Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We are never told the name of the traveler who was attacked and beaten and left for dead in today’s Gospel. If this story were set in today’s news headlines, he could have been named Alton Sterling, or Philando Castile, or Brent Thompson, or Michael Krol, or Patrick Zamarripa, or Lorne Ahrens, or Michael Smith.
As this terror-filled, violent week continued, as we watched the shooting of each of these children of God, as we saw the violence streamed on television and social media over and over, we collectively held our breath, wondering if there would be still more. As author Brené Brown described her own reactions:
“I woke up this morning looking for someone to blame. Someone to hate. Someone who I could make the single target of my fear about the officers killed in Dallas and the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.”
We want there to be a villain; we want to be able to blame someone. We want to hear people talk about privilege and racism, and believe that they’re not talking about us. We want to hear God say that our murmured prayers as we pass by on the other side of the road are enough. We want to remind the world that “I don’t even know any black people; I can’t possibly be racist.”
But this time, the parable bites a little. This time, we hear news anchors explain over and over again what it means to be part of a group that doesn’t have to worry about things that Black people worry about. This time, we see the video clips of parents teaching even the youngest of their children a list of rules to follow when they get stopped by the police for a broken taillight. This time, the awareness creeps into our brains that we don’t have to memorize rules, that even if we didn’t do all those things, we would not be killed.
This time, the descriptions of the two who passed by on the other side of the road seems to fit us uncomfortably well.
Just as the lawyer who asked Jesus how much he had to do, or perhaps how little he could get away with doing, just like that lawyer, we want our actions to be enough. We hear the phrase Black Lives Matter, and we respond All Lives Matter, as if both could not be true at the same time. But then we remember the cartoon that was going around social media this week, showing two houses sitting next to each other, one of them on fire.
We remember seeing one cartoon figure saying All Lives Matter, just like All Houses Matter, as he uses a hose to aim water at the house that is not burning. His neighbor replies: I agree, all houses do matter; but at the moment the one that’s on fire should get more attention. And we remember the rest of the conversation: “But by saying that a burning house needs attention, aren’t you saying that all other houses don’t matter?” “No.” “My house isn’t on fire, but there is some dry rot. Shouldn’t that be fixed?” “It should, but the fire is very urgent.” “Let’s say that I put out the fire in my neighbor’s house, and then my house catches fire. Aren’t I entitled to water then?” “Yes, of course. But that’s not the one on fire right now.”
And we begin to realize that perhaps we have spent all of our energy protecting ourselves, even when we’re not in danger, and we have not acted to help our neighbor whose danger is very real. And we wonder… could that be why Jesus told this parable in the first place?
As we hear this parable set against the backdrop of violence and killing, we hear parts of it with new ears. Jesus didn’t say Go and say a little prayer as you pass by on the other side of the road. Instead he said Go and do likewise. Go and get your hands dirty. Go and put yourself in the middle of the muck in the spots were people are hurting. Go and speak up when you hear a joke that makes fun of someone because of their race. Go and help your neighbor, even if you think they don’t deserve it.
There is good news and hard news and more good news for us this week. The good news is: the violence and bloodshed this week is not the way that God wants things to be. God’s desire for us and for all of God’s children is that those who suffer are lifted up and those who are hurting are cared for. The hard news for us is that God has appointed us to step into the middle of the pain and injustice and be God’s presence. And not just a passive presence, but God sends us to act, to leave our comfort zones behind, and to walk right into the middle of the hurt.
But there is still more good news for us. Even as we bid farewell to our comfort zones, we are not alone. Instead, we walk in Jesus’s promise that “I will be with you, to the end of the age.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.