A friend told me the story of 2 ducks on the side of the road. One duck was distressed and circling around his friend who was lying on the ground. My friend presumed that one of the ducks had been hit by a car and was dying. The other duck was confused and scared watching his friend die not knowing what he could do to help. The duck in distress squawked at traffic passing by – who knows, he could have been asking for help or alerting drivers to stay away from the injured duck. Mr. Mallard wouldn’t leave his friend’s side. The friend who told me this story was fighting back tears. I imagine that the scene was emotionally moving. One rarely gets a glimpse of 2 animals caring for one another that one is at the point of grief and distress over losing a friend. My friend was moved to tears.
What makes you cry?
I cry every time I hear the national anthem sung well. I often cry or have to change the channel when an ASPCA commercial comes on showing abused animals. I cried Friday night at the banquet at CYF camp when a senior shared his testimony about his depression, attempted suicide and second chance at life.
Carl Frederick Buechner was a WWII veteran, Presbyterian minister and prolific writer. He suggested a test to see if one has empathy. Buechner believed that if you had cried in the last year for someone other than yourself then you have empathy. That test might not be fair for those who don’t cry, but the test challenges us to consider whether or not we have empathy for those who are hurting. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is somewhat of a test to consider what we’d do in the situation of finding a man lying on the side of the road. The parable asks us, “Do you have empathy for the hurting?” It starts as one man’s test of Jesus.
The story of the Good Samaritan begins a shift in the ministry of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus had been healing others and in Luke 10 Jesus shifts His ministry from performing miracles to teaching His Disciples. If Jesus had been the one to perform the miracle in this story, it would not have been a teaching or a parable; He would have healed the Samaritan. Instead, He uses a story to teach the lawyer and the Disciples who to serve. And, it shows the beginning of the Temple leaders, like this lawyer, begin to question Jesus’ interpretation of Scripture.
A law expert or a lawyer or scribe asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, not often giving a direct answer, responded with a question and asked, “What does the Law say?” The lawyer said, “Love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus agreed that was what the Law said and told the lawyer to do so.
But, the lawyer was not done. He wanted to know more about how Jesus interpreted the Scripture. He asked Jesus who his neighbor was. This was a trick question for Jesus. The Law clearly defined roles about how Jews should treat Gentiles and Samaritans, how men relate to women, what a priest’s role was, and on and on.
Jesus had a story for the lawyer. Jesus didn’t want to directly answer the question and get into a debate with the lawyer about ethics defined by their interpretation of the Law. Jesus wanted to teach the lawyer, rather than argue with the lawyer; Jesus teaches through story. Now, when we hear a story from Jesus, we want to identify with one of the characters. We know when we begin to read this story we’re going to want to be like the one who loves his neighbor. So, Jesus begins…
“A man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and left him for dead.” We know we want to be the one who helps this half dead man.
Jesus continues, “A priest happened to be going down the same road…” If we were hearing this story for the first time, as a Jew, we’d listen to what this priest did, because we’d expect the priest to do the right thing…but he doesn’t. Jesus says the priest crossed the road and walked past the man without doing anything to help.
Jesus continues, “a Levite…” okay, if the priest didn’t do the right thing, surely the Levite is going to help the man, we’re going to want to listen to what the Levite does so we can do that…but the Levite also crossed the road and passed by the man without helping.
Jesus continues, “a Samaritan…” now, we wouldn’t want to be like the Samaritan. Samaritans were descendants of the people who lived in the Northern Kingdom of Israel after the kingdom of Israel split when King Solomon’s sons took over the kingdom after their father’s death. The people of Samaria were peasants who remained in the Northern Kingdom when the other Jews were exiled. The people of Samaria mixed with the people from Assyria and Babylon who moved into Israel when the Jews were moved out. The Samaritans believed in God, but they don’t believe the right things or do the right things. Their religion wasn’t pure because it had been corrupted by wicked kings and blended with Assyrian and Babylonian religion which worshipped false gods. They are the people born on the wrong side of the tracks. So, we definitely don’t want to be like the Samaritan in Jesus’ story…but, the Samaritan does the right thing, not like the priest and the Levite.
Jesus says the Samaritan saw the man and took care of him because he had pity or empathy for the man lying on the side of the road. The Samaritan bandaged his wounds and poured oil and wine on the wounds to clean them. Then, the Samaritan put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn. The Samaritan gave the innkeeper money to care for the man until he is well. The Samaritan said he would be back to pay the innkeeper the rest of the expenses he would use to care for the injured man.
After telling His story, Jesus has a question for the lawyer, “which of the three men do you think did right by his neighbor, the man who had been attacked?” The lawyer, I’m sure reluctantly said “the one who showed mercy.” He couldn’t bring himself to say it was the Samaritan, admitting that the priest and Levite had done the wrong thing, but the Samaritan had done right by his neighbor. He said the Samaritan had done what was right, had loved his neighbor by showing mercy. Jesus said, “go and do likewise, go and do what the Samaritan has done.”
“Go and do likewise.”
Jesus’ story shatters the lawyer’s prejudices of social boundaries and challenges all who hear the parable to question stereotypes. After hearing the parable, we can’t narrowly and easily define neighbor creating lists of who’s in and who’s out, who’s worthy of our neighborliness. Neighbors are no longer included or excluded by class division or religious or racial groups. Mercy is not doled out by one with a calculating ethic and eternal life is not the reward for doing good. Eternal life begins with the qualities of life which include showing mercy to others regardless of their race or religion or national origin. “Mercy sees only need and responds.” (NIB, Luke, John, p. 230.)
Today, we’re going to begin a process by which we are going to discern who God is calling us to be and how to become that community. During Pastor Nik’s tenure, you wrote a vision statement. It was more of an identity statement about who you are. We’re going to capture God’s vision and develop a ministry plan to live into God’s vision. The parable of the Good Samaritan will guide our work. We will prayerfully ask God,
“How do we show we love God?”
“Who is our neighbor?”
“What does our neighbor need?”
“How can we show mercy?”
And listen for Christ to tell us, “Go and do likewise.”
This process will include work for the Elders, Board and the congregation. The Elders and Board will begin meeting together later this month and for the next 2 months. I will be regularly updating you on their work and inviting you to pray for the various stages of the work in learning about our neighbors and their needs. When the Elders and Board have gathered lots of information, we’ll have a congregational retreat, of course, lunch will follow…the congregation can participate in the work of discerning how God is calling us to respond with mercy to our neighbors and their needs.
The congregation can begin the process by creating vision boards of what we think of when we think of church. So, bring in your pictures, drawings, or magazine cut outs. Print a picture from the internet or send me a link to a picture you want me to print. There are foam boards in the Narthex. You can put your picture on the board. There are also sticky notes and markers. You can write down a word that you think of when you think of church and put it on the boards. Our vision of church is part of what God’s vision for the church is. By creating a visual of what we see, we can begin to see what God sees for our future.
I ask God to reveal His vision, mission and calling to us as we seek to show our neighbors mercy.