Parables of Jesus: Compassionate Samaritan 8/21/16

We have read a number of Jesus’ parables this summer and we’re coming to the close of this enlightening series in the next couple of weeks. We have concentrated mostly on the less well-known parables to try to dig deeper into the way Jesus told stories. Today, we read maybe the best known parable, The Compassionate Samaritan. It’s possible to claim that this parable is so popular that it has come to express at least some of the core of Christian teaching. It certainly expresses one of the key things you need to remember about Jesus’ thought. Listen for the word of God.

Luke 10:25-37 An expert on the Law stood up to put Jesus to the test and said, “Teacher what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” Jesus answered, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The expert on the Law replied: “You must love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you’ll l live.” But the expert on the Law, seeking self-justification, pressed Jesus further: “And just who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “There was a traveler going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, who fell prey to robbers. The traveler was beaten, striped naked, and left half-dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road; the priest saw the traveler lying beside the road, but passed by on the other side. Likewise there was a Levite who came the same way; this one, too, saw the afflicted traveler and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was taking the same road, also came upon the traveler and, filled with compassion, approached the traveler and dressed the wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then the Samaritan put the wounded person on a donkey went straight to an inn and there took care of the injured one. The next day the Samaritan took out two silver pieces and gave them to the innkeeper with the request, ‘look after this person, and if there is any further expense, I’ll repay you on the way back.’ “Which of these three, in your opinion, was the neighbor to the traveler who fell in with the robbers?” The answer came , “The one who showed compassion.” Jesus replied, “Then go and do the same.”

August 21, 2016

Parables of Jesus: Compassionate Samaritan

Compassion. Compassion was the theme of a revival I went to earlier this summer at the beginning of my vacation. Dr. William Barber spoke at the revival with the sub theme: Time for a Moral Revolution of Values. He spoke at Friends Center alongside my preaching teacher, Dr. James Forbes. It was an exciting evening – aimed at reclaiming the soul of our country and the heart of religious institutions. Dr. Barber says we have a heart problem as a country. He is the leader of a movement in North Carolina which brought thousands of people to the state capitol every Monday.

In 2012, the North Carolina legislature cut unemployment benefits, eliminated the earned income tax credit, slashed corporate tax rates, cut education spending and restricted voting rights. The Moral Monday movement began in response to these actions, with thousands gathering weekly at the state capitol. The revival Dr. Barber and Dr. Forbes and Simone Campbell from Nuns on the Bus have led in about 20 cities this summer aims to mobilize people around the country to a similar movement of compassion to the one going on in North Carolina.

I marched with Dr. Barber the next day up Market St, to deliver a declaration of values to the leadership of the Democratic National Convention – as he had done the week before at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

As we walked up Market St. we passed a woman sitting in the heat with a sign and a cup asking for money. Dr. Barber stopped and opened his wallet to give her some money. She did pretty well from our little march, since person after person took Dr. Barber’s example and gave the woman some money. I didn’t give her any money since I knew I wouldn’t have if I was walking on my own without this group to goad me into it, and it made me feel in tension with our parable this morning.

I am a compassionate person, don’t you think? I imagine most all of you would agree that I’m a basically compassionate person, even if I didn’t put money in the cup of that woman on the street. I would say the same of each of you. We as a congregation challenge ourselves to live out our faith in compassionate ways – to even reach beyond our personal limitations to show compassion for other people – to welcome all people and to care for all people. When you live in a big city, sometimes you can’t help everybody who needs help.

 

Jesus doesn’t seem to trust religious people to be as compassionate as we like to think we are. Did you notice that about this parable? The good religious people, the priest and the Levite – a religious follower – they are the ones who see the person beat up and bloody on the side of the road, but hurry by on the other side of the road. Over the years, folks have elaborated on the reasons the priest and the Levite might have passed by – that they were worried about becoming unclean, that they were busy with religious duties, that they had appointments on their calendars that they just had to keep. Maybe they were thinking, I can’t help everybody; I just came from helping somebody. What if this guy is faking and would just use my money to buy alcohol?

No matter what their excuses might be, clearly Jesus is extolling the Samaritan, the outsider, the enemy, the one nobody in Israel or his followers would expect to be compassionate as the one who shows himself to be a neighbor. You see, by the way, how Jesus has reframed the question of the scribe or lawyer who asked the question of Jesus.

He, a religious leader, asked “Who is my neighbor?” wanting Jesus to give him the prescription for how he could be a good person. He wants to do what is right. He just doesn’t want to have to do more than is required. Jesus responds by telling a story and instead of describing the minimum requirements to be a neighbor, asks the scribe to tell him who acted like a neighbor. In the end the scribe still can’t even say the name Samaritan, and simply answers, “The one who showed compassion.”

 

Most of us (including me) are kind of like the scribe, if the truth be told. We look at a situation or position and we cut it in half and judge one side superior and one side inferior. We simplify the world into better and worse, us and them, like and dislike. We do this almost automatically. We compare, and as soon as we compare, we compete. Father Richard Rohr, who I’ve been reading for devotions this summer, calls on Eastern philosophy to point out how this kind of dualistic thinking harms us and our society.

As we divide people into Republican and Democratic or Catholic and Protestant or western patriots and Arab terrorists, my family and your family, men and women – we have our ways of dividing and placing ourselves on the better side and others on the worse side. Father Rohr suggests that true spiritual insight is to help create a ‘non-dual consciousness.’ As I say, he takes this insight from Eastern philosophy, but he also credits it to Jesus and our own Christian roots – the understanding that we are one with God, and one with each other, that we are called to love our enemy and respect other cultures.

Dr. Barber illustrates this higher consciousness, non-dual consciousness as he refuses to categorize his movement as conservative or liberal or progressive, insisting that he is about morality and compassion for all God’s people. POWER works with the same assumptions.

This ‘non-dual consciousness’ is quite basic to our faith in fact, to the extent that we think of the story of the compassionate Samaritan to be foundational to our understanding of we are and who we’re called to be. Jesus cautions us as religious people not to be self-righteous, but to recognize and appreciate the caring and integrity of those on the other side of any divide.

Father Rohr suggests that we only can attain this non-dual consciousness through prayer and meditation, quieting our tendency to think more of ourselves than others, allowing our appreciation and recognition of who is really acting like a neighbor. We are called to love one another, to live in a non-dual consciousness, to walk humbly with God. We are one with each other, one with Jesus, one with the living God. This is God’s good news.

 

On Monday, September 12th, Dr. Barber has asked people of faith all around the country to go to their state legislatures and deliver the declaration of moral values which were developed for the revival and by his movement. I plan to be in Harrisburg that day and would be glad to have company from anyone who would like to join me.

 

Responsive hymn:  2172     We Are Called