Rev. Nancy Dunn
July 25, 2010
~ First Christian Church, Wadsworth, Ohio
There was a story in the news this past week that caught my attention. I’m sure you probably heard or read it somewhere. It was about Cleveland Browns player Shaun Rogers. Earlier this spring, Rogers found himself in trouble with the law because he had a loaded handgun in his bag at the Cleveland airport. Now that’s a big no-no. So when his name came up in a story again this week, I’m sure most everyone thought he’d done something illegal again.
Yet, this time, his name was affiliated with the phrase Good Samaritan. He called 911 on July 15 when he spotted a car driving erratically on Interstate 71. He followed it as he watched it swerve across the interstate until it came to a stop with a flat tire. The car stopped while sitting partially in the fast lane. Rogers pulled up behind it and turned on his blinkers to warn other drivers of the situation. What Rogers did was a good thing. The Middleberg Heights Police Chief thought so too. He wrote a letter to the Browns organization praising Rogers for his actions. As I heard this story repeated during the week, Rogers was repeatedly called a Good Samaritan.
In a world where there are so many people who are not church-going Bible-reading Christians, the phrase Good Samaritan is one everyone knows. I guarantee you, that if you took a survey on a college campus, most of those polled would be able to tell you that a Good Samaritan is someone who helps another person. But, they could not begin to tell you the story found in the Bible. They don’t have the understanding of where the phrase Good Samaritan comes from. All they know is that a Good Samaritan is one who with no thought of his own safety or well-being reaches out to another human being to help in a time of need.
While that is a good definition of a Good Samaritan, it is not enough. There’s more to this parable that Jesus tells. There’s always more to the parable. Let’s take a closer look at this classic tale.
First we begin with a lawyer who back in the days of Jesus was more a theologian than what we think of as a lawyer. He was more concerned with the laws of God found in the Torah than in the laws of the RomanEmpire. He was well-versed in the scripture and while we don’t know his entire motivation for asking the question, Luke says he was trying to “test” Jesus. So, when Jesus throws his question back at him, the lawyer “knows” the answer. He knows that the way to inherit eternal life is to love God and to love your neighbor. But, he continues to try to test Jesus by asking him, “Who is my neighbor?”
“Who is my neighbor?” Instead of giving him a simple answer, Jesus tells a parable which we have come to call the Good Samaritan. And, the answer is so vile, so repulsive that the lawyer can’t even name the person. He simply says, “The one who showed him mercy.” He can’t even utter the word Samaritan.
Do you know why? It’s because the Jews and the Samaritans were bitter enemies. They hated each. In many ways, their hatred towards each other is similar to the way modern day Palestinians and Israelis hate each other. With complete contempt. And, it was all over religion. The main difference between the Jews and the Samaritans was that they believed in two different locations for the Temple. To look at a person, you could not tell if he or she was a Jew or a Samaritan. The only way to tell was by the clothes he was wearing.
So, it must have truly turned the lawyer’s stomach to learn that even the Samaritans should be treated as a neighbor. Even your worst enemy should be treated with compassion and mercy. The lawyer’s neighborhood grew by leaps and bounds that day. And, while he heard the answer to his question, I’m not sure if he heard it with his heart. Did he truly grasp the answer or did he simply turn away in disgust, just as the priest and Levite passed by the injured man on the road.
You see, that’s the point of the parable. Being a Good Samaritan is a hard thing to do. Jesus could have easily said there were 3 people who came upon an injured man on the side of the road. The first 2 didn’t stop to help, but the third one did. Jesus didn’t have to tell us that the third person was a Samaritan. He could have just as easily mad the third person another Jew. He could have concluded, “Now go be like that person and help others.” But that’s not what Jesus did.
Jesus did tell us that the third person was a Samaritan. And, that’s important. Jesus wants to open our eyes to the larger world around us. Everyone is our neighbor, even those we cannot bring ourselves to like. Everyone is our neighbor.
You see, this story goes beyond just helping those in need. It goes beyond helping a stranger. It asks something very hard of us, almost impossible. Jesus is asking us to care about the very people we hate. And, that is very hard for us to do. Thank God for grace. Thank God for loving all of us, even when we can’t love everyone. Thank God for forgiveness, because we all fall short of being Good Samaritans.
Even when we know what the right thing to do is, most of us will still falter. In his sermon on this text, Rev. Dr. Thomas Long tells this story about an experiment that was conducted with seminary students some years. Researchers gathered a group of ministry students in a classroom and told them that each of them had an assignment. Their assignment was to record a talk about the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The thing was, the recordings were going to be done in a building on the other side of the campus, and because of a tight schedule, they needed to hurry to that building. Unbeknownst to the students, on the path to the other building the researchers had planted an actor to play the part of a man in distress, slumped in an alley, coughing and suffering. The students were going to make a presentation about the Good Samaritan. But what would happen, the researchers wondered, when they actually encountered a man in need? Would they be Good Samaritans? Well, no, as a matter of fact, they would not. Almost all of them rushed past the hurting man. One student even stepped over the man's body as he hurried to teach about the Parable of the Good Samaritan!
It’s not an easy job to be the Good Samaritan. First we have to recognize the situation where someone needs our help. We have to be willing to at least stop and see what is going on. And, then we have to reach out beyond our comfort zones to help someone in need. The Samaritan reached way out beyond his comfort zone. He offered care to a Jew. A person of the OTHER tribe. Someone who may not have even offered him care if the situation had been reversed. That’s not an easy thing to do.
It seems that Jesus is always calling us to reach beyond our comfort zones and reach out to others. “Love your neighbors as yourselves.” “Who is my neighbor?” Even the one who is most different from you.
Rev. Melissa Bane Sevier shares this experience from a mission trip. She took 18 youth from her small rural community in Indiana on a mission trip to New York. They spent most of their week at a camp, roofing cabins. But, at the end of the week, they packed bag lunches and went into New York City for a day of sightseeing. The youth were amazed at the number of homeless people they saw. “Why don’t they have jobs?” they would ask. “Where do they live?” “What should we do when they ask us for money?”
“Just keep walking,” she said. “There’s no way we can help them all. Just look straight ahead and keep walking.”
But they were unable to do that. They had never seen street people in such numbers, and they looked at each one. They made eye contact. Something in those young, unhardened souls was moved by the economic and spiritual poverty they saw. One girl asked the minister, “Would it be okay if I gave my lunch to that man over there? He asked me for food.” “It’s your lunch,” the minister said. “Are you sure that’s what you want to do with it?” Immediately she walked over to him, and with great respect asked him if he would like a sandwich and an apple. He nodded and reached out for it. Sevier writes, “I never saw such a look as the one on her face as she walked away, shyly glancing back to see the man hungrily eating the sandwich. One by one the lunches changed hands, until all 18 lunches had been given away. Make that 20; the other chaperone and I gave ours away, too. How could we not? It wasn’t that we felt guilty. It was that we saw such joy in the giving that we knew we wanted to be part of it.”
When we reach out beyond our comfort zones, good things happen. We are changed. Our view of the world changes. We begin to realize that everyone truly is a child of God. We are all neighbors. And, as the Paint Your Heart Out t-shirt says, “Neighbors help neighbors.”
 Darley, J. M., and Batson, C.D., "From Jerusalem to Jericho: A study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1973, 27, 100-108. as told by Rev. Dr. Thomas Long, “Meeting the Good Samaritan,” July 15, 2007.
 Sevier, Melissa Bane, “The Compassionate Samaritan” in The Minister’s Annual Manual, July 11, 2004.