the divide between us and them gets as deep as it is in our nation right now, even our best friends can suddenly become the enemy, the other, the not-neighbor.
Today, in many cities around the country, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are scheduled to begin large scale raids, seeking to arrest and eventually deport thousands of undocumented immigrants. If you have been following the news you know that some think of the ICE agents as of the devil, while others think the same of the people who are here without proper documents. I am prepared to state that both opinions are wrong.
She came to worship one Sunday with her baby daughter Rosie, which of course meant no one heard a word I said all day because, Baby! We didn’t get a lot babies in worship. She stayed for coffee fellowship afterwards, and told us she had been an MP in the Marine Corps and was now working for Homeland. She had been attending her mother’s church which met in our building but preferred an English speaking congregation. Later she confessed that her job at Homeland was with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and that the people at her mother’s church didn’t trust her. Many lacked proper documents, you see, and they were afraid she would turn them in and have them deported. She wouldn’t do that, as long as they were otherwise law abiding people, but they didn’t believe her. When I think of ICE, I think of her - mother, daughter, Christian, friend.
For those who may be of the opinion that ICE is heartless and the total bad guy in this situation, this notice was on Twitter yesterday: “The @CityOfNOLA has confirmed with ICE that immigration enforcement will be temporarily suspended through the weekend in the Hurricane Barry impacted areas of Louisiana & Mississippi. Make all storm preparations to stay safe regardless of your immigration status.” As with all law enforcement agencies, protecting lives is of primary importance.
He is a Dreamer. He didn’t even know he wasn’t a citizen until he applied to college. Then his parents told him they crossed into the US illegally when he was just an infant. I don’t know for sure why they came here, but probably so their children could have a better life. His residency has been regularized now, through much hard work on his part. His younger brother was born here. Both are college graduates. But his parents, who have been living and working and paying taxes here for nearly 30 years, are susceptible to deportation. I think probably everyone here knows or knows of a family like this. There is a good chance that nearly everyone here knows someone, or lots of someones, who are undocumented and worried, especially today.
And when we see the horrific conditions in the detention centers where asylum seekers, as well of people caught trying to cross the border unlawfully, are being held, we want to find someone to blame. Children sleeping on the floor. Women with no water to drink except the water in toilets. Hundreds crammed into spaces intended for dozens. It’s the Government’s fault! No, it’s Homeland’s fault! No, it’s the immigrants’ fault!
It really does not matter whose fault it is. If we see someone suffering, we are supposed to help. We are not supposed to worry about whether or not they are deserving. We are just supposed to help. We are supposed to find solutions to ease the suffering. You know - feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked, comfort the prisoner. Don’t care how they got that way. It would be great if we could solve the problems that caused the refugee crisis all over the globe, but while governments work on that . . . we are to do whatever we can do to help. There are no loopholes.
I noticed something else different about this translation. I am used to seeing Jesus’ question to the lawyer written as “Who was the neighbor to the injured man?” But here it says, ‘Who became the neighbor?” Who made a decision to help someone who was so different from themselves that helping them was kind of a big deal? The Samaritan in this parable provided food and shelter and medical care for someone who would not have sat at the same table with him - who considered him unclean. He knew that. He didn’t care. He saw a person suffering, and he helped. The image we are using today - a black man helping a white man - could be any one helping an “other.” An immigrant helping an ICE agent. A victim helping a rapist. A parent helping a pedophile. A Conservative helping a Liberal. A Liberal helping a Conservative. This seemingly happens rarely enough that when it does, it becomes a big deal. And that’s just sad. It should not be news when people help each other. There should not have to be laws protecting people who help someone else.
Our hymn today was written by Carolyn Winfrey-Gillette specifically in response to the planned immigration raids today. It calls on us to “work for justice for those who live in fear.” That will mean different things to each of us. Some may take it as an imperative to help your actual neighbors who are in danger of deportation. (If that is the case, Leah and I both have links to available resources.) Others may take it to mean they should work toward changing current policies regarding immigration, especially for asylum seekers. Still others may hear it as a call to help the responsible agencies in working to ease the conditions in detention centers, where the need is indeed great - because in many cases, the persons working in those facilities are frustrated at not being able to get what they need for the people held in their center (food, water, mattresses, medical care, etc.). However you hear the words of this hymn, remember that we are to be the neighbor in whatever way we can. Hear again how the story of the Good Samaritan ends.
Jesus said, “36 “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” 37 “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded. Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
And so you, also, go and be the neighbor, in Jesus’ name.
Hymn O God, You Give Us Neighbors
tune AURELIA 188.8.131.52 D ("The Church's One Foundation”)
O God, you give us neighbors for whom your love abounds.
They’ve come here seeking refuge; they work here in our towns.
Their children go to school here; they come to church and pray.
O Lord, we grieve when neighbors are being sent away.
O God, you give us neighbors in this world that divides.
We see them at the border; they’re struggling for their lives.
They’re hurting by the roadside, and by the river, too.
You call us to show mercy to neighbors loved by you.
O God, you give us neighbors and call us all to see
our common fears and longings, our shared humanity.
You call us all to listen to burdens they have known,
to hear the truth they tell us, to see the love they’ve shown.
O God, you give us neighbors; and now, what must we do?
This question asked of Jesus is one we ask anew.
May we not make excuses and choose to walk on by
these neighbors fleeing violence— some sent back now to die.
God, may we work for justice for those who live in fear;
may we show Christ’s compassion, and pray and persevere—
and by your Holy Spirit, in all we do and say,
may we stand up for neighbors now being sent away.
Biblical References: Luke 10:25-46; Leviticus 19:33-34; 24:22; Matthew 25:31-46
Tune: Samuel Sebastian Wesley, 1864
Text: Copyright © 2019 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Permission is given for free use of this hymn for congregations
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org New Hymns: www.carolynshymns.com