Go And Do Likewise
They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
Go and do likewise.
“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
“It’s obvious Jesus – The one who showed him mercy.”
“Go….and do likewise.”
This has been a challenging week. Not because of my personal life, nor because of world events, but because of this scripture. I thought the story of the Good Samaritan, which is so well worn and familiar, was a good basic Christian story, designed to teach us basic things like, “Be kind” and “Help others” and “Don’t judge people.” And it does teach these things.
But as I’ve sat with it this week, I frankly find it very challenging. Sometimes the scriptures comfort the afflicted, so to speak. When we are hurting, or in crisis, or in need….we turn to the Bible finding so many passages which reach out to us, comforting us in our pain. And Jesus himself….Jesus was infinitely patient and tender with those who were downcast, or depressed, or broken by life in some way. Thanks be to God for God’s mercies.
But scriptures like this…perhaps they comfort the afflicted, maybe, but they clearly afflict the comfortable.
Challenge is here…a call to love more, to reflect the extravagant over the top love of Jesus Christ more fully.
We find calling and challenge here.
In fact, this story can make our perceptions about what it means to be a faithful person seem very small and somewhat off base.
Here’s what I mean. There are two primary points of challenge among others we are encountering this morning. Allow me to go ahead and share them up front so that you will know where we are headed.
Challenge number one – Our attitudes and understandings of who can give mercy and who deserves mercy are way too small. We limit who gives and receives mercy due to the smallness of our perspectives.
Challenge number two – Our calling in life is to go and do likewise….plain and simple.
They, and we, will know we are Christians by our love.
First the story itself:
This lawyer sets out to test Jesus. Today he would be more like a religious leader than an attorney, so that’s what we will call him this morning. His intention, as a religious leader who’s part of the religious establishment of the day, is not to sincerely learn how to be a spiritually invigorated person….his purpose is to test Jesus.
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This was the ancient way of asking, “What’s the key to life? Or how does one live a really good life; one where we are in harmony with God and God’s creation?”
And Jesus replies as a good rabbi in that day would, asking this religious leader what he reads in the law. The religious leader replies, as we expect, with the Shema from the Old Testament: “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 love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus responds affirmatively, “Yes, you know the law, do this and you will live.”
Jesus is ready to turn away, conversation over.
But the religious leader is panicking. He’s not been able to start a theological argument and he’s left with a commission to love other people….this has been a totally unsatisfying conversation to the religious leader so far.
…”But wanting to justify himself, he asks, “And who is my neighbor?’”
In other words, “Would you define that more clearly for me Jesus? Would you describe the circumference around this kind of love, would you circumscribe it for me so that I can determine when I’m done loving? Let’s have a theological debate here because I’m so much more comfortable with that than actually loving people.”
Clearly this religious leader didn’t know Jesus very well. This was the kind of question that often throws gas on the fire. We can almost hear the disciples in the background snickering and whispering to one another, “Watch this. He’s really stepped in it now!” This is the time when Jesus often launched into one of those stories that takes everything they thought they knew about God and God’s ways and turned it all upside down. This is one of those times when Jesus takes the religiosity of the day and blows it out of the water.
And this matches our experience of God doesn’t it? When we think we have God all figured out, when we believe we know the parameters of God’s activity with us, when we think we are approaching the time when we have it all together and when we have this Christian life thing down….that’s when God breaks into our lives and shakes them up.
Now Jesus tells this story wherein he invites this religious leader to visualize the most unholy, unacceptable, unlikely person the religious leader could imagine – and then made him the hero of the story, the shining example of what it looks like to live out the Shema. It’s hard for us to really understand how radical this was in its first telling.
In that day and time, within Judaism there was an ongoing discussion about who were their neighbors. They developed lists for who their neighbors were. A fellow Jew-check, a full proselyte-check, the enemy of my enemy-maybe. These qualified as neighbors, but few others did. In fact the Pharisees also explicitly ruled out the tax collectors and sinners from the circle of neighbors. The Samaritan would not receive a check. The Samaritan was person non grata. So Jesus makes the Samaritan the hero of the story.
As I mentioned, it’s very difficult for us to appreciate how Jesus was rocking the religious establishment with this story. So, let’s try this experiment.
Were Jesus telling us this story…who would the Good Samaritan, the hero, be to our ears? Who is the kind of person we would never expect to show the greatest kind of mercy and love there is? No, I’m serious. Who would it be for us?
Let me give us some examples to try on:
Would it be someone of a different race, a different color skin than you or I? Or perhaps it would someone who’s not from here and is from OFF – a Yankee or a Redneck or a fill in the blank. Or, would it be the White supremacist who spews hate at rallies? Maybe Jesus would make him the Good Samaritan now.
Or maybe Jesus would tell this story through a socioeconomic lens. The hero might be that person who’s stuck in poverty due to the systemic oppressive forces in our society but also through the squandering of every dime she receives. Maybe this person, who we think is a victim of her own bad choices turns out to be the hero. Or, perhaps it’s the reverse, it’s the over-the-top wealthy person who has more money than a small nation and whom we believe doesn’t care at all about the people around her, but then who surprises us and is the Good Samaritan.
Or maybe Jesus would tell this story through a political lens. You may have noticed that we live in a slightly polarized political environment (just maybe you noticed that somehow). So choose someone from the other side. In your mind choose the one who is the epitome of the OTHER political point of view…whoever that is. And then imagine, this is who Jesus makes the Good Samaritan. Perhaps we think there is not a good or caring bone in that person’s body at all, and low and behold, Jesus makes him/her the Good Samaritan, the hero of this story.
Or, (one more, stay with me), perhaps Jesus would tell this story through a religious lens, like he originally did. Choose whoever you think is way off base when it comes to faith. Who do we think gets it wrong, doesn’t understand God, and certainly doesn’t represent God? Now, imagine this person’s name inserted into the story where Jesus used the Samaritan.
So, Jesus told a story, wherein the hero is THE MOST unlikely hero we could imagine. Now we are getting close to understanding the consternation and perhaps even the anger of this religious leader.
Challenge number one – Our attitudes and understandings of who can give mercy and who deserves mercy are way too small. Mercy often comes from the unlikeliest of people and places. And, just in case we are not aware, we ARE the unlikely ones in the eyes of plenty out there. Because of their prejudices they believe we are very unlikely people to extend mercy and reflect God’s love.
We hardly even mentioned our attitudes about those who we believe don’t deserve mercy. That’s an entire other sermon so all I’m saying about that this morning is this:
This Samaritan, who turned out to be good, did not do a background check on the man laying in the ditch before helping him. He wasted no time at all trying to determine if the man was deserving or whether he would use his restored health in a responsible way. The man was in the ditch, hurting, and that was reason enough to be merciful. This is what it means to love neighbor.
Jesus cut through all the self-serving, self-justifying, works oriented righteousness of this religious leader….and of ourselves…and reminds us all that no one justifies themselves. That’s God’s good work called salvation. That’s God’s mercy for us accomplished through Jesus Christ our Lord. So we can drop our efforts to self-justify, we can drop our expectations about who can be God’s heroes, and instead live in faith and love. That’s challenge number one.
But after all that, even after all that, Jesus is not done. Jesus presses on relentlessly. “So you want live in ways that are congruent with what God is doing in this world? Then go and do likewise. Go and show mercy. Go and love like Jesus loves.” Challenge number two right here.
This, sisters and brothers, is our spiritual heritage.
We swim in that current. We are living in the flow of this faith movement, the Christian movement, which is designed to be an expression of God’s mercy. Go and do likewise.
And before we see the gap between our living and Christ’s call as too far, allow me to remind you that you/we ARE doing likewise.
When you teach our children that making fun of the different ones on the playground, or on the bus, and on social media is not our way, right then and there, we are doing likewise.
When you linger after the workout at the gym and listen to her tell the story of her husband’s cancer and the stress and strain in their family, and you give her some space to unload her heavy burdens, right then and there, you ARE doing likewise.
When you step in for another disciple in this church and carry the load of keeping things running around here while he’s caught up in a work crisis, right then and there, you are doing likewise.
When you got out of bed on that Saturday morning and carpooled into the city and joined the protest, marching for those who have no voice, standing up for those who have so little earthly power to change their circumstances, right then and there, you were doing likewise.
When you respond to your attacker on social media with grace and mercy rather than returning contempt for contempt, right then and there, you are doing likewise.
When you stay after worship and pack food for children, right then and there, you are doing likewise.
The one who showed mercy. Go and do likewise in all these ways. This is how we know, this is how we know we swim in that stream, when we are doing likewise. This is how the world will know we are in the lineage of Jesus our Lord, when we are doing likewise. “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
And the doing is not done.
The loving is not yet complete.
So many in this world are in the ditch, sometimes we are there too. So no more judging who’s acceptable to love or not. Instead, Go and do likewise
Through the grace, power, and love of Jesus Christ our Lord, may it become so! Amen.