The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the more defining stories of our faith.
Sometimes I feel like a broken record in my telling you that the gospel of Christ is about bridging differences and breaking barriers and uniting under the one light of truth in the service of moving ever deeper into relationship with the God of Love.
But I didn’t make it up. It’s right there - in the parable of the so-called “Good Samaritan”.
I say “so-called” because there’s a subtle injustice in how we hear that name - the one we call “the Good Samaritan”. Have you ever noticed?
We don’t call him “a” Good Samaritan. It’s not “the parable of a good Samaritan”.
We call him “the” Good Samaritan. The one.
Quietly, lurking in the background of what we’ve all been taught, is that lesson. There are some people we expect to be up to no good. There are whole segments of people from whom goodness should come as a shock.
This Samaritan - this foreigner - this outsider - should be expected to be up to no good. His default position - from the perspective of us on the inside - is no good.
So it’s remarkable that we found the one good one.
But that’s exactly why this is such a defining story for our faith. It instills in us, again, that our presuppositions and our prejudices, our biases and our expectations, our races, divisions, and classes - they all fall apart in the economy of Christ. They cease to have the importance and the weight that we have been trained to put on them.
Of course the priest and the Levite should have been the ones to help the beaten man. They’re supposed to be the ones closest to God. But they didn’t. And not only did they not help, but they actually avoided the situation. They passed by on the other side. They saw the awkwardness, and the inconvenience, and the mess, and they looked away.
The Samaritan is the one Jesus’ listeners would have expected to be up to no good. But as it turns out, he was as good as anybody else. Even better than some.
Therein lies the danger of following society’s norms and expectations and prejudices: too often they’re wrong. Too often they lie in opposition to the teachings of Christ.
Like many of you, I’m sure, for the past couple of weeks I’ve been following the trial of George Zimmerman.
I preached about the story of Trayvon Martin and GeorgeZimmerman about a year and a half ago when the story was just beginning to capture our national attention. I said then, and I still believe, that the reason Trayvon Martin died was because someone saw him as “other”. And because of that “otherness” he was assumed to be dangerous and defended against.
If we learn anything from this parable of a good Samaritan, I hope it is that we can’t rely on our fear when meeting our neighbors. I hope it causes us to examine what “others” we’ve set apart in our own lives. I hope it makes us think about and engage with the people we meet each day that cause us to “pass by on the other side” of the road - the people we’d rather not help, and rather not know.
And if we learn anything from Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, I hope it’s not to keep living in fear. I hope it’s not to keep distrusting one another. I hope, instead, that we’ll ask ourselves who our “other” is. I pray that we’ll examine our lives and our relationships and identify the Trayvon Martins and the George Zimmermans that we know and fear and avoid and attack. And most of all I pray that we’ll see the ways that we are Trayvon Martin and the ways that we are George Zimmerman.
In this social game of divide and conquer we are all the victim and we are all the accused.
We all lose.
The only way we win is when we love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind, and when we love our neighbor as ourselves.
And who is our neighbor?
The ones who are foreign to us, and the ones we fear.
The awkward, and the messy, and the inconvenient.
That’s who we’re called to love.
O Lord, receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that we may know and understand what things we ought to do, and also that we may have the grace and power to accomplish them. Amen.