35C Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Who is My Neighbor?
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:25-37
The day before his assassination, Martin Luther King gave his last speech in Memphis, Tennessee. In that address, he referenced the parable of the Good Samaritan. He reflected on why the Priest and the Levite did not stop for the traveler who had been brutalized by thieves.
He invited his audience to imagine that the Priest and the Levite were simply afraid. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was indeed dangerous. Martin continued, “And so the first question that the Priest asked himself and the first question that the Levite asked himself, was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question. He asked, ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”
With these good questions, Martin helped and continues to help us consider what Christian discipleship is all about. The latter question should be the guiding principle of our approach toward those scores of present-day travelers. Yes, what will happen to him, to her or to them? Yes, what will happen to any and all those who remain on a perilous journey, for one compelling reason or another, on some road, on this globe, at this time in history?
Those in flight due to famine, drought or some other climate change related urgency. Those fleeing, murderous drug cartels, or religious or political persecution. Those victims of human trafficking, exploited workers and sex-slaves. All those seeking a temporary or permanent safe home.
In May, the United Nations reported that for the first time in human history more than 100 million people are displaced from their homes. To put the figures in starker terms: 1 in every 78 people on earth has been forced to take to the road and flee some form of deadly deprivation or violence.
As there were thieves and robbers who stalked the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, so too there are scores of scoundrels who prey on and exploit the many making their way on the road.
And to make things even worse, in our time, there has been a resurgence of fascist mindlessness and heartlessness. The air has become increasingly toxic and polluted by the attitudes, sentiments, rhetoric and actions of Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Christian nationalists and those seemingly soulless and hate-filled human beings who continue to identify as Trumpers. And all of those who find their ground in, and take their cues from, whether consciously or unconsciously, the insidious doctrine of white supremacy. This week the governor of Texas stepped up his assault on Central American migrants.
Last week UIDN attended to the pain and anguish of a fourteen-year-old boy and his father now living in Kingston. They are refugees from Guatemala. For purposes of identification, they were shown pictures of their twenty-eight mother and wife, whose lifeless body was found in the desert. She was on her way north to join them. Was this tragedy necessary? Where was the Samaritan or Samaritans who might have made the difference?
On Friday, I received a call from a woman, referred to me by a representative of the NYS Council of Churches. She asked to meet with me to discuss how UIDN might be able to help two young Nepalese girls who have been the victims of sex-trafficking and who are desperately in need of a safe harbor. The need for Samaritans is great and growing.
And again, a “Circle”, formed by the local Jewish community, reached out to us for assistance in finding a home for an Afghan family of five, who entered this country from Mexico, are now stranded in Sacramento, and want to come to Kingston, where there is a group of friends ready to receive them, and attend to their wounded spirits. Are there Samaritans who might make the difference?
And so, Dr. King’s important question becomes a terribly urgent question. What will happen, if we do not stop what we are doing, intervene, and offer help? What will happen if we don’t interrupt our own journey and inconvenience ourselves in whatever way is necessary to attend to these victims and to unspeakable horror of what is going on?
The evil we face is not without precedent in our world and in this nation. But this is certainly a new moment and a critical and challenging hour for us. It is our time to do what is right and to care without counting the personal cost.
Martin’s take on the parable of the Good Samaritan and the questions he raises demonstrate how to be genuinely loving and deeply compassionate to our neighbors. The Samaritan was concerned more about the welfare of a fellow human being than whether the beaten man was different or other than himself. The Samaritan did not look down on this beaten Jewish stranger even though Samaritans and Jews grew up learning to fear and hate each other.
We continue to be made more and more aware of flight and plight of millions of refugees. This nation is understandably one of the receiving countries for migrants. The refugees are different from us. They are in desperate need for others to help them.
It is in our DNA, just like the Priest and Levite, to fear what would happen to us by their coming here: that we might not have enough resources to go around, that we might be changed ourselves by others who are so very different, and even the prospect that there might be criminals among them.
In this morning’s gospel, Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
According to what God teaches us and what Martin echoed, shouldn’t we stop worrying about what would happen to us if we offered our help to these refugees, these strangers? Instead, should we not be more concerned about what would happen to them, if we were to neglect them?
The prophet Amos prophesied the truth of God, though people did not like to hear it. The false prophet tried to silence him so as to please the king in power. As Amos claims, he was not a professional prophet, but an ordinary person being called by God. He was like the plumb line for God, guiding people on the way. He knew he would face danger, but did what was right anyway.
We are ordinary people, too, but also called by God through our baptism to tell God’s truth, to have compassion for people in need, and to be good neighbors. However, when we Christians are reminded to love our neighbors who look different, speak different languages, and behave differently, we may not like to hear it either. The fear of scarcity, of uncertainty, can block us from hearing our call and seeing others’ needs.
On Pentecost, we heard again the story of the miracles of ears and tongues. People understood each other, even when they spoke different languages. We need not fear any longer. We need not fear God, or the other, and not even death any longer, because the Spirit has healed Babel and the Risen Christ has healed Good Friday. This is the promise of Easter, and of Pentecost. And we share that promise as we emerge dripping wet from the waters of baptism, marked with the sign of the cross as Christ’s own forever.
The promise of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit dwells among us. Through the Holy Spirit, we can understand each other with one common language: love. With the rhythm of this awesome and common language of love, we can understand those in need and we can see those in misery. With this common language, we can offer compassion and assistance.
Let us remain mindful that, “When we welcome the stranger, we welcome the Lord God himself. We welcome Christ.”
In conclusion, I think that Dr. King’s second question warrants a postscript. Yes, if we don’t act, what will happen to our neighbor? But also, if we don’t act what will become of us and the integrity of our humanity?
The Rev. Frank Alagna
July 10, 2022