July 17, 2019
Go and do likewise – J. Barry Vaughn – July 14, 2019
Recently at Christ Church we have been struggling with how to deal with our homeless neighbors.
On one hand it is a simple question. The homeless are our neighbors, therefore it is our responsibility to help them. That’s all there is to it.
But of course, there’s so much more to it.
I think that’s part of the point of the story Jesus tells in today’s gospel reading. The person in need is our neighbor. The person we see who has been beat up and left by the side of the road is our neighbor. We have a responsibility to help him or her. And for many people, including quite a few in this congregation, that is how we should deal with our homeless sisters and brothers.
But then Jesus complicates the situation. What about the priest and the Levite who pass by the injured merchant on the road? They were on their way to serve in the Temple in Jerusalem. If they stopped to help the injured man, they would almost certainly come into contact with blood and then be rendered ritually unclean and be unable to perform their duties in the Temple.
Jesus appears to be saying that showing mercy to someone who has been injured is more important than performing ritual duties, but maybe that’s not what he is saying at all.
Then Jesus complicates the situation even more when he introduces the Samaritan. Samaritans were despised. When Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman in the 4th chapter of John’s gospel, his disciples say, “Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans.”
“Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans.”
Who are the groups we have nothing to do with? For some of us, the people we have nothing to do with may be Trump voters. For others, our despised group may be liberal Democrats.
What if we paraphrased this story as the Parable of the Jihadist or Al Qaeda member? “But a jihadist, an Al Qaeda member, while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.”
I can imagine you saying, “Ridiculous! That would never happen!” But that’s almost certainly what the lawyer thought when Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.
Are you sure that a jihadist would not stop to help a wounded traveler? Mercy and compassion are also central to Muslim values.
The late Baroness Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, received lots of criticism when she said that “no one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions. He had money, too.” In other words, Thatcher was saying that if you’ve made and saved your money, then you have more resources with which to help your neighbor. I think she was on to something!
So back to our situation at Christ Church. On the one hand, we don’t want to pass by our homeless neighbors like the priest and Levite. On the other hand, if use all our resources to help them, then we will soon be unable to carry out our other responsibilities.
When I interviewed to become rector of this church, I studied your profile carefully, and it quickly became obvious to me that the amount of outreach you were doing was far in excess of your size. In other words, I would have expected a congregation the size of this one to be doing much less outreach. I was afraid that your outreach ministries could overwhelm your resources.
I still worry about that, and I worry about it even more in light of our current concerns about the homeless.
So how do we balance the responsibilities imposed upon us by Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan?
I would say two things:
First, I think the main point of the parable is our neighbor is the person in need of whom we are aware of. If the Samaritan had not seen the man who was set upon by robbers, then he would not be under any responsibility to stop and help him. But you and I live in a highly connected world. If there’s a tsunami in the South Pacific, then we know about it in hours, if not minutes. And when we learn about it, then we are under a responsibility to help those affected by the tsunami. They become our neighbors, if they weren’t our neighbors already.
Secondly, the Samaritan was only responsible for doing the things he was capable of doing. In other words, if he had had no animal, then he would have been unable to take the injured man to an inn. And if he had had no money, he would not have been responsible for paying for his care.
Technology has made practically everyone in the world our neighbor, but we do not have the resources to help everyone in the world.
I believe that our responsibilities to our homeless neighbors extend only to the limits of our resources. We have many responsibilities: We have a responsibility to maintain this physical plant. I like to say that we can’t feed the homeless, if we can’t pay the power bill. We have a responsibility to provide services of worship.
In other words, our responsibilities to the homeless are limited by our resources and our other responsibilities.
I want to conclude by talking about one very concrete way you can be a neighbor to others.
First, a question: How did you get here? I’m not asking if you drove here or took a bus or Uber or got a ride from someone or walked. I’m asking a bigger question.
Did your parents take you to church when you were a child? Did you discover the Christian faith later in life?
Whether your parents brought you to church every Sunday or you grew up with church and then discovered it later in life, someone introduced you to the Christian faith.
No one becomes a Christian all by themselves. Someone was a Good Samaritan to you by sharing the Christian faith with you.
I’m one of those who was brought to the church every Sunday of my life, but then in high school I detoured. I started to wonder if it was true, and for a while I wasn’t sure. Then someone gave me a copy of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and it shed a completely new light on Christianity. In college I found my way back to the church, and . . . here I am!
One of the best ways you can be a neighbor to your friends who presently don’t go to the church is to invite them to come to church with you. For some of us, that sounds a little scary. We don’t want our friends to think we’ve gone off the deep end. But the fact is that people all around us are searching for meaning and hope. If we find meaning and hope in the Christian faith, then one of the best things we can do for our neighbors is to let them know about our own faith.
Last Friday I had lunch with Father Rick O’Brien, our former assistant priest, and he told me that after Easter and Christmas, their best-attended service is “Bring a Friend” Sunday.
This fall we are going to have a “Bring a Friend” Sunday, and I sincerely hope that you will bring someone with you.
We are surrounded by people who are in need. Everyone of them is our neighbor. And even though our resources are limited, there is something we can do for our needy neighbors.
Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan about people just like you and me.
“Go and do likewise.”