Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”
He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”
He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”
“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”
Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
“A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’
“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”
“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
Yesterday, I had the great opportunity to attend the Pride March in Hillcrest, marching with the folx of Foothills UMC. Of course, this event happens every year, but this year marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, an event that marked history in a revolutionary way for the LGBTQIA+ community.
50 years ago, In 1969, an LGBTQ+ save haven in New York was raided, and became one of the main players in the LGBTQ+ rights movement, when queer and transgender people of color decided one day to fight back against police raids and discrimination at their bar. The Stonewall rebellion soon became iconic, as queer folx used their voices to give voice to the oppression in their community. To this day, we have Pride marches because of Stonewall, and other places that decided to make sure the queer community had a voice and that their genders and sexualities would no longer be policed.
Now, we celebrate Pride as an event of liberation and visibility, a time when queer people are seen, and their voices heard, even when much of society still views them as ‘other’. For this week, or for a designated Pride month, this ‘othered’ community is being put closer to center stage, where they are visible and prominent, where they are blessed by their community.
As we turn towards our texts today, I’m reminded that one thing I love about scripture, is that it is alive. The words on the page don’t change, but the ways we read them do change. Scripture is spirit-driven, and so even if we are reading the most familiar story in the book, God allows us to glean newness from it.
I say this about scripture, because today, we read this familiar story, a popular one I’ve learned here at Mission Hills, but we’re perhaps going to focus on something different today. The author of Luke is writing as a means of preparation. The author is recording this encounter with the religious scholar and Jesus to prepare the hearers to understand Jesus’ message, to ‘get it’ finally. The point Jesus is making here, and the thing perhaps Jesus wants us to ‘get’, is that Jesus blesses the ‘other’.
Usually, when we read this story and name it, it centers around this Samaritan who helps the man on the road. The man isn’t even given a name, yet the Good Samaritan gets a full story dedicated to him in our bible headings today. But let’s look at it a different way. Instead of looking at how this story is sold to us now, let’s instead look at how Jesus tells it.
For context, Jesus is talking to this religious scholar, someone very educated and very privileged, about this big thing called eternal life. The scholar knows that in order to inherit this eternal life, our task is to love God and love neighbor. We are instructed of that in Deuteronomy, the first text we read today. But this scholar isn’t satisfied with those instructions. It’s a big task, and so he asks Jesus, well, what do you mean by neighbor?
This scholar, who represents more than just himself, he got to a point of wanting to control God’s narrative so much that he literally asked God to put limits on who we love. Like “We know this is what the law says, but can you actually like define that for us?” He says “yeah God, I know you’re saying to love everyone, but that’s a lot of people, and some of them just aren’t that easy for me to love. Can we narrow down the list?”
Jesus responds by telling a story, in true Jesus form. And when he tells the story, Jesus makes the ‘other’ the star of the show. Jesus takes this opportunity with the scholar to educate him, and all of us, and he does so by lifting up the life of this person we would rather ignore.
The religious scholar’s point, is that it’s so much easier to just walk by someone who is different than us, who is marginalized by society. And Jesus tells us in this story, that even the priests ignore the stranger. The most educated and the people who themselves are marginalized, everyone has this tendency to forget about or walk by or ignore the ‘other’. But in the midst of that, Jesus teaches through this story differently. Jesus gives this individual a story. He shares this tragic story that adds volume and humanness to this man who wasn’t even given a name or a face by our author. Jesus teaches us that these people, these ‘others’, they are blessed.
Even when we don’t get it, Jesus is blessing. Jesus has already blessed the ‘other’. Jesus is busy blessing the ‘other’, and too often we, especially we in the church, are too busy asking him to define exactly what he meant. And when we do that, we can’t see that work, those blessed ‘others’.
The gospel has ‘other’ as the main player in this text and the one Jesus blesses, which urges us to ask ourselves who we are not seeing. Who are the people that are not like us, whatever that means, the people who would be easy to walk by or not acknowledge?
Being a neighborhood church, we are being challenged to ask who our neighbors are, because they aren’t just the folx here today. Our community is bigger and more diverse and more vibrant than us folx here today. I don’t say this as a negative, but as a piece of good news. There is so much room for us to continue evolving and expanding and redefining ourselves as a church family.
Jesus is lifting up and naming the marginalized voices in this story, and we are called to do the same. As simple as it is for us to be like the scholar in the story, asking leading questions to narrow our mission pool, or justifying the reasons we give for why a certain group of people isn’t here, we are being urged instead to simply love God and love neighbor. When we ask ‘who is my neighbor’, the answer every time, is yes, them too.
- How can we do church differently to include more voices, cultures, demographics?
- How can our understanding of worship be strengthened by those we consider ‘other’?
The good news, is that while we are asking these questions, while we are approaching these difficult conversations, Jesus is still blessing the ‘other’. While the religious scholar was asking his leading questions, Jesus still used his platform to raise the story of the man who would otherwise be ignored.
The good news, is that through Jesus’ words, we are reminded that liberation is still taking place. This awful discrimination and harm and trauma continues to happen to this people group, and many still call them other, yet just like Jesus blessing the man, the LGBTQIA+ community had Stonewall and has pride, and there are women’s marches and small moments of justice for migrants, and Black Lives Matter rallies, and the list goes on.
We are shown today, that these are our neighbors, Friends. These are the people who are being raised up in our story today, people who are resilient and brave and strong. Our task is to use our privilege, as employed people or white people or males or straight people, or cisgender people, or Christian people. Our task is to use that privilege to widen our table, to elevate the voices that aren’t being heard, and simply put, to bless.
Our gospel reminds us, that is what being a neighbor is all about. And like the Samaritan, who stopped to help, we too can recognize the value of being that neighbor, a fellow companion in the body of Christ. And we do that, by remembering to look beyond our small circle, to expand the term neighbor.
Deciding who is worthy of love is not our job, and thank God for that. But we are given the chance to be love, to be neighbor, to bless.
As we leave this place today, may we look to those margins, putting names and faces to those that are easy to skip over. May we see our own belovedness reflected also, in all those who Jesus blesses. And may we answer the call to ask big questions that will allow us to be the church for and with more people.
Let us pray. God of liberation and love, we give you thanks for your vastness, for the depth of your abilities and your work. Lead us to spaces and people that are bigger than ourselves. Empower us to tell the stories that you are calling us to tell. In your holy name we pray, Amen.