I want to take a break from the discussion of the Lord’s prayer today to talk about a familiar story in the Bible that has special meaning for our church at the moment. It’s the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10: 25 – 37.
The story was prompted as Jesus was having a conversation with a teacher of the law who asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responded with the two commandments he deemed most important: 1) to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and 2) to love your neighbor as yourself. The Lawyer, however, wanted to clarify what was required and asked who was his neighbor. This was actually a question under discussion in Jesus’ day. The word neighbor literally means one who is “near.” Most Jews in Jesus day thought that meant they need only love the people like themselves – their Jewish brothers and sisters. In fact they shunned anyone who was not Jewish. They wouldn’t go in their homes, eat their food, touch their utensils… These people were unclean and included both Gentiles and Samaritans.
So to answer the lawyer’s question, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. You probably remember the story. A “man,” (and here we must assume this is a Jewish man) was accosted by robbers who beat him up, took his belongings and left him for dead. Two Jewish religious people offered no help probably because they were worried they might sully their state of religious purity. When the Samaritan saw the dying man he was moved by pity. Now we need to remember, the Samaritans were considered to be the wrong kind of people. According to the Jewish beliefs at the time, Samaritans worshipped in the “wrong place,” they had “wrong beliefs,” they were mixed race, and they were despised. But it is the Samaritan who had pity and stopped. He bound up the man’s wounds, put him on his donkey, took him to an Inn where he attended to him personally in order to get him through the first night and then left money to have him cared for after he departed. Jesus completed his story by asking who of the three people on the road that day was a neighbor to the injured man and the lawyer rightly named the Samaritan. Jesus said go and do likewise.
Now lots of people read this story and assume this is a story about helping and it is to a certain extent. A neighbor helps those in need. But the story is also about how easily we judge others to be of lesser value for whatever reason. Turns out the “lesser valued Samaritan” was the loving neighbor in God’s eyes. Jesus uses this story to urge us to expand our definition of who is our neighbor and to call us to love all our neighbors.
Over the next several weeks our church is inviting our members and friends to work on Jesus’ call to love all our neighbors. We think this is a challenging commandment and we need to help each other work on it together. To help us stretch and grow we have posted on our website a 21 day Racial Equity Challenge. We are inviting people, for 21 days, to read or watch or listen to one small bit of media related to the challenges faced by our Black neighbors in this country. I suppose one might wonder why we are focused on our Black neighbors. Of course we are concerned for all our neighbors, but it seemed to our church leaders that our Black neighbors are the ones who are figuratively lying by the side of the road bleeding these days. So for now we are paying attention to our Black neighbors.
I signed up for this challenge last Friday. I figure I won’t agree with everything I read or listen to or watch, but I’m willing to listen to other voices. I’m willing to stretch. I’m definitely willing and wanting to learn what I can do to follow my Lord more nearly. I invite you to join me on this journey. Go to : https://www.presby.net/better-together-21-day-challenge/ and sign up!
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