Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Crossing the road"

Message preached July 11, 2004
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon  Luke 10:25-37

Order of Worship

            Long ago, when I wore a green uniform with a rolled-up bandana around the neck, and all sorts of merit badges on a sash, I learned that a boy scout is supposed to be someone who is: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. I also memorized the scout motto: "Do a good deed daily."

            The image of a scout, at least at one time, and perhaps still today, is that of a boy searching for an elderly lady, so that the proverbial "good deed" might be performed. An old scout joke tells of how an older woman cannot seem to get home because every time she tries to leave a major intersection, a boy scout arrives to escort her across the street. A good deed several times over becomes her undoing. Still, the kindness of a "good deed" is welcome in a world that often seems terribly unkind.

            In the Bible we find a story about another good deed of "kindness." The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the stories of Jesus which moves far beyond the bounds of Christianity. The "good Samaritan" has become the proverbial "do gooder." A secular auto organization has a "Good Sam" club. In fact, for most people, this nameless person of the Bible has a name: Sam. Sort of like Kilroy, as in "Kilroy was here."

            Perhaps the world is the better for this good Samaritan leaving the pages of the Bible and becoming "Good Sam," a man of kindness, in a world where kindness seems often to be in short supply. And maybe itís fitting that "Good Sam" should leave the confines of the Bible, for Jesus brought him in from the outside to start with.

            As we find this story of Jesus in the gospel according to Luke, we see a righteous Jew, questioning Jesus about eternal life. "What shall I do to inherit it?" he asks. The impression we get as we listen from the sidelines, is that this man is not really concerned with eternal life, or the things which lead to it. Rather, his question is intended as a test. How orthodox is this Rabbi Jesus? As Jesus often did, the question back upon the one who asked it? "How would you answer that question?" Jesus asks.

            The Greek scholar Socrates would have been proud, for that was his method: having the learner answer the question. The righteous Jew, a Lawyer, a man who studied and applied the Torah, the Law of God, this learned man, who sought to test a supposedly ignorant rabbi, this man, through a question, became a learner, a student. And Jesus taught him with a story.

            The man answered Jesus that the way to eternal life according to the law, was to love the Lord with all heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. But the manís second question, whether he meant it or not, was this: "OK, now, who is my neighbor?" Who is my neighbor?

            It used to be that neighborhoods were a pretty tight bond which held people together. In some places that is still the case. But today we find that many neighborhoods are facing the change that comes with a mobile population. Our congregation, like most others, has experienced this mobility, as loved ones have moved on to other neighborhoods. In changing times, as we seek to reach out to our neighbors, we may ourselves wonder who they are. Is a neighbor merely someone who happens to live nearby? What responsibility do we owe to a person we scarcely know? What sort of neighbor should we be to people whose lives orient toward another direction. It used to be that neighborhoods were made up of people who were somewhat the same. How can a neighborhood be a neighborhood, if people arenít the same? "Who is my neighbor, anyway?"

            "Who is my neighbor?" the man asked Jesus. So Jesus told him a story, a parable we are very familiar with. In this story were nameless characters: a victim who was robbed, beaten, and left for dead along the road; some thieves who perpetrated this crime; a Priest and a Levite, both with a destination toward which they were heading, but not an inclination to help; and a businessman from Samaria, who just happened to travel past the scene of the crime.

            Not much is said by Jesus about any of the characters but one. Over the years weíve filled out the story, of course, playing up the pomposity and lack of concern of the priest and the Levite. But really, Jesus doesnít say much about them at all. The one character we do learn about is this fellow from Samaria. Like the other characters, he is nameless. We know him only by what he does at that particular moment in time. Is he a family man? Is he a religious person? Does he believe in God? What values does he have? We donít know. What little we do know comes from that word attached to him: he was a "Samaritan." More about that later.

            Anyway, this nameless man, about whom we know little, comes across our nameless victim. Though Jesus doesnít play it up, this victim is a victim three times over. He is victimized first by a band of robbers, obviously. But then he is victimized by those who would not respond to his need. In fact, both priest and Levite moved to the other side of the road. Perhaps they presumed he was dead, and thus unclean for a religious person to touch. Regardless of their reasons, they made this fellow a victim for a second and third time.

            However, the man from Samaria, about whom we know very little, crossed the road and responded to the needs of this victim. The description of his care goes to great length to reveal a real tenderness and compassion, a "kindness" beyond words. The Samaritan gave freely of his time, his possessions, his reputation. He treated this victim as if he were a member of his family. He went beyond the call of hospitality, for after all, the Samaritan was himself a stranger in a strange land. This was not his neighborhood. He was not a host. He was just a fellow traveler.

            The Samaritan bound this manís wounds, and took him to a place where long-term care could be given. He reached into his wallet to provide financially for this continuing care, even opening himself up to the possibility of abuse. "Whatever more you spend, I will repay," seems an open invitation to be taken for a ride. Either he was a fool, or this Samaritan proved to be the true neighbor of this victim. Thatís precisely what Jesus intended by telling such a story.

            Obviously, the Samaritan is a good neighbor, his actions proved it. He was a "good," a "kind" Samaritan. We donít know much more about him, just what he did in response to someone elseís need. We also know the word associated with him: "Samaritan." For any person listening to this story when Jesus shared it, that word would stick like tobacco juice in the throat. It would burn going down, and cause all sorts of trouble once there. It is no exaggeration to say that Jews and Samaritans hated each other with a passion. The roots of that hatred went very deep. Probably neither could say exactly how deep, or perhaps even why. To put the word "good" side by side with the word "Samaritan" would be a contradiction of terms for a Jew. There is no such thing as a "good Samaritan."

            To fully understand this perhaps it would be helpful if we tried to think of persons who would fit the same bill for us. In some places it would be the same to say the "good black man" among whites, or the "good white man" among blacks. It might even come close if we were to say the "good homosexual" or, on the other hand, the "good right-winger." Other possibilities might be the "good Iraqi" or the "good American." Likewise the "good Palestinian" or the "good Israeli;" the "good Muslim" or the "good Jew" or "good Christian." For many people, depending upon their perspective, these all might be impossible contradictions of terms. Such would have been the reaction to the use by Jesus of the term "Samaritan" back in Bible days.

            This Samaritan, however, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was that victimís neighbor. His "kindness" was self-evident. When Jesus asked his clincher question at the end of the story, "Which of these three, do you think, proved to be the neighbor of the man who fell among robbers?" the Lawyer could not lie, nor could he bring himself to mention the hated name "Samaritan." He could only say, "The one who showed mercy on him." Jesus then replied, "Go and do likewise."

            A boy scout, I learned once upon a time, is supposed to be someone who is: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Thatís what a boy scout is supposed to be. Couldnít this list of virtues be claimed by a Christian as well? Actually, the fruit of the Spirit take on a similar character. By the power of Godís Spirit we grow to become people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Thatís what a Christian is supposed to be. But how often are we? How often do we prove to be the true neighbor to those with whom we come in contact? After all, itís neighborliness, not a neighborhood, that makes a neighbor.

            Such an understanding is important in this age when population patterns are changing. Living next door to somebody does not prove that we are their neighbors. A good neighbor is someone who crosses the road, who reaches out and acts like a neighbor, even to somebody who doesnít live next door, to somebody who isnít the same as "me." Sometimes Christians have a very difficult time doing that. Sometimes non-Christians, or nominal Christians, prove to be better neighbors. Sometimes they are the good Samaritans around us, the ones who show "kindness."

            Thatís how it was back in Bible times, when Jesus told a story of a non-Jew to illustrate what it meant to inherit eternal life. "Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and your neighbor as yourself." This law of Love has not changed. The Samaritans of our day, outcasts though some may be, depending upon which eyes are looking upon them, also illustrate for us the way of eternal life. Are we listening to our Lord speak to us through their example? Are we listening to the summoning of the Holy Spirit to reach out, to stop walking by the folks who could be our neighbors on the other side of the road, to start crossing the road with kindness and proving our neighborliness, showing the fruit of Godís Spirit in us? Are we listening?

            Something I learned long ago as a boy scout is that in order to help somebody to cross the street, you have to cross the street yourself. No, I donít claim to be all that good at it. But God is at work in me, in us, creating the possibility of something altogether new: a coming kingdom, a community of the Spirit, a new neighborhood. The fruit we are called to bear is not something that appears out of thin air. Kindness does not come naturally. But it does come through the Holy Spirit. And when our kindness flowers, watch out!

            Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you... my yoke is easy" (Matthew 11:30). The word for "easy" in Greek (Chrestos) is the same word as that fruit of the Spirit called "kindness" (Chrestotos)... O God, help us to carry this yoke of kindness, across the road. Amen.

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Luke.

©2004 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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