In this season of Lent we are focusing on the parables of Jesus—the life-changing stories he told. For this week it is “The Good Samaritan.” Luke writes that a lawyer said to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers with a story. Maybe that was the best (and only?) way to help the lawyer see. Jesus said, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers…”
Do you remember what “parable” means? From the Greek it means “to throw alongside” or to “lay beside.” I want to invite you to “throw alongside” Jesus’ story another story.
It happened on December 21, 2015 a Christian man was going down the road. Not the road to Jericho, but a road in Kenya. And it wasn’t just one man, it was a large group of Christian men and women. They were not walking, they were on a bus (as you see, there are differences in these stories, as they lie side by side, but there are similarities, too).
The bus fell in the hands of robbers. Not robbers exactly, but terrorists. From the jihadist group al-Shabaab. Did you read about this? The terrorists shot at the bus, stopped it, and then climbed on board. They asked 62 Muslim passengers to help identify the Christian passengers—so the terrorists could kill the Christians.
Do you know what happened next? The Muslim passengers—each and every one of the 62 Muslim passengers—refused. They said to the terrorists, “Kill us all, or leave.”
The terrorists left.
And the Christians are still praising God for their Muslim brothers and sisters, who were true “neighbors” to them. One said, “This is the true meaning of religion…true religion protects neighbors and defends the weak and the poor.”
I came across that news story in a journal called The Christian Century (January 20, 2016, p. 14). It makes you think, doesn’t it? Jesus’ story about a Samaritan was absolutely shocking to his listeners. They couldn’t imagine a Samaritan—someone they considered “unclean” and an historic enemy—to be a hero. A role model of faithfulness! They could hardly believe the extravagant mercy shown by the Samaritan to the very one who would normally despise him. Instead of thinking about who should be excluded from kindness and mercy, it made them think about including. When you get right down to it, “Who is NOT your neighbor?” the story seemed to ask.
These stories of Jesus can really challenge us—really confront us—and even when they seem very familiar to us, there is often something else God wants to say to us.
Remember how the story begins? “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers…” The story is told in response to a question about the commandment in Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And the story begs the question: How will you respond? How will you love your neighbor as yourself?
We often think of the Bible and faith in terms of a personal relationship. “God and me.” But there’s another very important dimension: community. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we never say “I.” It’s all about “us” and “our.” The Apostle Paul reminds us that we are the Body of Christ together, each with our gifts to share for the blessing and the benefit of the whole.
One appropriate response to Jesus’ story might be to say, “We need to fix that road! We need to make sure no one else gets robbed on that road!” Does that make sense? It’s a systemic approach. It’s a communal response.
For example, I was reading this week from Christine Emba’s column in The Washington Post (January 16, 2016). She is African-American, and she writes about “white privilege” in America. “White privilege is knowing that when you are shopping alone you won’t be followed or harassed,” she writes. “It means that when you buy a house in a nice neighborhood, you can expect your neighbors to be nice or neutral, not hostile toward you.”
How are you being called to “love your neighbor” in a faithful, practical, life-changing way? And how are we being called to “love our neighbors” in a systemic, communal, world-changing way? Jesus’ story certainly has a lot to say!