From the series How to Revolutionize Your World
Chip invites a special guest speaker to address a problem we all experience to one degree or another – and that’s the issue of racism. Bishop Claude Alexander is a fellow pastor and good friend of Chip’s. Through the story of the good Samaritan, he illuminates a clear path for anyone who genuinely desires to love like Jesus loved.
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About this series
How to Revolutionize Your World
When the world around us feels out of control, it's easy to think, "What can I do? I'm just one person." In this series, we learn that God specializes in using very ordinary people to do extraordinary things. But there's a specific reason why God uses some people more than others. Chip tells us that making a difference in the world around us doesn't happen by accident. Spiritual traction begins with a special relationship and It takes intentionality and courage, on our part, that God is just waiting to empower. Put it all together and it's a powerful combination - that'll revolutionize your world.More from this series
We are going to deal with today, as we launch this Understanding Racism discussion the subject: becoming the Samaritan. Becoming the Samaritan.
From the midst of the many things that John could have included in his gospel, concerning the episodes of Jesus’ life and ministry, John is led by the Holy Spirit to include in chapter 4, Jesus’ necessary journey through Samaria. Right? He must need to go through Samaria.
And He does so because He is seeking to signal Jesus’ engaging what was historically avoided. Jesus is engaging the matter of racial and ethnic tension between Jews and Samaritans. Normally, a good Jew would go around Samaria when traveling, but this time, Jesus goes through Samaria.
The very term “Samaritan” was not a sociological classification. It was a pejorative term dealing with those of mixed blood. It was similar to the “N” word back then. And Jesus engages a woman of Samaria because she and her region are important to the kingdom. Fast-forward to Acts chapter 1 when Jesus tells them that, “You will be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, in Judea, and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.”
And with our Western ears, we usually hear that as meaning Jesus saying, “You start at your home and then your city and then your state, the nation, and then the world.” That’s how we hear it with Western ears. But I would suggest to you that that is not how they heard it, because they were not from Jerusalem. The ones to whom He was talking, they were Galileans. Their hometowns were cities like Nazareth and Capernaum and Decapolis. That was where their home was, but Jesus tells them, “Start in Jerusalem, because Jerusalem was where they were.
In other words, Jesus might have been saying, “You don’t get to choose where you start. You start right where you are.” Even if where you are is not your home. Even if where you are is the place of your greatest failure, being Peter denying Jesus. Even if where you are is the place of your most painful experience because it was there that Jesus was tried and crucified.
Jesus says, “You start in Jerusalem and then you go to Judea.” Well, Judea was not even their home state. Their home state, their home province was Galilee, but what was Judea? It was the place where they were looked down upon because Galileans were considered by Judeans not to be as religious – to be religiously lax, if you will.
And then Jesus says, “Go to Samaria.” And Samaria is the place of racial and ethnic tension. And then Jesus says, “To the uttermost parts of the earth.” He says, “Before you get to the uttermost parts of the earth, you’ve got to deal with Samaria.” Now, that’s where the tension is for us as a Church here in America because we do uttermost parts of the earth very well. It’s Samaria where we have a problem. We don’t do Samaria well.
And the problem with that is our credibility with the uttermost parts of the earth is compromised by our failure to address Samaria. If our witness is to have integrity and relevance, the matter of race must be confronted, and that’s why you need to commend your pastor for having the courage to put this on the table.
Fundamentally, the problem of race is a matter of spirit, for which the Church is uniquely equipped to address. Because racism is the denial of essential personhood and place based upon one’s race. And as such, it is an affront to the creative intention of God. The problem of race in our country, and, yes, even within the American church is not just due to the existence of people who are actively racist, it is also due to those who are racially indifferent, for whom race does not necessarily mean one thing or another, who just don’t really care. And there are two primary points that undergird racial indifference.
The first is a lack of understanding the historical and contemporary facts of America. If we are to be agents of reconciliation, we must know that reconciliation entails involving and recognizing the break in its depth and in its severity.
The reason why dealing with matters of race is so difficult for us in this country is because race is in the ground of our country. It is in the very fact and fiber of our forming documents. Consider these facts. It begins with sixteen African slaves to the port of Jamestown, Virginia and then it continues with the first colony to legalize slavery in 1641. If I gave you a test to guess which colony that was, most of us would flunk it because we would assume it was a southern colony. It was not. Massachusetts was the first colony to legalize slavery.
And by 1650, it is estimated that more than one million Africans had been forced to migrate to the Americas with the majority of them brought to the United States. And among the characteristics of the experience of antebellum slavery in the South were social dislocation, dehumanization, family disruption, tribal separation, physical brutality; psychological violence of children watching their parents beaten, and parents having children taken from them and sold, and husbands watching their wives taken for sexual pleasure and breeding, and wives seeing their husbands and sons lynched.
In 1676, laws began to appear separating black slaves from European indentured servants. And slavery becomes permanent and heritable for Negros. And what that basically means is is that if you owned a slave and you died, that slave then went to your son or your daughter as part of their inheritance.
Poor whites are given new rights and opportunities including the right of being an overseer to police the slaves, and as the importance of slavery grows in this burgeoning new country, then it becomes important to bring in classifications.
And that’s where the term “white” begins to be used in law and in other social arenas because you need something to distinguish one from the other. Before slavery, one was not known as white. One was simply known as either Polish or Italian or German or Irish. It is in the midst of slavery becoming a foundational part of the nation that you now have this term “white” because you need to have something that means “not black.”
In 1790, the Naturalization Act reserved naturalized citizenship for whites only. And without citizenship, non-whites are denied the right to vote, own property, bring suit, and testify in court.
In 1854, the California Supreme Court, in the decision, People vs. Hall, they reversed the conviction of a white on a murder trial because they ruled that the testimony of key Chinese witnesses is inadmissible because no black, no mulatto person or Indian shall be allowed to give evidence in favor or against a white person.
Consider what the chief justice of the Supreme Court writes in the Dredd Scott decision of 1857. He puts it: “No rights which any white person has is bound to respect free black people are taxed like whites, but they do not enjoy the same protection and entitlements.” In 1863, we have the Emancipation Proclamation and then the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 is passed guaranteeing all citizens equal protection and due process, but then you have 1887 with the Jim Crow laws that begin to be passed, codifying a way of relating, a new social order, reinforced through violence, intimidation, and it affects schools, public transportation, jobs, housing, private life, and voting rights.
And increased violence occurs so that between the years 1877 and 1950, three thousand nine hundred and fifty-nine black people are lynched and killed. 1896, the Supreme Court upholds “separate but equal.” And the federal government takes it to the next level in 1913, under President Woodrow Wilson. And we do not get integration until the 1960s.
Between the 1930s and 1940s, when our country begins to flex its economic muscle and the government creates programs to subsidize low-cost loans, opening up home ownership to millions of Americans for the first time, government underwriters also introduce a national appraisal system tying property value and loan eligibility, not to income but to race.
And of the one hundred and twenty billion dollars’ worth of new housing, subsidized by the government between 1931 and 1962, less than two percent went to non-white families. And we all understand that the home is the cornerstone of the building of wealth. That is how you begin to build your wealth.
In 1935, Congress passes the Social Security Act, but agricultural and domestic workers, the majority of whom are non-white are denied access to those benefits. And in 1944, the G.I. bill is passed. Enacted to help returning veterans of World War II and benefits including low-cost mortgages and low-interest loans to start a business and cash payments of tuition and living expenses to attend university or high school or vocational education as well as one year of unemployment compensation, from 1944 to 1949, nearly nine million veterans received close to four billion dollars’ worth of benefits, all to the exception and exclusion of people of color.
And the G.I. bill is believed to be the one piece of legislation that spurred the growth of the American middle-class. In 1954, we have the Brown versus the Board of Education decision that declares “separate but equal” unconstitutional.
In 1964, we have the Civil Rights Act. In 1965, we have the Voting Right Act. In 1968, we have the Fair Housing Act. And, yes, if we fast-forward even further, we have 2008 where Barack Obama is elected the forty-fourth president of the United States. And we have made significant gains. And there were those who were so happy to see President Obama elected that they were willing to say, “Well, now, we can close the book on race. We are now in a post-racial society.” And, yet, eight years later, we discover that it is true that we have made progress in the form of legislation. We have made progress in the removing of certain legal barriers. We made progress, yes, even in how we seek to associate in the workplace, but we have yet to dismantle the psychological assumptions that undergird racism.
We have turned some pages, but the book of race still remains open. The sobering and sad reality for me and other persons of color is that even before people know that I am on the board of Gordon-Conwell or Wycliffe Bible Translators or Christianity Today; before they ever know that I am good friends with Chip Ingram, they see me and they see me as an African American male, and they make certain assumptions about where I belong and where I don’t belong.
And every now and then I am reminded of that. I was in the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida. That’s a major hotel; my wife and I, we were there along with some friends and we are in the lobby and a sixty-year-old white man comes up to me and he says, “Do you know where so-and-so is?” I say, “Sir? I don’t know.” And he says, “What do you mean you don’t know? You work here, don’t you?” And I have to say, “Um, no. I’m a guest like you are.”
There’s nothing that I was wearing that would associate me with the Ritz-Carlton as an employee. I was in casual gear. But his belief was that my place there had to be an employee, not necessarily a guest.
I want to lift the weight right here and I need you just to tell your neighbor, “It is not our fault.” Tell your neighbor that: “It is not our fault.” But it is our problem. That the matter of race is not our fault, but it is our problem.
Why? Because we have inherited the blessings and burdens of race in America. None of us chose the families and race into which we were born. There was no prenatal cue where you could choose which family and into which race and ethnicity you could be born. That was given to you and me by God.
And as God gave us that in our uniqueness, we entered into a country where based upon our race and our ethnicity, we inherit certain blessings and we inherit certain burdens. It’s not our fault but it is our problem.
And if we are to accept the challenge that God gives the Church to be the visible expression of His love in Jesus Christ to a watching world, we cannot just accept the challenge to go through Samaria, we can’t just accept the challenge to go to Samaria, we must accept the challenge to become the Samaritan.
We have inherited the blessings and burdens of race in America. None of us chose the families and race into which we were born. There was no prenatal cue where you could choose which family and into which race and ethnicity you could be born. That was given to you and me by God.
And as God gave us that in our uniqueness, we entered into a country where based upon our race and our ethnicity, we inherit certain blessings and we inherit certain burdens. It’s not our fault but it is our problem.
Jesus talks about this in this parable that is a response to a conversation He has had with an expert in the law. And the expert in the law raises this question about what he must do to get eternal life. And Jesus asked him, “Well, what does the law say?” And the man says, “Well, the law says, ‘Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your mind, with all of your strength, and with all of your soul;’ and then, ‘to love your neighbor as yourself.’” And Jesus says, “You have answered well.” But then the man wants to press the issue because now he needs to know who his neighbor is, what are the parameters of his love? How far does he have to go?
And he says, “Well, who is my neighbor?” And then Jesus tells him this story. The story is that a certain man was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. And as he is walking, he is caught by robbers who take him and they beat him and they strip him and they leave him half-dead.
A priest walks by and seeing him from a distance, he crosses the street and walks by him. A Levite also does the same thing. But then a Samaritan, Jesus says, he comes to where the man is, sees the man, bends down, bandages the man, pours oil and wine over the man, puts the man on his own donkey, takes him to an inn, cares for him, and as he is about to go, he gives the innkeeper two days’ wages worth of money. He says, “Now, take care of him. And when I come back, if there is anything outstanding, I will take care of him.”
And then Jesus asked the teacher of the law, “Who was the neighbor?” And the teacher of the law says, “The one who showed mercy.” And then Jesus says, “You go and do likewise.” He calls the teacher of the law to become the Samaritan.
He calls the teacher of the law to enter into solidarity with the neighbor. All three characters are presented with the same moment. But the first two respond one way. And the way that they respond keeps the moment alive. If either the priest or the Levite had taken care of the man, there would not have been an issue for the Samaritan to have to solve. But because neither the priest nor the Levite positively responded to the moment, the Samaritan must step up to the plate.
Race is still alive in America because previous generations have not been able to solve the problem. And therefore, it is now incumbent upon us to step up to the plate, to lean into and become the Samaritan to solve the issue.
“What does it mean to become the Samaritan?” you may ask. Here it is: becoming the Samaritan means, first of all, coming close enough to realize what can’t be understood from a distance. The particulars of the story are important. The man is robbed, he is stripped, he is beaten, and he is left half-dead. And as the priest and the Levite are walking, they see this man from a distance. The man from a distance, they crossed the street. Why? Because a half-dead man looks dead.
From a distance, the situation looks terminal. From a distance, it looks like a cause for the undertaker and not them. And their distance causes them to make a judgment upon which they act. They act off of a perception from a distance.
Neither of them came close to the man. Neither entered right where the man was. Neither checked their distant assumptions with closer examination. The Samaritan, on the other hand, he walks to where the man is. He does not base his actions on how the man looks from a distance, he comes to where the man is.
And by coming to where the man is, he sees more than how the man appeared from a distance. He sees the man himself. He sees the man in his reality. He realizes what he could not understand at a distance.
At a distance, he was prone to make certain judgments, but now that he is where the man is, he sees where he is. God is calling you and me to move beyond making judgments from a distance and to come into knowledge through proximity.
There must be the willingness to enter the space, the neighborhood, the reality and to see things for what they really are, to see people for who they really are, to know the issues for what they really are. It is to refuse to accept distant judgments but to risk coming close enough to see for yourself.
By coming close enough, the Samaritan saw that the man who looked half-dead from a distance was only half-dead in reality. And his entering the proximity of the man enables him to correctly and properly identify him. By coming close, he recognizes in the man what he knows to be true about himself. While faint, the man is breathing. While weak, the man has a pulse. God is calling us to come close enough to recognize in others what we recognize and know to be true about ourselves.
Though the man looks dead from a distance, the Samaritan moves closer to the man because his concern for him moves closer.
God is calling you and me to be willing to value a life above what our normal excuses would be. The priest and Levite, looking from a distance, seeing a man that looks dead crossed the street, not wanting to become unclean.
The law becomes their reason for not coming closer to the man. Their concern for their religious status moves them across the street. But the Samaritan moves closer because he is not worried about his status. He moves closer to the man, causing him to see that what others thought would be a problem was not even a problem because the man wasn’t even dead.
His is valuing what he saw at a distance moves him closer. It moves him beyond the normal excuses. God is calling us to move beyond our normal excuses. You know the normal excuses? “I don’t know them.” “I’m not one of them.” “They look dead.” “It’s not worth the hassle.” God says when you value the person, you are willing to overcome the normal excuses to proximity. You move closer and you see the person.
And, so, now the Samaritan is where the man is, he sees the man as he is, and now as he is standing where the man is, he does not know where the people who beat him up are, they could be around the corner, they could be hiding in the bushes, they could be down the street. But he sees the man right where he is.
And as he sees the man right where he is and becomes aware of what the man’s situation is, he takes pity on him. He has compassion upon him. Seeing what he sees and feeling what he feels and knowing what he knows, he determines: I must do something. And so he bends down, he gets on the level of where the man is, there’s dust in his face and now blood on his clothes as he is bandaging the man up and pouring oil and wine on the man. He puts the man on his own donkey and he takes the man to the inn and he cares for him there.
Because Jesus wants us to understand that our calling as His people means taking on the risk of identification and making the sacrifice of privilege and schedule expecting nothing in return. It is slowing down enough so that we can really see one another. It is to look beyond appearance and move into actual awareness of the other. It is the willingness to enter into the field of somebody else’s experience and feel their experience, see what they see, and hear what they hear, and feel what they feel.
It is to become open to their experience in such a way that we are impacted by their situation. It is to become vulnerable to the point of being shaken into action. You are so cut to the core that you cannot let things remain as they are. You must do something. You must personally be involved. If we are to be who God wants us to be, we must take the risk of personal identification and make the sacrifice of privilege.
This man was going somewhere. And he adjusts his schedule to deal with the man. By putting the man on his donkey, it means he is not riding anymore, but he is now walking. True compassion will always come with a cost. And it often means sometimes the giving up of privilege. It is the willingness to suffer discomfort on behalf of somebody else. It is to bend towards another, to get dirty with another, to experience delay due to you having helped one another. It is being willing to inconvenience yourself for the benefit and well-being of someone else.
There is absolutely nothing that this man offers the Samaritan, to think that the Samaritan will get anything in return. This is not about his career advancement, this is not about his resume improvement, there is no expectation of anything in return. There’s no quid-quo-pro, no IOU. He does this simply because he wants to make things better for the man.
And what Jesus calls us is to a calculus where our actions are not based on what we get out of it, it’s what we give to it. It’s not how it benefits us, it’s how we benefit it. That what we get out of it is simply knowing that we made it better, that your listening made it better, your understanding made it better, your coming close made it better, your stopping made it better, your speaking made it better, your smile made it better, your “how are you” made it better, your “God bless you” made it better.
The Samaritan does what he can to make it better. And the next day he gives the innkeeper two denarii, two days’ worth of wages and he says, “I am going and I’ll come back. And if there is anything that is needed extra, I will take care of it. Bandaging the man’s wounds and taking him to the inn would have been enough. It was more than what many would do. But the Samaritan takes it another step. He makes provision for the man’s long-term care.
He isn’t satisfied with the short-term, quick fix. He invests in the long-term. And there Jesus is calling you and me to be committed to the long-term, to be committed to lasting change, to want things not just to be well today, but we want them to be well next year and a decade and twenty years from now. It is investing in the long-term, for long-term solutions.
It’s not just helping somebody out of a situation, but it’s about addressing the factors that put them into the situation in the first place, giving them a better option than the situation, shutting down the forces that created the situation in the very first place.
Jesus then asked the official, He says, “Now, who was the neighbor?” And the official says, “The one who showed mercy.” And Jesus tells him, “You go and you do likewise.” He says, “I am challenging you to become the Samaritan. I am challenging you to enter into proximity. I am challenging you to take a risk. I am challenging you to inconvenience yourself. I am challenging you to be concerned about the long-term.”
And Jesus is not just saying, “I want you to become the Samaritan,” but really Jesus is saying that He wants us to become Him. Because is that not what He did? Jesus did not remain a cosmic spectator and an eternal observer, but He, being equal with God, thought not equality with God something to be grasped, He made Himself nothing and took on the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man. And being made in the likeness of man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross. He came in human flesh. He was Emmanuel, being God with us. He was touched with the feeling of all of our infirmities, at all points was He tempted like us, yet without sin, seeing us in our helpless estate, He took the responsibility for our reconciliation. And with there being nothing that we could give in return, nothing that we could add to Him, He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him. And with His stripes, we are healed.
He gave it all up for you and for me. He became sin for us. He became a sacrifice for us. He became the offering for us. He died for us all. He paid the price for us all and He challenges you and me to go and do likewise.