July 15, 2018

The Outsiders – The Neighbour
Luke 10:25 to 37
-Carla Wilks

In the Gospel of Mark and Matthew, Jesus says You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbour as yourself. This is seen in Matthew as the Greatest Commandment and in Mark as the First Commandment…
But it is only in Luke’s Gospel that the clarifying question is asked “and who is my neighbour” with the parable of the Good Samaritan to follow.

In first century biblical society, the one who asked this question lived in a very tribal time. He would have thought of his neighbours as being the good Jewish people who were living in his neighbourhood. And he might have thought yes, I do look out for my neighbours. We take care of each other.

But then Jesus turns this definition of neighbour on its head by telling this story. This story where the Samaritan, who was the unclean outsider, who was considered heretical AND was not to be associated with – this person was of a group who was despised by the lawyer who asked the question… but this Samaritan ends up being the hero of the story. He is the one who helps the man, beaten and naked in the ditch after two others have passed him by. The two others are the religious leaders and followers of the law, who we would think of as being the likely teachers in the situation – but instead, it is the outsider, the Samaritan who is the teacher.

Often we look at this story and think we are being called to be like the Samaritan – the Samaritan who is the unexpected good neighbour, the despised and now the hero of Jesus’ story.

What if we look at the story from the perspective of the injured man. Here he is, completely unable to help himself, beaten, naked and alone at the side of the road. In last week’s reading, at the beginning of this chapter in Luke, Jesus sends out his followers – and tells them to take nothing with them, no purse, no bag, no sandals and no food. They were to depend on the generosity of others.

The injured man in today’s story also has nothing – because it has been stripped of him, and he also has to depend on the generosity of others. When he is helped by the Samaritan on the road, he receives compassion from the one considered to be the Outsider. The outsider is a neighbour to him, more so than those of his own community who passed him by.

This week the world witnessed this kind of compassion when the Thai soccer team and their coach were rescued from deep in the caves under a mountain. Once the word got out about what happened, expert cave divers from all over the world went there to lend their expertise and their time and also, to risk their lives in order to save someone else’s child. It was a remarkable story of a rescue operation that not only captivated the world, but also involved volunteers from all over the world. We saw so many people involved in the rescue mission – there were people who were stationed outside, keeping vigil and praying for the safe return of the boys and the rescuers, there were volunteer drivers, people cooking food for everyone around, others who were cleaning the laundry every night of the volunteers entering the cave. It did not matter who was involved. The compassion of the helpers transcended any divisions. In that situation, and in those weeks, the wideness of God’s mercy and the goodness of neighbours everywhere was felt.
Martin Luther King Jr said “I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
We are called as Christians to this broader definition of neighbour to both show and accept compassion from those outside of our usual circle.

I saw a great church sign that expresses this idea.
It says Love thy neighbour…No exceptions!
Thy homeless neighbour,
thy gay neighbour,
thy Muslim neighbour,
thy black neighbour,
thy immigrant neighbour,
thy Jewish neighbour,
thy addicted neighbour,
thy Christian neighbour,
thy atheist neighbour,
thy disabled neighbour.
Then at the bottom of the sign it says Jesus didn’t make exceptions. We don’t either!

Sometimes it is really hard to love our neighbour, especially when those neighbours do terrible things. This week I am having a really hard time loving two of my Christian neighbours, because they really hurt my friend. I have mentioned before about my friend Joy, the one whose wedding I officiated on Mother’s Day. She is now in hospice and is very weak. The other day I was visiting her, and she and her husband were telling me about her upsetting day. She had been talking to her sister, and her sister was condemning her for the state of her relationship with God. Joy and her husband shared with me that they had attended her sister’s church several months back. Her sister’s pastor knew of Joy’s illness, and said in front of the whole congregation that he could ask God to heal Joy, but he wasn’t going to because she had not shown herself to be worthy… and what he meant by ‘not worthy’ was that she did not participate in their church on a regular basis. That to me is spiritual abuse. After reassuring my friend that God loves her, and there is nothing that she can do or say to be unworthy of God’s love and compassion, I got more and more angry at her sister and the pastor. Then I started thinking about this idea of loving my neighbour, and I thought – hmmm I don’t think so. I can’t love that neighbour. But Jesus says I have to.
Until this happened the other day, I was not feeling particularly challenged by this command to love my neighbour. Then I was confronted with a situation where I can’t possibly fathom how I would love them. What does that even mean to love them? …How am I supposed to love someone who has been so hurtful and so damaging to my dying friend’s state of mind.

Following Jesus is not easy! I think for me this week it was important to recognize that love of neighbour doesn’t necessarily mean agreement with neighbour. Maybe love of this neighbour, who showed no compassion for my friend in the final days of her life, maybe in this case love of neighbour meant to turn it back to myself and look at the ways that I need to show more compassion for others.

Over the past six weeks we have been looking at the ways that Jesus welcomed the outsiders – those considered on the outside of society, and reminded all his followers that God’s compassion is much bigger than they can imagine.

First we looked at the worthy – at who was considered worthy of God’s love and mercy and that Jesus shows us that everyone is worthy, then the following weeks were about Jesus welcome of the lonely, the humble, the tormented, the traveller and finally the neighbour.

This poem by Katherine Hawker highlights for me the complexity of the parable of the Good Samaritan, putting ourselves into the story in each of the characters.

He walks by preoccupied frightened
we walk by
he lies helpless dazed overwhelmed
we lie helpless
Dear God, may they find each other.
Dear God, may we find each other.

The call is not easy but often when we widen our circle we open ourselves to new experiences and understandings. Sometimes it is in the reflection of the Outsider back to us, that we can see more clearly where our limitations are and see where we can grow to be more compassionate, or more accepting of compassion from others.