Sermon "Who Is My Neighbor?"
Grace and peace be unto you from God who is our Creator and from Jesus Christ who is our Savior and our Friend. Amen.
A white man decided to drive from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, and on the way his car broke down. As he stood in front of his car in the heat looking under the hood, a truck slowed down, some men got out and they beat him up, took his wallet and his goods, and left him unconscious and bleeding by the side of the road.
After a bit a preacher came by, on his way to lead a prayer meeting, and he saw the man in need, but remembered that there were people waiting for him, and also that if he stopped, the same thing might happen to him, and he crossed to the other side of the road and kept going.
Similarly, the deputy-mayor drove up, and slowed down to take a look, but remembered that it would not look good to show up at a press conference with blood on his shirt, and besides, he didn’t have any backup and if he stopped, the same thing might happen to him. So he kept going.
And then a black man, on his way to work as a cafeteria manager for the local public school, passed by. And he stopped. He got out of his truck and surveyed the pitiful mess before him, a white man unconscious and bleeding, next to his broken down car with the “make America great again” bumper sticker on it, and the black man was, Luke 10:33 says, “moved with pity.”
The black man thought about how helping this white man would make him late for work and cost him money, and how if he stayed there too long the same thing might happen to him, but then he put those thoughts aside, and he wrapped the white man up in a blanket, put him in his car and took him to the county hospital. He said, “If this man doesn’t have insurance, I’ll find a way to pay.” Saved his life for sure.
Then Jesus asked his listeners, “Which of these three, do you think, the white preacher, the white deputy mayor, or the black cafeteria manager, was a neighbor to the white man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" And we know the answer. It was "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said, "Go and do likewise."
This parable takes on its full power when we understand that there was racial and cultural enmity between Jews and Samaritans. There was a long history. Jews considered Samaritans to be ethnically impure, culturally inferior and to ceremonially unclean.
To tell a parable in which a Samaritan helped a Jew when other Jews did not was startling, to say the least, and no doubt offensive to some who listened. And then Jesus said something quite astonishing to his Jewish audience. “Go and do likewise.”
You go and do the same thing. Be like the Samaritan. Reach across the divide that is so absolute in your mind and have mercy on someone you don’t care about. Give of your wealth and your time, and take risks, to save the lives of your sisters and brothers from whom you are not only culturally separated, but with whom there is a racial divide. Now you go and do likewise.
Go and do likewise. Who is Jesus talking to? In the bible, to his Jewish audience. In my altered parable, to the white people. You. Me. Most of us here. We for whom law enforcement is on our side. Who find traffic stops aggravating but not terrifying. We who are not afraid that a knock on the door will be ICE, coming to tear our family apart. We who are not roused from the doorway where we are sleeping and told to move on. We who have rights. You, me, us. Jesus said, “You go and be like the Samaritan. Show mercy. Be a neighbor.”
This parable is a strong call to reach across boundaries and prejudices of our own making to show mercy, and it illustrates that everyone is our neighbor. But here’s something more. Jesus is the one who told the parable, yes, but Jesus is also the one in the ditch. The one by the side of the road, beaten up, bloody, left for dead.
Jesus taught us that when we offer a cup of cold water to the least of these, when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit those in prison, we do it for him. Jesus Christ is in the poor, in the suffering, in the desperate, in those who are in pain. Which means he is in you when you are poor, suffering, desperate, and in pain. His is the face we see when we see our neighbor. So when the Samaritan helped the traveling Jew, he helped Jesus.
When we go and do likewise, when we love our neighbors, when we are moved with pity and we show mercy, we are not only obeying Jesus, but loving and caring for Jesus himself. Amen.