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.