St. Thomas' Church, Whitemarsh
Proper 10, Year C, 2016
My friends, between Orlando and Turkey and Bangladesh and Iraq, this has been a rough month. This past week has been especially difficult for our country: Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Dallas. So much violence. So much pain. So much loss. In the face of all that has happened, we gather together today with hearts weighed down with sorrow, anger, fear, disgust, and grief. I want to assure you that these are all appropriate responses. In times like these it is important to name our emotions and to give ourselves the space to feel them—not to act out from the place of pain, but to acknowledge that these feelings are there. I read somewhere this week that someone felt a small glimmer of hope in that she was still moved to tears at these events, that she hadn’t become completely desensitized to them.
In the midst of all that has happened nationally and globally, and with whatever else we are carrying with us from our personal lives, we turn to the Holy Gospel for guidance. And, as is so often the case, the words of Scripture are pertinent and speak directly to us. The Parable of the Good Samaritan. How often have we heard this story? If you’re like me, this story has become so familiar that you tend to gloss over it. But there are still lessons to be learned within this tale.
We are familiar with the premise: a man gets beaten up and lies near death on the side of the road, the religious leaders who should stop and help don’t, and the person we would least expect to help does. I’ve mentioned before that in Jesus’ time the Samaritans are rivals of the Jews. They hate each other, and so for the people listening to Jesus’ story, the fact that a Samaritan is the hero, the one who stops when the leaders of their faith don’t, is a shocking and even outrageous idea.
Over time many people have retold this story, setting the scene in their own day and age and changing the Samaritan to someone hated or looked down upon or feared by their society: the Good Samaritan is replaced with a member of the Inquisition, an oil baron, a Nazi, a Communist, a white supremacist, a Black Panther, a gang member, a terrorist, a politician, an immigrant…you get the idea.
This person whom we dislike so much sees the man lying there and is “moved with pity” (Luke 10:33). The others go on their way, but this person is filled with compassion so much that they cannot look away. This word for being “moved with pity” occurs only two other times in Luke’s gospel: by Jesus when he sees a mother weeping over the body of her dead son, and by the father of the Prodigal Son when he sees his son returning (7:13, 15:20). The father of the Prodigal Son represents God the Father, and so when we see this word in Luke’s Gospel, we know that it is either God or someone representing God who is performing this action.
As we hear about bad things that happen in our world, it would be easy to go about our lives as if nothing had happened—we have that advantage; we have been afforded that privilege. But the Gospel clearly shows us that like the Samaritan, we cannot ignore reality; we are to be moved. To be moved means to take action, not to stay stationary, but to intervene when people are in need. Our role is to be representatives of Christ in this broken world. “Go and do likewise” Jesus tells us (10:37). We cannot remain impassive in the face of violence, when people—children of God, made in God’s very image!—are dying in the streets.
How do we respond? We begin by praying for our neighbors, our leaders, and for ourselves to be moved by compassion. We educate ourselves on the systemic injustice found in our society, how we are complicit in it, and how we can be a force for change. We look around for opportunities to step in, to step up, to lend a hand. There are an infinite number of ways to get involved, to demonstrate the love of Christ to our neighbors.
In the face of violence, we pray for and respond with peace, for violence only begets more violence. Peace is our ultimate goal, but recognize that peace is not the same thing as calm; true peace cannot exist without the presence of justice. In the story of the Good Samaritan, our focus is on this single incident of violence, but robberies are a commonplace occurrence along the Jericho Road.
A year before his assassination, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said these words: “On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring” (MLK, Jr’s “BeyondVietnam” address, April 4, 1967 in NY).
Our society needs to take a long, hard look at itself. We cannot afford to remain silent as our sisters and brothers suffer, to walk past on the other side of the road. The events of the past week—of the past few years—have given us an opportunity to pause and really take notice of the world in which we are living. And we are called to meet our neighbors—everyone we come across—with compassion.
Where is the Good News? The Good News is that God is present in all of the suffering. God is present with those who mourn, with those who are oppressed. God is present with those whom society ignores, who we ignore. And God is present in the Eucharist.
We come together each week to take part in this holy meal, becoming whole from the very body that was broken for our sake. Becoming—literally—the Body of Christ, God’s very presence within us empowering us to be Christ’s hands and feet and voices in the world. To respond to violence and hate with peace and justice. To reach out our hands in love, just as the Good Samaritan did for his neighbor, just as Christ did for us on the cross.
A few days ago a young black woman was buying something in a convenience store when she was approached by an older white officer. He asked her how she was doing and she said she was ok. Then he asked her again, “How are you really doing?” She said she was tired and he said that he was, too. “I guess it’s not easy being either of us right now, is it?” he said. And then these strangers hugged one another.
My sisters and brothers, another world is possible. I’m not being naïve or even idyllic; I know that it will be a struggle, that it will take monumental effort on everyone’s part, and that some days peace will seem very far away, indeed. But we have hope on our side and we know that Christ is in our midst. Dr. King reminds us that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” (Our God is Marching On!).
May we be moved, and then get moving.
"The Good Samaritan"