Sunday, July 14, 2019
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor the man who fell among the robbers? He said, the one who showed him mercy. And Jesus said to him, “you Go and do Likewise.”
A woman was in a supermarket one time. When she checked out, the clerk tallied up her groceries. Much to her surprise she discovered that her bill was $12 over what she had in her purse. Embarrassed she began to remove items from the bags. To her surprise another shopper saw what was happening and handed her a $20 bill. Embarrassed, she said to the person making this generous offer, “Please don’t put yourself out.”
This kind person said, let me tell you a story; my mother is in the hospital with cancer. I visit her every day and bring her flowers. I went this morning, and she got mad at me for spending my money on more flowers. She demanded that I do something else with that money. So, here, please accept this. It is my mother’s flowers. And so, gratefully, she did accept the gift.
What a thoughtful act. We’re always touched when we see one person do something kind for someone else. It gives both the giver and the recipient a good feeling. In fact, it’s a wonder more of us don’t perform numerous acts of kindness for one another just so we can experience the good feeling it gives us.
Of course, one of the world’s best-known acts of kindness is found in our Gospel lesson for the day. It’s a familiar story to us all. It was a story that Jesus told about a man who was going from Jerusalem down to Jericho when he fell among thieves who robbed him, stripped him, beat him and left him for dead.
This kind of thing frequently happened on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Because it was notoriously dangerous for travelers. It was a road of sharp turns and narrow passageways, which provided several excellent lurking places for thieves and bandits.
Fortunately, the road was also well traveled, so it wasn’t long until a priest happened by. Unfortunately, the priest looked at the broken and bleeding body lying there by the side of the road and hurried by on the other side. He probably thought the man was dead. Priests were forbidden by the liturgical law from touching a dead body. Dead bodies were ceremonially unclean. A Levite, when he saw the man, passed by on the other side. Levites were under the same prohibition concerning dead bodies as were priests.
But there was a “Samaritan”, that’s all we know about him, a Samaritan who, coming upon the man, had compassion on him. He went to him and bound up his wounds, he placed the beaten man on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day when he needed to be moving on, this Samaritan went to the innkeeper, took money out of his own pocket and gave it to the innkeeper saying, “Take care of this man, and if this isn’t enough I will give you more when I return.”
The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the most famous stories in all of literature. Jesus told this story in response to a lawyer’s question, “And who is my neighbor?” That’s a question that still haunts us today, doesn’t it?
Are illegal immigrants our neighbor? Are people who are starving in remote sections of our earth our neighbors? It’s interesting, that the lawyer was asking this question to justify himself. We ask the same thing, also seeking to justify ourselves. And a couple of us had this very conversation on Wednesday, after golf.
As followers of Jesus we know that the obvious answer to this question is, “Anybody who needs your help is your neighbor.” But that’s a lot of people!
I doubt that there’s anyone here this morning who doesn’t feel a twinge of guilt when reading this story. We recall the hitchhiker we left standing by the side of the road. We know the danger of picking up strangers, and yet it still bothers us to pass someone by.
There was that derelict who approached us on the street asking for a handout. We say to ourselves he’d probably have spent it on whisky, so, we pass him by, but deep in our hearts we wonder what Jesus would’ve done.
We quietly pray. Lord, what is my responsibility to these people? There’s so much need everywhere I turn. How far do You mean for me to go?
While you ponder that question, let’s confront the fact that in our society today people are less and less likely to play the role of the Good Samaritan.
On the front page of a newspaper there was a picture that was very sad. A man who had been a paramedic in Vietnam, was leaning on the door of an automobile that was stalled beside a busy expressway in some northeast region of our country. The story underneath explained the circumstances of why he was bent over that car and was weeping.
On the way to work that morning the woman who had been driving that car had a heart attack and had fallen outside the car there by the busy expressway, and this man happened along and stopped to render help. Being a paramedic, he gave her emergency treatment and for some 20 or 30 minutes, he was able to keep her alive. But after 25 or 30 minutes she died in spite of all the emergency treatment he was able to give.
But the reason for his crying was this. He said that during that period of 20 or 30 minutes, he gestured to everyone who passed by to stop and summon help for them, to get an ambulance to come to the rescue of a dying woman. But he said, No one seemed to care. And no one stopped.
It’s a revealing story of the kind of society we’re becoming. Obviously, we have our reasons, just as the priest and the Levite had their reasons. Still this story makes us uncomfortable.
There are two levels at which we may respond to the story of the Good Samaritan. The first is at the level of simple civility or common courtesy.
I once read that just as Hawaiians have no word for “weather” because the climate is so good, Eskimos have no word for “thank you” because in their world, helping one’s neighbor is seen as a duty.
You would think that being civil to one another is the least we can do. Every major religion or philosophy acknowledges that. You most certainly don’t have to be a Christian to extend common courtesy or simple kindness to a stranger in need.
It’s important for us to recognize that the kindness of the Good Samaritan is being shown every day all over the world. Courtesy, compassion and kindness are the least of what ought to be expected of a human being.
However, the teachings of Jesus instruct us to go beyond what the ordinary person is apt to do. We need to know that there are people who do go that extra mile, who care just a little bit more.
There are many Good Samaritans of every race and creed all over the world. Those who follow Jesus, however, are expected to do even more. We’re expected to give love and compassion to those whom other people pass by. But there’s one more important thing we need to see in this story.
Those of us who have known the grace of Jesus Christ at work in our lives know that it was once we who lay in a ditch broken and bleeding. It was the ultimate Good Samaritan, who is God, who ministered to our needs. Now we long to do for others what God has done for us. That is what grace is about. That is what the Gospel is about.
There was a fashionable phrase a few decades ago known as “compassion fatigue.” That was the term used to describe those who, during the sixties and early seventies, tried to right society’s wrongs, but were soon burned out. They suddenly lost their enthusiasm for doing good. They called it “compassion fatigue.” The reason they lost their enthusiasm for doing acts of compassion and kindness is clear. They started with the wrong motivation. They wanted to help build a better world. And that’s good. That’s far better than being an insensitive clod who lives only for himself or herself. However, the world is so big, and people’s problems sometimes are so complicated. Many of these well-intentioned people simply burned out. They ran out of enthusiasm for helping people with their problems and they threw up their hands and walked away.
Many of the people who remained in the battle to build a better world were there for a different reason. It was because they could see a man dying on a cross for their sins, and they realized that they owed a lifetime of service in response to the kind of love that was extended to them.
As the congregation was leaving Church that morning, there was a woman who was obviously homeless and was crying, sitting by the church yard fence. Only one of the worshippers paid any attention to her. One of the ladies went over and knelt beside the desperate woman and sought to dry her tears and comfort her. Only one person in that entire congregation really knew how to worship God. It was the one who did something to help.
When Christ gets hold of us, we reach out to other people not just because we’re nice people. We do it because once upon a time we were lying in a ditch and a stranger reached out to us. Now that stranger has invaded our lives and it’s He, not we, who reaches out to our neighbor through us, using our hands, our material resources, our valuable time.
An unknown author wrote these words: On the street I saw a small girl, cold and shivering in a thin dress, with little hope of a decent meal. I became angry and said to God: “Why did you permit this? Why don’t you do something about it?” For a while God said nothing. That night God replied, quite suddenly: “I certainly did do something about it . . . I made YOU.” And that’s why God made us, to do something about it. Can He depend on you?