July 15, 2013

The Good Samaritan, Trayvon Martin & George Zimmerman

Yesterday, I had the opportunity of preaching at St. Bartholomew's in Laytonsville, MD. The Gospel reading for the day was Luke 10:25-37, the story of the Good Samaritan. I won't bore you with the details of the passage since most of you are likely familiar with it and if not you can read it for yourself. But I will share with you what stood out to me as I was preparing my sermon.

Get personal. To begin, when Jesus is challenged to define what a neighbor is he describes a man that is willing to become intimate with "the other," the person in need on the side of the road.

Count the cost. Jesus describes a neighbor that is willing to pay the cost required by getting involved in the life of the other.

It takes a community. The neighbor in Jesus story gets others involved. He couldn't have continued to help this individual without getting the innkeeper involved.

We meet God through the other. Lastly, it can't go unnoticed that the person that acts neighborly in Jesus' story is the person who would have been ostracized by Jews in first century Palestine. Samaritans were outsiders, unorthodox, unclean, half-breeds. Yet, it is a Samaritan man whom Jesus identifies as the model neighbor.

Notice that the Hebrew attorney in the passage can't even bring himself to name who it is that is the ideal lover-of-neighbors in the passage ("The one who showed him mercy."). Notice that the passage is referred to as the "good Samaritan," as if most Samaritans weren't good but were bad. This exposes the bias of the dominate readership over time–those headers weren't in the original text.

Notice that Jesus portrays the outsider (Samaritan) as the one who cares for the insider (Jew). When we read this we often insert ourselves into the perspective of the Samaritan. "I need to be more like that guy," you might think. Certainly, you should. But it also seems important to point out that the insider needed the outsider. If you are an outsider to dominant culture than this is good news. If you are an insider to dominant culture... this is still good news!

This morning, it seems near impossible to not think about the Zimmerman verdict when pondering this passage. No matter your opinion of George Zimmerman, he will live a life guilty in public opinion. No matter your opinion of Trayvon Martin's intentions that terrible night, he is dead and the outcome of this trial will send a message to too many that their life is worth less than others.

We often read a passage such as Luke 10:25-37 and reflect on the personal implications for our lives. This seems right. The world would be a better place if more of us lived like this Samaritan. But there is a larger, social implication to this passage as well. Jesus deliberately challenges common perspectives on privilege and social position in this passage. He challenges his hearers to reconsider the intrinsic nature of the other. He challenges them to see God's likeness in the outsider. It is not the human condition to see the other this way. But the Gospel calls us to live differently.

The media circus will spin around this issue for awhile. But happens when we grow tired of this and move on to the next scandalous headline?

Will you have the nerve to meet the other–whomever that is for you–on your journey and take the time to get to know them? Will you pay the price required of entering into relationships that challenge and stretch your assumptions and biases? Will you invite others into such a relationship? Will you gratefully receive that which the other brings to the table? And most importantly, will you watch for the face of God and listen for the voice of God in that of the other?

People will get upset enough to post things on Facebook or wave banners on street corners. But this morning, I'm hoping for more. I'm hoping we hear passages like the Gospel text read yesterday and are inspired to live differently. That's what we desperately need.