8th Sunday after Pentecost
July 10, 2016
“What’s mine is…”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us is the well-known account of Jesus telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
In 1963 he was ordained a Presbyterian minister, but he did not enter the ministry. Instead, he started his own television show in 1968 and he eventually filmed 900 episodes; that’s 300 more episodes than M.A.S.H, Little House on the Prairie, and the Mary Tyler Moore show combined. In 1999 he was elected to the TV Hall of Fame. In 2002 President Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award that can be given to a civilian. And, oddly enough, he wanted to live in the same neighborhood as you. Little did Fred Rogers know that when he started writing and filming “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” for public TV that he would become a national icon. Mr. Rogers began each episode by walking into his house while singing the opening theme song while he changed into his sweater and comfortable shoes. And as the song concluded, he implored the audience to be his neighbor, even if for just that half hour.
Looking for neighbors is exactly what was taking place in today’s Gospel lesson. An “expert in the law” approached Jesus and wanted to find out what it would take to achieve eternal life. As Lutherans we want to jump all over the phrase about the expert seeking to “justify himself” and as Lutherans our sirens go off right away as no person can justify themselves before God. But that is not what this man wanted. He wanted to know who were his “neighbor”: countrymen, friends, family, and the Jews – those around him and those just like him.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan introduces us to three character groups: the thieves or robbers, the priest and Levite, and finally the Samaritan. Each of these men interact with an unidentified man lying along the side of the road. Once he is beaten and stripped there is no way of telling if he is rich or poor, young or old, Jew or Samaritan, or anything about him. He is “every man” lying in a pool of his own blood…a man in need. He is their neighbor…he is your neighbor.
The thieves had an approach to this man. Their approach was “what’s yours is mine…and I’ll take it.” That is what thieves do. They take. They disregard the consequences and take regardless of the well-being of their neighbor. They saw the person traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho but they didn’t really see a person. They saw his money, clothes, possessions, and so on. With no concern for his life, health, or family, they robbed him and beat him and left him for dead on the road.
This is clearly also the way that much of today’s world operates with a “what’s yours is mine…and I’ll take it” attitude. From road rage to government system entitlement and abuse, to stepping on others for personal or professional advancement. Our world is a precarious one, filled with sinful people with a “what’s yours is mine…and I’ll take it” kind of mentality. As common as this is, this is clearly not the Christian way; it is not the way of a true neighbor.
Now along come the priest and the Levite. Both are from the religious groups of their day. Both are pious, holy men committed to serving God. But their attitude and mindset is different. Their mindset is “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours, and let’s just leave it at that.” Both the priest and the Levite saw the bloody and beaten man. But for whatever reason they could not stop to help. Maybe they worried about becoming ceremonially unclean and thus unable to serve in the temple. Perhaps they were afraid the same would happen to them. Perhaps they were late for a church meeting. And so they turned a blind eye to the problem and moved right along oblivious to the suffering of their neighbor.
Martin Niemoller who was a German pastor once said, “In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I am not a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I am not a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, but I didn’t speak up because I am a Protestant. Then they came for me…and by that time there was no one left to speak up.” Niemoller died in a Nazi concentration camp along with 6 million other victims of the Holocaust. Being a Christian is not so much in what we do, as in what we don’t do. The priest and Levite did not beat that man or take his stuff, but that man certainly wasn’t better off after they had come than he was before! Their religious status does not excuse their lovelessness for their neighbor. “What’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine and let’s just leave it at that” is also an unacceptable way for the Christian to react to a neighbor.
In the third character, the Samaritan, we meet someone different. Here is one who comes and says, “what’s mine is yours, let me share it.” The Samaritan was moved by compassion, and the Greek word used for “compassion” is the verb typically used to describe the same feeling that our Lord Jesus had towards the sick and the poor and the suffering. It’s a feeling way down in your guts that moves you to action. Look at what lengths the Samaritan went to! He provided first aid, put the man on his donkey so he had to walk, took care of him overnight at a place he paid for with his own money, and provided money for his further care. The Samaritan didn’t just throw money blindly at the problem hoping to achieve a solution; he took a personal interest in the problem, and did what he could with his own resources to achieve a solution. That’s the surprise of the story; a despised, hated Samaritan was the one who was a neighbor. It was not those whom the expert in the law expected. It was the one who showed love while not being loved in return.
The tendency of many today is to go through life on a superficial level not seeing the pain or hearing the moans of suffering neighbors because it’s much easier to go through life uninterrupted and unburdened. But that is not Christian! We know that because of the example that we have in Christ.
Jesus came to the earth and lived for us as the Good Samaritan. In our sin we were lying beaten and bloody along the road with no one to help us. Jesus didn’t come as a tourist or a dignitary or a passer-by, but he came as one for a whole world of people suffering along the road. And he felt that compassion way down deep; deep enough to move him to endure the agony of the cross for you and for all your neighbors. That is true compassion. That is truly being a neighbor. Salvation, forgiveness, and life everlasting now belong to us by virtue of our faith in Jesus Christ and the redemption that He, the Good Samaritan, achieved for us.
And in the end, Jesus tells the “expert,” and all of us, to “go and do likewise.” Often we are overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of this task that it paralyzes us to the point of complete inactivity. A better approach is to pitch in and do what one can where one feels a sense and ability to help. Maybe we cannot help everywhere, but we can help somewhere in some capacity. Being a neighbor does not require meeting every need of which we are aware, but of becoming one piece of a large puzzle that helps in a meaningful way. That’s what the Kingdom of God looks like – taking care of others as Christ has taken care of us. It’s preaching, teaching, and healing in the name of Jesus, our Good Samaritan. Go in the Lord’s name and share His love and your love to all the neighbors around you today and into eternity. Amen.