Jesus Makes “Neighbor” into a Verb, Christ Lutheran Church, El Cerrito Eighth Sunday after Pentecost July 14, 2013
The Good Samaritan in the form of a Play script:
GOSPEL: Luke 10:25—37
Narrator: Jesus is challenged to explain what is involved in obeying the greatest commandment. Jesus tells a parable rich in surprises: those expected to show pity display hard hearts while the lowly give and receive unexpected and lavish mercy.
Narrator: Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.
Lawyer: “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Narrator: He said to him,
Jesus: “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
Narrator: He answered,
Lawyer: “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.”
Narrator: And he said to him,
Jesus: “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” _ _
Narrator: But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus,
Lawyer: “And who is my neighbor?”
Narrator: Jesus replied,
Jesus: “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. 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. I “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who
fell into the hands of the robbers?”
Narrator: He said,
Lawyer: “The one who showed him mercy.”
Narrator: Jesus said to him,
Jesus: “Go and do likewise.”
Christ Lutheran Church, El Cerrito Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 14, 2013
Amos 7:7-17 Psalm 82 Colossians 1:1-4 Luke 10:25-37
Jesus Makes “Neighbor” into a Verb
I was the Interim Pastor for Christ Lutheran Church 21 years ago, between Pastor Dennis Mower and Pastor Sharon Lubkemann. It is wonderful to be able to serve in this my home church once again. Do you remember the children’s program Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood?
Do you remember Mr. Rogers? We can sing this together!
It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood.
It’s a beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine? / Could you be mine?
It’s a neighborly day in this beauty-wood
It’s a beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you
I have always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.
So let’s make the best of this beautiful day.
Since we’re together we might as well stay.
Would you be mine? / Would you be mine?
Would you be my neighbor?
Won’t you please? Won’t you please?
Please won’t you be my neighbor?
Mr. Rogers seems to be pleading in his children’s song, because when we hear what goes into being a neighbor in Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan, then we discover it is not easy. He makes being a neighbor into a verb. Being a neighbor means becoming a person who really cares and can deny him or herself and be there for someone else in need. The neighbor has eyes that see, ears that hear and a heart full of compassion. Someone “who knows how to sustain the weary with a word” as Isaiah says, (50:4) Meanwhile it can be reduced to mere doing. But our new being is required. You know how Sartre said, “To do is to be.” And Dewey said, “To be is to do.” And Frank Sinatra said, “Do be, do be, do be, do.” So Jesus says, “Do this and you will be saved.” And “Go and do likewise!” But there is more to it. Just like there is much more to this story, which we often miss because it is so familiar.
The lawyer was trying to justify himself by playing it safe legally and strictly requiring from himself only obedience to the law. Notice, however, that the priest and the Levite, a church worker, were also obeying the law by not becoming unclean before a service. Simply obeying the law does not justify anyone. Just because we have not killed anyone, committed adultery, or burglarized a convenience store does not tell us very much about a person. Such a person may never have done any good either. It is not illegal to be cold hearted and unloving. The law is not the way of salvation. Jesus Christ is the way of salvation.
Just a few verses in Luke before our story this morning, Jesus rejoices in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent [like those with Ph.D.’s] and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father for such was your gracious will.” (Luke 10:21) This lawyer riding on his high horse is testing Jesus. He did not get it. “Thou shalt not test the Lord thy God.” He’s testing Jesus.
But examine his question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Inheritance does not work that way. You don’t go to your grandmother and say, “What must I do to get your inheritance?” He does not understand something about genuine relationships. You don’t do something to get a gift that is freely given. It’s like a kid who tries to buy friendship by giving another kid his lunch in school. You can’t buy friendship nor inherit salvation by works.
Although the lawyer failed that test, he gives Jesus a good answer. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind and [love] your neighbor as yourself.” He added “loving God with all your mind.” That is not in Deuteronomy (6:4). The Hebrews felt with their hearts and the Greeks expanded our minds with philosophy. So our knowledge also has to be oriented around God and the love of God.
But this lawyer was much more comfortable in disputes and arguments than really getting into the nitty-gritty, into the place where the rubber hits the road. Like what kind of faith just argues about the right beliefs to have and never has the compassion to see the needs of others and selflessly respond to them? You may well have already heard how we can be compared with icebergs. We can orient ourselves completely to what we see above the surface, but there is much more to ourselves and others than that. My brother used to tell a joke. What’s the definition of a grapefruit? The answer: To which there is more than meets the eye. There is much more to a person than meets the eye. The lawyer did not want to go down there way out over his head. So he tries to justify himself by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” He’s asking how to draw a limit. Who does he have to respond to and who not. Who can I rule out? How can I be more choosey about whom I call a neighbor? He wants Jesus to justify his being oriented completely around himself on his own terms.
But before God we are like that poor victim lying in the ditch and we have to rely completely on the mercy and compassion of God, without deserving it in the least, that is, for God’s justifying us by grace. The very last words that Luther wrote before he died were: “We are all beggars; this is true.” When we are up against changing ourselves, when we are up against the big questions, the end of life issues, the death of a child, fighting with cancer and realizing that one is losing the battle; seeing conflict escalate into bloodshed and war. We are quite helpless often, like the poor fellow in our story, bleeding, half-dead and lying in a ditch.
There is more to this story than meets the eye. The Jews hated the Samaritans calling them dogs. When the Jews traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem, they would cross over the Jordan not to travel through the Samaria, the West bank of the Jordan, just to avoid them. They were half-breeds, who had not been deemed worthy of being exiled with the other Jews, because they had been unimportant. Their religion had become unorthodox, they did not look to the temple in Jerusalem and their teachings were not kosher.
Notice, however, that it is not the priest, not the church worker, but surprise! This Samaritan, whose heart becomes filled with compassion; who pours oil and wine into the wounds of the crime victim, stripped, half-dead where the thieves left him lying in a ditch. To be a neighbor means that a person sees another’s need and becomes filled with compassion, selflessly responding to it. It means caring and not considering who it is. It means seeing the hurt, the wounds, the fact that a person is dying if there is no help. That is all that matters.
Brian Stoffregen whose online commentaries I always read had to preach at the funeral of a child from this text. He said Jesus would come for the child, place it on his resurrection-donkey and take it to his Father’s heavenly inn, where there was complete recovery from all pain and suffering…and it has all been paid for.
Face it. To become a neighbor we have to be a Christ for our neighbor who is in need and we have to see Christ in that neighbor as well. When we see Christ in a hungry beggar or a sick child and when we become a Christ to them, then we notice that God’s heavenly reign has come near. The word “neighbor” means we have come near each other. In old English “neigh” is like “nigh” and “bor” meant “peasant” or “farmer,” (like Bauer in German, or Boer in Afrikaans, as in the Boer War). Neighbors come near to each other, near at hand, like the reign of heaven. We now walk in each other’s shoes, feel what the other is feeling. We get in there in the deep waters that make us so frightened of becoming close.
Now Jesus is confronting the lawyer with the surprise that the Samaritan has the love and compassion which shows that he is justified, while if you notice, the Lawyer won’t even let the name “Samaritan” cross his lips. Jesus asks him, “Who was the neighbor to the man fallen at the hand of the thieves.”
He answered, “The one who showed mercy to him.” He could have said, “The Samaritan.” But they called the Samaritans dogs and there was no love lost between them. Would Jesus today say a terrorist had compassion saw a need and helped someone? They are evil, but under the surface, we are evil as well. Imagine the terror our drone strikes reign down on the people of those countries? The word “communist” does not work anymore, so now we have terrorists, the new dehumanizing name we’ve agreed on, and we feel that it is doing God a favor to kill them. Jesus championed the Samaritan in this story and translated to our time, it makes us as uncomfortable as that lawyer.
Or getting close to another person and feeling their needs and seeing a neighborhood revive in the transformation: what do you make of the hunger strike by thousands of prisoners in the California prisons protesting solitary confinement, where prisoners arbitrarily, for indeterminate reasons are left in solitary confinement for ten to twenty years, even forty years. Imagine the cruel and unusual punishment that is for people who need other people? We are a great and wonderful country, but don’t forget, under the surface of the iceberg there is also a huge mountain of wickedness, that can easily take down another Titanic. Our faith becomes active in love and our love seeks justice. We have to take responsibility for our whole selves.
Do you care? Do I care? You know the old saying, “What do you think hurts the prisoners more, our ignorance or our apathy?” We answer, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
In our Vacation Church School in Coney Island, each class did a play or a song and dance for family night. One class performed a play about the Good Samaritan. They translated it for the New York of our time. You know, much like “West Side Story” is a translation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Their story of the Good Samaritan had a woman get mugged in Central Park. Those who assaulted and robbed her left her there beaten up, bleeding, and half dead.
A pastor came by and acted like he didn’t see her. He might get sued for trying to help. And handling that woman! People might have the wrong idea. An off-duty policeman came by and just thought of all the paper-work and he was already on his way home. He went by on the other side. A priest, too, did a perfect genuflection, and hurried by on the other side. Then a hooker comes by, sees her, and becomes filled with pity, wipes away her blood with her handkerchief, puts her arm over her shoulder lifting her up, and struggles with her all the way to the emergency room of the hospital. The little girl, who spoke the last line of the play, put it in soul-talk: “Some people we consider dirt care more than we do!”
 See “Active Listening” in peterkrey.wordpress.com.