Going the Extra Mile…To Love Beyond Boundaries
And the story went something like that. Jason Moore is a worship consultant who comes over to help us prepare for series from time to time and on his last trip he showed that to us. His son’s youth group created that video entirely themselves while on retreat, and he shared it with us.
We are in a 2020 vision series talking about the future of our church this year and in the decade ahead. We aren’t focusing so much on where we will go or what we will do as who we are becoming. What is God’s vision for the people God would have us become?
Our guiding metaphor is one Jesus used: going the extra mile. Our vision is to be a people who go the extra mile. If ever there was a person who demonstrated what it means to go the extra mile it is a man whose name we don’t even know. We know nothing about his background, profession, or family. He is known to us simply by his racial identity, an identity that in many circles of his time made him an outcast. Yet he has become a model of virtue and self-less living, the person we simply know as the Good Samaritan.
Just think of the verbs used to describe his actions. He came upon a victim and it says: “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’”
That’s not only an extra mile, extra miles! And he does all this for someone he doesn’t even know! Now, of course, this story is fictitious, but it could easily have been fact. It is about a person who fell among robbers walking from Jerusalem to Jericho. That is only a distance of about 15 miles, but the descent was over 3200 feet. It is a steep, windy, downhill route that cuts through canyons. (pic) This picture gives you an idea of the terrain and how it made for an easy hideout for bandits. This was known to be a dangerous road you typically didn’t travel alone. In other Jesus described a reality people knew well, and that is what draws you in. Like any good parable, you’re invited to relate to the characters in it. So let’s examine the story from that perspective.
EXAMINING THE GOOD SAMARITAN
I. It begins with the victim: A certain man…fell among robbers. Right off the bat we are invited to see ourselves as the victim. Now we might judge him and say, “But he shouldn’t have traveled that road alone. He should have known better. I would never do such a foolish thing.” But we don’t know his motivation. It may have been an emergency. He could have learned of a loved one’s tragedy and all he could think is “I have to get there quick.”
We are invited to consider what might have made someone like me end up there, and if I were him what would I most want? Can you think of a time when you were ever in a situation where the only way out of that place meant you had to be rescued? Your future was dependent on someone else helping you? Can you think of a time when you needed to be rescued? To put it in a spiritual way this victim invites us to ask: How do I need God to be a Good Samaritan to me?
II. Now let’s look at the next character. “Now by chance a priest was going down that road…” How lucky for the victim! There is somebody, and not just anybody, but a religious man who knows what it’s like to go down that road.” If anybody would want to stop and help it is this man.
But there’s a problem. The very reason this priest should stop—his religion—is going to be the reason he can’t stop. Look at this verse from the Holiness Code of the Torah: “A priest must not make himself ceremonially unclean for any of his people, except for a close relative…” (Leviticus 21: 1-2) That means this priest might not be a bad person. In fact, he could well be a loving, caring individual. He’s just caught by his religion. Have you ever known any people whose religion gets in the way of their being able to show love and compassion to all people?
But let’s keep the focus on ourselves. This priest was probably on his way to carry out a religious function. If he becomes ceremonially unclean, what does he tell the people who are counting on him? In other words he’s caught between responsibilities. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever been on your way to fulfill a responsibility that kept you from being response-able to a present need? I remember Dallas Willard’s words: “hurry is the enemy of the spiritual life.” When we are busy with things we have to do we don’t have time for things we should do. We have to be careful about making the priest a villain, because he raises a question any of us could face: Does duty ever get in the way of duty? What is my most important duty?
III. And that brings us to the next character in the story: So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. Levites were second ranking figures to priests. A Levite wouldn’t have been bound by the same restrictions. But he could represent a very practical concern. What if this person was a bandit just pretending to be hurt. What if he was a decoy for others lurking close by? Given the surrounding it is not an irrational fear.
The Levite reminds us that even good, religious people can struggle with being helpful and benevolent and concern for security and self-protection. How many modern Christians haven’t struggled with this matter when it comes to immigration? We wrestle with a desire to be compassionate while also wanting to keep our borders protected.
It’s a concern that gets very personal. Shortly after we moved to Indianapolis, at an intersection near our house, someone was robbed because they pulled over to help people who appeared to be stranded. I had two teenage daughters who were driving. I had to talk with them about being careful of responding to someone’s need too quickly. The question the Levite raises is What fears affect my actions?
IV. Now if you had been one of Jesus first listeners you are probably anticipating where this is going. The normal progression in that time was priest, Levite, and Israelite. A common Israelite would not be hindered by the religious limits or priests. This person would be free to stop and help, the common person doing what is right. That’s the true hero of society.
But a Samaritan is how Jesus continues. The popular progression went this way: a priest, a Levite, and an Israelite. In order of importance, that was it. Whereas the professional clergy are strapped by a boundaries, an Israelite, and let’s understand, this would mean an Israelite man, would not be limited by such prohibitions. A common, ordinary Israelite man will step in to be the hero of the story. Clearly Jesus is going to veer from conventional wisdom. That’s why he doesn’t start with “AND a Samaritan.” Instead he says, “BUT!” Because a Samaritan is going to take this story and what was believed to be the purpose of it in a whole new direction.
Samaritans and Jews suffered a bitter racial divide. We will come back to this story during Lent and examine the roots of that divide. For now, let’s understand how deep the separation was. As unwilling as many of Jesus’ first listeners would have been to identify with a Samaritan, we can try.
In synagogues, it would have been common to hear Samaritans cursed. Can you think of any pulpits today that would speak disparagingly about certain people? Some say an example of this in the Bible is John 8:48: “You Samaritan! Foreigner! Devil!” the Jewish leaders snarled.” You get the idea that it wasn’t a good thing to be called a Samaritan back then.
Samaritans would not be a witness in a Jewish court.
They were believed, according to Jewish thought at the time, to be excluded from the after-life.
Jews believed contact with a Samaritan made them unclean. So you couldn’t use a dish or vessel a Samaritan used. Just think of our own country and the “White’s Only” water fountains we used to have. Think too of Jesus asking a Samaritan woman at the well for a drink of water. Her response was, “Samaritans and Jews have no dealing with each other.”
And inter-marrying between Jews and Samaritans was strictly forbidden.
Would you say relations between Jews and Samaritans was pretty tense? And yet, what does it say the Samaritan did? These words may just be the key to understanding this story: he was “moved to pity.” The literal meaning in Greek is not just an emotion, it’s describing something physical, like a gut ache. It’s not just a sympathetic feeling for someone else’s pain, you are moved to action by it.
There’s a big difference isn’t there between telling someone you feel bad about what they’ve gone through and being moved to pity. Down south we have an expression, “Bless your heart.” You hear it when someone is telling another about their struggles and the other person replies, “Bless you heart.” You know what it means someone is prepared to do when they say “bless your heart?” Not a darn thing! It’s an expression of compassion without a willingness to do anything about it.
But the Samaritan was moved to pity. He had no reason to be. He could have said, “if the situation was reversed, this person wouldn’t help me!” But he doesn’t. He doesn’t just walk away and say, “I sure hope someone comes along to help that man.” No he acts. Why? Because perhaps he understood that When you force yourself to show compassion it’s hard to hold onto hate.
Myrna Bethke is a United Methodist pastor in the New Jersey Conference. On 911 her younger brother Bill died in the attack on the World Trade Center. In her search for healing from the grief, but also the hate she felt, she found a group called Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. It is made up of survivors of victims from the attack who don’t want to give to violence but seek a non-violent answer for peace and healing.
She traveled with a multi-faith group to Afghanistan. She said she wanted to go the place that gave birth to what happened on 911. She wanted to see what went on there that could cause such hatred and violence. They met victims there. People who lost loved ones from American bombings. She realized they shared the same grief and the same desire for a different answer. She realized how much she was like them. She found the experience keeps her from letting seeds of hate find a place to grow in her heart.
That’s what happens when we force ourselves to show compassion. We discover our common humanity, and it becomes more difficult to hold onto hate.
V. And this leads us to the last character, The innkeeper. He’s brought into the Samaritan’s actions. He’s asked to care for the man and be repaid for any expenses. We don’t know how he felt about this. But we do know he didn’t refuse. He didn’t say “we don’t accommodate Samaritans in this establishment.” He may have even been amazed at what he was seeing. Perhaps the Samaritan’s willingness to cross boundaries gave him some things to think about. Regardless, the Samaritan’s actions have now made the innkeeper complicit in the mission.
Isn’t it interesting how A moment of mercy can become a movement!
Pastor Nicole shared the other day about meeting with Nikki Woodson, the Director of the Washington Township Schools about Luke’s Leaders, a middle school development program that meets weekly at Luke’s Lodge. In the course of the conversation Nicole asked Dr. Woodson what the schools need most. Listen to her response. “What we need most is more Tom and Nancy Lange’s.” Nancy in our Executive leaders at the church. She and Tom have long volunteered in the schools. Their work sets an example that draws others.
Think of what Dr. Woodson was saying. “The most important resource I could have is people willing to go the extra mile for kids because of the way it inspires and draws others in.”
Message to the Church?
So what is the message to the church? It means for one thing, if we are people who go the extra mile, we will not walk around need. We will allow ourselves to moved to pity, to take action, and let ourselves get close to the hurting.
This year the Crooked Creek Food Pantry is anticipating launching a Mobile Food Pantry to address the rising problem of food insecurity in our city, especially for children. We want to begin with two schools at Willowlake and Springmill and use our modular building to provide pop-up food pantry offerings. We want to get the resource of our food pantry closer to the places of need and start in 2020 by launching bi-monthly “pop-up pantries.”
This will start in late summer and we will need volunteers to serve as stockers, cleaners, host and hostesses, and child activity coordinators. The hope is that we will also be able to connect with new families and welcome them into a community of faith that cares not only for their needs but for them.
And that raises another aspect of what it means to go the extra mile in this way. As a church we will cross the boundaries that divide people. We will continue to learn about the experience of people different from us. In fact, one way to do that will be February 8. A Racial Justice: Faith in Action event will be held in the Fellowship Hall from 9am-4pm. It will be led by Dr. Michael Twyman, from the IU School of Philanthropy. This will be an interactive workshop featuring five steps toward racial healing.