Samaritan


Children’s sermon: I don’t know if you have chores at your home, but I can tell you there are chores to be done at my home. And I understand that some chores are for grown-ups—like paying bills, I wouldn’t expect a child to pay the utility bills—but as kids get bigger, there are chores they can help with, as they are able.


I’ll tell you what I mean: I like for the kitchen table to be clean, and this is a job that I know my kids can help with. It’s where we eat meals, so it’s important for health reasons, but also we need the space for lots of activities: the kitchen table becomes the art area, the reading room, and in the days of high pandemic, it was also the classroom, the Zoom meeting background, the family reunion, etc.


What I’ve learned about the table is that not everyone agrees what it means for the table to be clean. When I say “clean the table,” what I usually mean is: clear away all the things that have gotten put there AND wipe the crumbs, sponge off the dried milk, those sticky spots where the juice spilled, smeared tomato sauce, drips of honey or syrup, and whatever other unidentifiable material is stuck there.


But it’s funny, sometimes what people in my family hear is this: clean only your own toys off the table, but leave behind the cups and crumpled napkins. Sometimes they hear: clear off my stack of newspapers—yes, the newspapers are mine—and throw the newspapers in a pile but leave everything else.


And sometimes the complaint that I hear is this: It isn’t fair to clean up other people’s messes. Right, that’s true. But we live in a house together. It’s important to clean up our own messes, but sometimes we’re cleaning up someone else’s mess too. We do this because we love and respect one another.


This is similar when things get broken, or if someone gets hurt. Maybe I wasn’t the one to break it, but sometimes I can be the one to fix it. I once heard a friend say: Things get broken on purpose or by accident, but things only get fixed on purpose.


Jesus tells us a parable about how to be a neighbor, by noticing when someone is hurt, by noticing when something needs to be done, and then doing the thing that helps someone else.


Maybe the trash on the ground didn’t come from me, but I can still be the one to pick it up. Maybe I didn’t hurt someone else’s feelings, but if I can see that someone else is hurt, then I can be the one to help that person heal and feel better. And you can do this, too.


Kids can’t fix everything, and grown-ups don’t expect you to fix everything. But there’s a lot you can do to be a neighbor and to help others heal—God has important work for you to do in the world. You are a part of God’s great love for the world.


Let us pray: Dear God, thank you for giving us families and neighbors, for loving us so much that you take care of our every need. Help us to love others with that same love, looking out for other people. You are always with us. Amen.



So we think we know how this story of the Good Samaritan goes, right? A man goes down from Jerusalem to Jericho, so away from the holy city, and he gets robbed and beaten up and he’s left for dead. A priest comes along and passes by. And a Levite also passes by. And the hero of the story is supposed to be an Israelite. That’s what everyone hearing this story was expecting.


These are the categories that Jews would expect in this story, since Jews back in the time of Jesus, as well as now, generally fit into one of three categories: priests descended from Aaron the brother of Moses, Levites descended from Levi who was one of Aaron’s ancestors, and Israelites who are descended from children of Jacob other than Levi.[1]


It’s surprising that Jesus chooses the hero as the Samaritan, a religious and ethnic group close enough to Judaism to be similar but distinct enough to be enemies. We know what that’s like, right? When we start grouping ourselves by religious distinctions—Lutherans are kinda like Roman Catholics in worship style, but very different in how our congregations work and who’s allowed to be a leader in the church. And we can’t even say Lutheran without qualifying which type of Lutheran.


So the people hearing Jesus’s parable would have been surprised to hear that the hero is a Samaritan, but if they knew their Scriptures well, they’d recall that Samaritans have shown hospitality too. Let me explain.


In Luke’s Gospel, we have already been introduced to Samaritans—Jesus went into a town of Samaria and was not granted hospitality. The disciples were so mad they wanted to call down fire upon that town. But Jesus decided not to expend his energy in that way and moved on to another place instead.[2]


But when someone—a student of the laws of Judaism—asks Jesus about eternal life, Jesus answers in a way that expands the sense of keeping the laws. There’s an old story, way back in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the book of Second Chronicles. The story goes that Samaritans extended hospitality to Jews when some two hundred thousand of them were captured and brought to Samaria. The Samaritans took care of the captives, clothed them and anointed their wounds, and the ones who weren’t strong enough to walk were carried on donkeys—and the Samaritans returned them to Jericho.[3]


Jesus tells a story to answer the lawyer, essentially saying: you have asked the wrong question. You already know good and well who your neighbor is. In the big picture of life and the even bigger picture of eternal life, we’re not here to determine who is in or who is out, who is worthy of care and who is unworthy. What you have forgotten is how to be a neighbor.


And I have to tell you the truth: I am not such an astute biblical scholar that I read this parable and immediately thought of Second Chronicles. I purposefully went looking for more information about this parable. Because I know that Christians have long interpreted this parable to make Jews look bad, and that isn’t faithful to Jesus, who was himself a Jew. Jesus was a rabbi who faithfully interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures, but as the centuries have gone by, Christians have sometimes thought that reading the New Testament is enough, and that gives us all the information we need to interpret Jesus’s words. The problem is that we then write our own prejudices into our interpretation. Those prejudices have real-world consequences for Jews, who remain a group subject to oppression and hate crimes.


Christians could learn a lot from Jews and how they interpret their own Scriptures, because it helps us to make sense of Jesus and his teachings in a way that honors Judaism instead of making Jews the enemy. It is painful to think of the ways Holy Scriptures have been misused to oppress other people, to create enemies, to demonize other people. I’m sure I’ve done this, too, even though I didn’t mean to. But when you learn better, you do better.


Years ago, I learned about Jewish scholars of the New Testament like Amy-Jill Levine, who is one of the editors of “The Jewish Annotated New Testament,” and the author of the article I referenced about this parable of the Good Samaritan. It helps to understand some of the history of how the Jewish laws came about, including the understanding that there are multiple frameworks of laws, so it is best to speak of biblical laws rather than “the law.”[4]


It is also unfair to assume, as Christians have sometimes assumed, that Jews are bound by their laws only to show concern for Jews and not others. One of the laws often quoted from Leviticus states, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”[5] But as Michael Fagenblat, a Jewish scholar writing about the New Testament, explains, we don’t read far enough to a few verses later in Leviticus: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.”[6]


Loving the neighbor is a concept that is in no way unique to Christians, but arises from the family we have in common with our Jewish siblings. And I wouldn’t have learned this if I hadn’t gone looking for other voices to explain this Scripture to me.


What voices do you listen to? How do those voices reinforce your worldview? Do you ever get curious about other voices you’re not listening to? Whose voice is missing? These are questions worth asking ourselves, prayerfully. If we are going to hold on to our humanity, we owe it to ourselves to listen carefully, to notice whose voices are silenced. How would you feel if it’s your voice which is silenced? Wouldn’t you hope for someone to come along and have compassion for you, as the Samaritan in the parable was moved by compassion to care for the man who had been beaten?


What would it be like to listen to the voice of the man who had been beaten and whose life was saved by that Samaritan?


I wonder if that voice would sound like Phil Andrew, a survivor of gun violence who was shot and wounded when his family was held hostage in their home, in 1988. Phil Andrew was twenty years old at the time, a college athlete on the swimming team. He was at home with his parents when a woman came into their home, carrying two guns; Phil took away one and spent an hour and a half negotiating with her to take the other one, but while trying to take it, Phil himself was shot.[7] The woman killed herself a short time later.[8]


And while this story is tragic on many levels, how does healing happen? Phil Andrew’s life was changed in that moment, leading him to a path of healing that took him to his life’s work as an FBI special agent for twenty years and now working with a group focused on community peace-building. In a radio interview, Phil said this:

“What it really did is shape my consciousness for how we really respond to those that are in distress. And one of the things that always stayed with me was that there were people there for me in the worst day of my life. There were amazingly heroic first responders who came to me at great risk to themselves, literally entering into a scene where they were putting themself at risk to render aid to me.


I came into contact with medical first responders, surgeons, doctors and nurses who put my interests, my recovery, my health above their own. And this kind of gift I was given of all the service they had provided really was giving me an opportunity, because I survived, to take this tragedy and turn it into something positive. And the one thing that I recognized that we could focus on was trying to spare others this kind of misery.”


Phil Andrew went on to explain that he was the beneficiary of “a lot of healthy systems,” in “a well-resourced, well-connected area with healthy police departments, with amazing medical services, with an intact family.” Those healthy systems helped him to heal, and he noted that in our country today, where gun violence occurs, those healthy systems aren’t there.


And now, three decades later, when Phil Andrew was asked what he thinks of when he remembers that day, he said this:

“I think of the people. I think of the doctor who was in my face and told me to stay awake and somehow picked up that I was a swimmer and called me a swimmer and connected with me and what I needed in that moment. I think of the nurse who looked into my eyes and said, you're going to be OK.


…And it is hard, and it's no time for people to be alone. And there is no reason why they shouldn't be able to find others who empathize deeply with what's taken place. And there is a robust and effective network to now get involved and to prevent this from happening again. And that is so critical in terms of my own journey to know that I'm having impact in the world around me in sparing others or supporting others who have been hurt, knowing that my experience and my own loss and suffering prepared me to do that for others.”[9]


If the man who was saved by a Samaritan could speak to us, would his voice sound something like this? Can we help people who are victimized claim their own victory? Can we listen for the voices of those who have been hurt? Can we be moved by compassion? Can we notice our common humanity? Can we notice someone else’s identity, their passions in life, their joy in being alive?


God, show us the way to bring your healing to this hurting world, your own precious creation, loved and redeemed.


Amen.

Pastor Cheryl


[1] “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” article by Amy-Jill Levine, The Jewish Annotated New Testament, ed. Amy-Jill Levine & Mark Zvi Brettler, Second Edition, New Revised Standard Version, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, page 136. [2] Luke 9: 51-56 [3] 2 Chronicles 28: 8-15 [4] Amy-Jill Levine and Mark Zvi Brettler, The Bible With and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently, New York: HarperOne, 2020, pages 207. [5] Leviticus 19:18 [6] Leviticus 19:34, quoted in “The Concept of Neighbor in Jewish and Christian Ethics,” article by Michael Fagenblat, The Jewish Annotated New Testament, ed. Amy-Jill Levine & Mark Zvi Brettler, Second Edition, New Revised Standard Version, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, page 645. [7] https://www.npr.org/2022/07/08/1110580455/how-a-mans-experience-surviving-a-shooting-drove-him-to-become-an-fbi-special-ag [8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Nick_Corwin#cite_note-MOI-9 [9] https://www.npr.org/2022/07/08/1110580455/how-a-mans-experience-surviving-a-shooting-drove-him-to-become-an-fbi-special-ag




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