The parable of the Good Samaritan. If you have grown up in the church you have probably heard this story many times. I recently attended the Synod Assembly of Northeastern Ohio and Reverend Amy Reumann - director of ELCA Advocacy in Washington D.C - summarized up the command Jesus gave with one simple phrase -
JUST DO IT.
Yes. It really is that direct and straight forward. Just do it - just love your neighbor. Get out of your head and show the love that is needed in the world.
The story begins with a lawyer asking questions about the law. Jesus says interpret all of the law – all of it - through the lens of ‘love God and Love your neighbor’. To illustrate this point Jesus shares a parable. A man is on a journey. Maybe he needed safety, maybe he was traveling for love, maybe he was traveling for adventure or profit – but we know he was on a journey – and he was robbed and left injured by the thieves.
The Priest and the Levite walked by and ignored the injured man. There is a lot of debate among theologians on why they ignored the man. Some believe they ignored him because he was unknown to them and was unclean. Others think that the Priest and Levite thought they had ‘MORE IMPORTANT WORK’ to do. Others assume that they may have offered Thoughts and Prayers but no physical help.
Regardless of their excuse, they didn’t offer the help needed.
But the Samaritan was walking – and remember the Samaritans were outcasts, rejected by the Jewish people.
And he stops and helps.
He goes out of his way not only in money but also in time to give the man to the innkeeper to take care of him. He knows that thoughts and prayers are not enough. He was under no legal obligation to offer assistance. He did so because of his love for the stranger.
Too often we are like the Levite or the Priest and try to use the law to justify ourselves and our actions. We use to keep ourselves away from difficulty and suffering. We use the law to divide our communities.
We use the law and cultural norms to define who is in and who is out, who is is welcome and who is unwelcome, and who is worthy and who is unworthy.
Every time we do this, Jesus is always with those rejected.
Today, Jesus is standing with families who are scared of deportation, with children in cages, and families running from hunger, cartels and running toward a chance of opportunity.
Jesus stands with Miriam. Miriam attends First English Lutheran Church in Columbus. She has two beautiful daughters. Miriam came to this country in 2005 and applied through our federal government for asylum. She had temporary status while her claim was in our courts, was allowed to work, and was trying to gain permanent status. She was forced to leave Honduras after being threatened by the gangs and warlords of her nation. A year ago, her temporary status was suddenly revoked and she was threatened with deportation. She is now living in sanctuary at First English.
That congregation is working with lawyers and volunteers to show their Sister in Christ God’s love by protecting her and her children from the drug cartels that await them if they return to Honduras. Miriam and her two American citizen children and her husband are in the ditch. There are many excuses we can give to not help, just like the priest and the Levite. But Jesus says to love your neighbor.
JUST DO IT!
We are called to interpret the law through a love of neighbor lens. Just do it.
Now, you might be sitting there wondering how do we show compassion? How can I show mercy? What if I don’t, will God be mad at me? If I don’t show enough love, will God punish me like God punished people throughout the Old Testament?
This is not Jesus threatening the people with a stick if they do not love their neighbor but encouraging us to show the love so that we may be enriched and strengthened through the community that God wants for us.
When we see migrants fleeing, when we see a child hungry, when we see a broken down neighbor who is struggling under the weight of addiction or poverty it is easy to say ‘I follow the laws’ to justify and ignore. It is easy to become bitter and cynical, and to blame them for their problems; it is easy to assume that we have more important work to do. I know I do. It is easy to be the Levite or the Priest in this situation. But God calls us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Not out of a sense of hardship, but because in those relationships of love is where we will find God and be blessed by God through those relationships.
Love your neighbor – all of your neighbors.
Just do it.