But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus 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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He 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. The 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.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
This last week we lost one of America's great comedic actors.
Tragically Robin Williams committed suicide.
It is, in my opinion, a huge loss
Robin really broke onto the stage while I was in college when he starred in Mork and Mindy, playing a extraterrestrial alien who came to earth from Ork.
The show really wasn't that good, but it showcased the incredible talent of Robin Williams.
Robin was in many TV shows and over 100 movies, and a few really stand out to me.
One of the great scenes of all times is early in the movie THE DEAD POETS SOCIETY.
Robin played an English teacher who returned to the private high school that he attended as a youth.
The teaching methods of this new English teacher, John Keating, were unorthodox by Welton Academy standards, including whistling the 1812 Overture and taking them out of the classroom to focus on the idea of carpe diem (Seize the day).
Keating tells the students that they may call him "O Captain! My Captain!", in reference to a Walt Whitman poem, if they feel daring.
And what to me may be one of the classic scenes of all time: Keating has one of the students read the introduction to their poetry textbook, which prescribes a mathematical formula to rate the quality of pieces of poetry
Keating finds this ridiculous
He instructs his students to rip the introduction out of their books, and reminds them that WORDS AND IDEAS CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.
And I believe that!
There is no easy formula to understanding the biblical stories either.
But the words and ideas that are found in our Bible can change us and the world.
Our passage this morning is one of those that I am at times tempted to just rip out of the bible.
It is a difficult story --- and one that on face value is IMPOSSIBLE to achieve.
It's a story we are all very familiar with
If you remember a couple of weeks ago, we had the story of a lawyer who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.
Do you remember what Jesus’ answer was to him?
(Jesus) said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He 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.” And (Jesus) said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
And we ended the story right there --- but the story doesn’t end at that moment the lawyer turns to Jesus and asks that most difficult question:
“And who is my neighbor?”
How would you answer that question?
Is Michael Brown your neighbor?
Or the Protesters
Or the Police
Or is Israel your neighbor?
What about Gaza?
Or maybe ISIS is your neighbor?
Or are the people of Yazidis?
Are the people of Gary our neighbors?
And if so, how are we to treat them?
How are we to treat our neighbors?
Unfortunately, all cultures --- modern and ancient --- draw boundaries between themselves and all others.
We do it whether it is a matter of national defense or protecting our interests
The Greeks called everyone who did not speak Greek --- barbarians
The Jews separated the world according to Jews and Gentiles
We build walls to keep people out --- and send them back if we don't want them
This parable --- is both appealing and at the very same time terrifying!
We are drawn to the notion that is a reoccurring theme in this journey from Jerusalem to Jericho
That our attempts to divide ourselves by culture and class is and should be severely challenged
But this parable challenges more than our xenophobia
What really seems to be at stake is our identity.
WHO DO WE IDENTIFY WITH IN THIS PARABLE?
Whose point of view do I see it from?
On face value this is what one might call an "example" parable.
Jesus uses the story as an example of how we are to live
And, of course, we are to be like the Samaritan --- being a good, and compassionate neighbor to the man who was beaten --- unlike the Levite and the Priest --- who were bad neighbors.
When I read the story in that way --- and hear Jesus say to me:
Go and do likewise
I am overwhelmed with guilt and shame --- because I don't always treat the Samaritans of my life as neighbors.
I am a part of that culture that divides and sees people who are different with --- maybe not contempt (although I am sure I do that at times) but with wariness and caution.
When we look at this story carefully, it has a number of very interesting details.
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.
The distance between Jerusalem and Jericho is about 17 miles --- and the route is very isolated. It follows a dried river bed --- known as a Wadi --- and is very rocky, wild and treacherous.
The road is today and was in the time of Jesus a notorious hideout for bandits.
So a person hearing this parable told by Jesus would not at all be shocked to hear that a man was robbed as he traversed this road.
We have no idea who the man is --- but he must be Jewish. Remember, Jesus is telling this story to a Jewish audience.
We are told that the man was stripped and left half dead.
That was not particularly normal --- robbers didn't always do that.
But it seems that Jesus might be telling the story this way is to let us know that since the man is stripped and left half dead he now lacks any identifying clothes --- so that those who might pass by would have no idea what class, village or even nation he belongs to.
The second line of the story is rather simple
Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Two characters join our half dead man.
And we are told their social standing in Israel
· A Priest
· A Levite
The audience hearing this story would have specific values come to mind when they hear these two men have joined the story.
The text gives no indication why they didn't stop.
I was always taught that they failed to stop because they did not want to be made ritually impure.
But there is no reason in Jewish tradition to believe that.
Actually the opposite is the case --- they were required by the concept of meth mizwah to stop and offer aid.
But they didn’t!
Maybe they were afraid that the robbers would be lurking around waiting for another opportunity --- but the parable offers no clues.
Then we get to the difficult part of the story
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
What would a Jew think when he heard the mention of a Samaritan?
The enmity between Jews and Samaritans had been going on for centuries.
When the hearer of the parable by Jesus heard the mention of a Samaritan they would have expected him to compound the dastardly deeds of the robbers.
But that is not what happens
With the introduction of a despised Samaritan into the story --- as the hero -- no less, it destroys the hearers' expectations.
A huge problem is created
WHO DOES THE HEARER IDENTITY WITH?
It would be almost impossible to identify with the Samaritan given their history of hatred and distrust.
If this story was told in Israel today, the hero would be a Palestinian . . .
So the listener can identify with the half dead man and suffer the shame of the Samaritans compassion or decide that the story is blatantly false.
The story then expands with the generosity of the Samaritan
He 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. The 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.’
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
So what is the point of the story for us today?
Do you remember the context the story is set in?
Luke has framed this story with stories of what God's Kingdom is going to be like.
Jesus is telling us a kingdom story --- this is what it is going to look like.
There will be no more boundaries
People are not separated into insiders and outsiders simply because of their class, religion or nationality
While Jesus ends this story with the admonition for us to GO AND DO LIKEWISE --- I think he is telling us that is what the kingdom will be like --- until then --- we are to do our best to break down those barriers that separate us.
So, who is your neighbor?
Let the kingdom values take hold in your life --- and begin to see all of God's children as your neighbors.