Today marks my 35th spiritual birthday, so I was especially eager to attend church. It was one of those services when the Anglican lectionary was prophetic. A preacher could scour the entire Bible for the most appropriate passage for current events and would do no better than one scheduled decades and decades ago for today in the round-robin lectionary cycle.
After the past week of police killings and the killing of police, the Gospel reading for today was the Good Samaritan parable (Luke 10:25-37). As my pastor John Taylor pointed out today, for 500 years the Jews and the Samaritans had been feuding, even at times inflicting fatal blows on each other. Deeply entrenched distrust and spite plagued both sides.
This long-smoldering enmity is the backdrop for a despised Samaritan to become the hero in the story Jesus told his Jewish audience. Being a Jew himself, Jesus could present such a story deftly, knowing just where Jewish ribs separate to neatly slip in the knife of conviction.
Understanding that the story wasn’t meant only for first-century Jews, Fr. John gave several real-life contemporary examples of equally selfless kindnesses in the face of the hatred that might ‘humanly’ be expected. Then he spoke about the little kindnesses and “benefit of the doubt” interpretations we need to extend to each other in our attitudes and actions if we ever hope to have a Good Samaritan-like response in a crisis.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is perhaps Jesus’ most famous story. Reaching beyond enmity and distrust with compassion is a challenge that has constantly stayed with us for 2000 years.And almost everyone seems to know the story, regardless of their faith journey. To be a labeled a Good Samaritan is a wide-used compliment in many secular as well as spiritual contexts.
It’s JESUS 101. Anyone who knows anything at all about what Jesus stands for and what Jesus taught his followers knows the Good Samaritan story.
That’s why such discouragement washed over me a few minutes later. Midway through the sermon, my mind shot back in time just 48 hours to a meeting I had on Friday with three energetic World Vision volunteers. They were commenting about several emails they’ve recently received and conversations they’ve had – as recently as that morning – where the common message was: “Hey, what’s going on with World Vision? I thought they were a Christian organization. What in the world are they doing ministering to Muslim refugees?!”
And the thing is, literally every person issuing this “complaint” would call themselves a Christian. Meaning, a follower of Jesus. In that context, this doesn’t seem to be a question that even deserves the dignity of an answer.
Is it possible to ignore Jesus’ most basis, most well-known and well-loved teaching, and still claim to be his follower? Is it possible to be shocked when an organization that claims to be animated by the teachings of Jesus actually does things Jesus tells his followers to do?
Jesus never created a so-called “Christian subculture.” But there was a culture Jesus talked about until he was blue in the face. It was the topic he discussed until he was practically a broken record. He called it “the kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of Heaven.” We too-mindlessly pray for it to come every time we say the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
Our assignment is to show forth the signs of that culture, of the kingdom coming on earth, just like the Good Samaritan did. “Let me give you a picture of the Kingdom of God,” Jesus says over and over, and then he proceeds to tell a story, a parable, an illustration of what it will look like when we live that Way. (As in, “This is the way; walk in it.”)
I agree with Fr. John: if we’re going to get through this season of mistrust and enmity and election accusations, we’re going to have to embrace and exercise Jesus’ teaching in the small things… our interactions, our attitudes, our distrusts.
When Jesus called us to be salt and light, I don’t think he meant we should pour that salt into the world’s wounds or use our light to scorch others or add to the world’s heat. For those of us still smitten by the Good Samaritan, Jesus has one singular instruction: “Go and do likewise.”