This week was not a good week on the national scale. With the shootings of young black men and the targeting and killing of police in retaliation, the issues of racism and relationships with police have risen to the forefront once again. But, this time around (at least in my circle of influence) the conversations have been different. This time around, people seem to be genuinely interested in the affects of racism on multiracial communities, and at the same time, are supportive of those who serve in the dangerous and demanding jobs of law enforcement. This time around I do not see so much hate in the conversations. This time around there actually are conversations. It is a beautiful thing to see.
Being able to even start the conversation honestly is a good and productive start to address these much larger national issues. But, I do have to admit, these issues of racism and hate on a national scale are so big that I find myself wondering, "What could someone like me possibly do to help when I live in this little town lost in the mountains of Pennsylvania?"
In an act of pure heavenly providence, the story of the Good Samaritan was assigned for the Sunday after the violence, and through the story, Jesus gives people like me some guidance and some hope.
As you probably remember, the story is all about helping the neighbor. Well, actually, it starts out being about finding an exception to helping the neighbor.
A lawyer comes to Jesus looking for the exception.
"Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" 27 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." 28 And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
“And who is my neighbor?” the Lawyer questions. He’s looking for an exception.
This human tendency is nothing new. We have been looking for exceptions since the very start of time.
In Genesis (the book of the bible that starts it all), God tells the first humans, “You shall not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or on that day you will die.” Being tempted by the possibility of an exception, the serpent taunted, "You shall not die."
So, Eve and Adam gambled on the exception, ate the fruit, and indeed, on that day they did not die.
“Remember the Sabbath Day, and keep it Holy.” This commandment is constantly bombarded with requests for exceptions. Some seem quite legitimate: "What if my family needs food? Can I still work on the Sabbath to feed them?"
“Honor your Father and your Mother.” You may ask, "What if my Father and Mother do not act as good Fathers and Mothers should, do I still have to help and support them?
A lawyer continues this long human tradition and comes to Jesus looking for the exception to helping the neighbor. Helping the neighbor is such a noble thing, why would he look for an exception? Considering the current events in our nation, I do not think it is too hard to venture a guess.
I suggest fear. He seeks an exception because of fear of the neighbor.
And, I'm pretty certain that Jesus thinks this also because of a detail in his story of the Good Samaritan; he mentions the road to Jericho.
Martin Luther King Jr. once traveled the road. He said of the road:
"You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, 'I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.' It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles -- or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're about 2200 feet below sea level. That's a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked -- the first question that the Levite asked was,
'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?'"
In other words, the righteous passed by on the other side because of fear. "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?"
Now, it is the Samaritan, the untrustworthy and hated one of that ancient culture, that sees the man on the side of the road and asks: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"
The correct question is not, "Who is my neighbor?" The correct question is, "Am I acting like a neighbor?"
That question does not allow exceptions. The love of Jesus does not seek the exception.
Just look at the lengths Jesus took to love and save us: his neighbor. Not only did he heal the poor and go out of his way to include those who were marginalized. He went all the way to the cross to save us all. "For God so loved...the world..."
You see, in God’s kingdom, God does not make exceptions to love. Christ died so that all the world may have life. Love does not have exceptions.
That love did not stop that day on the cross. You and I have been given that same Spirit of love toward our neighbor! It is a love that allows us to live with less fear, and show more concern. That is what we need today. That love is the gift that God has given us.
And we know exactly what love looks like because the Bible tells us:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
The love that stops us in our tracks once this question pops in our head out of fear, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?", is the love that draws us to reconsider and instead ask, "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"
There is one last character in the story of the Good Samaritan that most of us have not yet considered, unless our day job is running a hotel. That character, of course, is the Inn Keeper.
Imagine standing at your counter in the lobby, and a man of a different skin color comes through the front door dragging a bloodied and beaten man into your lobby. Blood stains your floor as the man asks you to care for the bloodied fellow, handing you some cash.
What should be done?
One answer is to look for the exception saying, “He is not my problem.”
But, in the face of fear, Jesus gives us the gift of a new question, "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"