Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs
“You Never Know”
Psalm 24, Luke 10:25-37
Sunday, July 10, 2016
For my birthday this past May, I bought myself an adult coloring book and some colored pencils. I spent some time deciding which themed book I would buy and chose the book called “Color Me Calm: 100 Templates for Meditation and Relaxation.” There were several other topics I could choose from, but I was drawn (no pun intended) to this one, not because I need to be calm; I am one who is usually calm, even in high stress situations, but because I know that when we do something with our hands, such as writing or coloring, it allows other parts of our brain to do their work without our interfering with filters and self-critique. Besides, the idea of meditating while coloring, intrigued me.
Well, I was off this past Friday and awoke to the deeply troubling news about the shootings in Dallas. I was already processing the news about the two African American men who had been killed in what appear to be questionable circumstances. This new horrible incident troubled my spirit deeply especially since the people killed were trying to ensure that the protesters were safe and when the shooting started, while others ran away from where they thought the shots were coming from, they ran towards it, reminding me of our first responders and their reaction on 9/11. I knew that I needed to wrap my head around all of the deep divisiveness in our country from Orlando to Louisiana, to Minnesota and now to Dallas. How was I going to incorporate into my sermon these tragedies and the sense within our country of such disunity and pain and anger and, in some cases, hatred that is beyond my comprehension?
After spending some time in the garden weeding and trying not to think about what happened in Dallas, I found that to be impossible and so I came inside, determined to work on this sermon. 30 minutes later, I found myself playing solitaire, which is another way that I distract my brain from me so that I can subconsciously work on my sermon. That too didn’t work, and so I turned to my coloring book. I found myself selecting only muted colors, browns, dark green, dark red. My mood was clearly dark.
As I sat there coloring, trying to stay within the lines, I thought to myself, Dear God, how am I to make sense of this loss of the value of all human lives? And then, from the recesses of my mind, and heart, came the “aha” moment – I had forgotten what the lectionary passage was for today that I had begun to make notes on last Monday. The Good Samaritan example that Jesus had given to the lawyer, was just where I needed to go! I could not believe, that in the midst of my focusing on the events of the past few days and my own emotional self-involvement, the reading for today had gotten lost. I think that this is what happens to many of us when we see injustices, when we have no answers, when we don’t know where to turn. We forget that we can turn to God and to the lessons we have learned from Jesus, who surely faced and saw so many similar emotional and gut-wrenching situations in his short lifetime.
So, I opened the file that had my sermon notes on it from earlier in the week. My eyes immediately found a question I had written while doing research on this parable: “Who exactly is my neighbor?” It turns out that the word neighbor as translated in this Gospel, literally means “one who is near.”
Jesus turns the tables on the people who were listening to him and challenging him, which he did throughout his ministry and continues to do today. The injured man is presumed to be Jewish so, to make his point, Jesus uses a Samaritan, who an enemy of the Jews. Jesus knew that the Jews would do whatever they could to avoid even stepping into Samaria. Centuries of insults and provocations had made each group so disgusted with the other that they stayed away from each other – sounds a bit like our political atmosphere today, doesn’t it. So, it is not surprising to us that Jesus would use an enemy to teach the people. The priest and the Levite came and saw one of their own injured and passed by on the other side. The Samaritan, however, was moved with compassion. It was a gut-level compassion. The word Luke uses for compassion is only used two other times in his gospel – once to describe the reaction of the father to the return of his prodigal son and the other, to describe Jesus’ own emotional state. So, being moved with such compassion is a key to this reading.
In Jesus’ telling of this parable, the Samaritan is neighbor to the injured man because he acted mercifully. He did something out of deep compassion. Jesus tells the story of an enemy who, through his merciful actions, becomes neighbor. I believe that what Jesus is trying to tell us through this parable is this – If a Samaritan can become neighbor to a Jewish person, then anyone may be your neighbor. It is not a question of where to draw the line, but rather of erasing that line entirely because we never know who our neighbor might be. Therefore, we must be compassionate to all people with whom we come into contact. The other part of this, is that we never know where God will show up, or through whom God will work.
When we fail to see, draw near, and help those we mistrust or fear or just want to ignore, we risk missing the amazing presence of God in our lives and in the world. So, to avoid that risk, we might ask ourselves, who do we have the hardest time imagining God working through? And then we should probably expect God to do just that because God comes where we least expect God to be because God comes for all of us. The questioning lawyer and the outcast Samaritan; the refugees and those who want to keep them out; the illegal immigrants and those who want to deport them, those in need, those who help them, and those who turn away; those who protect us as part of their job, and those who we would rather not associate with because of their race or their social status or their sexual identity.
No one is beyond God’s mercy and grace. No one is beyond the reach of God’s love. No one. Jesus deliberately chooses the most unlikely of people to serve as an instrument of God’s mercy and grace. That is what God does: God chooses people no one expects God to choose and does amazing things through them. God chose me and God chose you. You never know through whom God is working.
So, when horrendous things happen in our world, our faith, and Jesus, our role model, calls upon us to remember that everyone is our neighbor. Every life has equal value. As Christians, we know that there is power in love. Our faith requires us to embrace all people, those who are here to protect us and those who would choose to do us harm. If we fight harm with harm, we all lose. If we fight hate with hate, we all lose. Jesus calls us, again and again, to summon the courage to live through love in a world so desperate to see love in action. If we join with God, and fight hate with love, I truly believe with all my heart that love will win out in the end.