Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
1st Reading: Deuteronomy 30:9-14
2nd Reading: Colossians 1:1-14
This has just been one of those weeks. It just felt like bad news heaped on bad news. The news this week was in some ways unsurprising, after all that has gone on this year and year after year. I felt numb. I felt helpless. Two unarmed black men had been killed by police in 24 hours and it seemed like more of the same. Are we ever going to learn? Are we ever going to do better, or are we doomed to continue this violence in our country? And then I heard the tape of the girlfriend of Philando Castille, shot by police as he reached for the ID the police had asked for. I heard her calm voice, pleading, “Please don't tell me my boyfriend is dead.” And I heard the panicked voice of the police officer telling her to keep her hands where he could see her. And I heard later that a 4 year old girl was in that car, trying to calm down her mom from the back seat. And then her mom was arrested. Of course it is hard to stay numb and distant, when I think of my own son witnessing such horrors. For a few minutes I felt like I was in the car with them and I couldn't hold back my emotions. And then I didn't hear until Friday morning about the 5 police men in Dallas, and on the radio, the recordings of gunshots and shouts of “Officer down!” Sometimes it is hard to find hope.
It used to be, we'd read about this stories in the paper or see a 30 second clip on the evening news. Now, people are taking video. There are police body cameras and there are cell phone cameras recording all this. These videos bring us right into the action and emotion of the moment. They let us see and hear almost as if we are there. They bring us near.
The point of the readings this morning is that the word of God has come near, that God is making God's words and commandments and way of doing things our way of doing things. In the reading from the book of Deuteronomy, God is talking to the people, reminding them that God's word is very near and asking them to turn toward it, to face it. For Paul and Timothy, they are far away from the people in the church of Colossae, but through this letter, through their prayers, and through their faith, they are near to each other and to God. And finally in the story of the Good Samaritan, we all walk along the same road and encounter each other there and God walks on that road with us. We are near to each other and near to God. We can see who is in the ditch. The question is whether we will let that affect us and whether we will allow ourselves to see a person there that we can care for and help, or whether we will walk with our eyes averted and do nothing. How do we make the leap from just loving ourselves, to loving our neighbor? How do we change from the one who walks by to the one who stops to help? How do we let God's words penetrate our hearts so that we are transformed, so that our world can be transformed into a more compassionate, loving place where people find relationship and healing?
The first inclination I have when I hear this story is to go directly to guilt, because I can think of a thousand times I walked right by someone who could have used my help. I have ignored my neighbor. I have failed to have compassion and take pity on countless people. However, I don't know that feeling guilty really helps any of us. None of us can go back and change the past. That's part of the reason we started with a confession this morning. We are honest about how we have not lived up to our potential, how we have let God down, turned our back on our neighbor. And we let that go. We receive forgiveness and the chance to move ahead in a new way.
The truth is, we can't become the Samaritan who helps, until we recognize that we are the one in the ditch who is helpless. I have been in the ditch many thousands of times, with illnesses, with fears, with my own failures, and with sin—separation from God and separation from my fellow human beings. We've all been there and we are still there in one way or another. But there is hope. This story is not called the bad Priest and Levite or the robbers who beat up some poor guy. The story is called “The Good Samaritan.” Someone stopped to help, and that person is Jesus. For all the times I've been in the ditch, I may be a little groggy from a head wound, but I know what and who saved me. Jesus, the great healer, brought me back to life. Jesus, my savior, long ago took me from having no purpose to my life, no reason to live, no hope, and got down in that ditch with me to lift me up and heal me. Jesus has brought me out of the ditch every single time I've failed him, every single time I've failed any of you, every single time I wasn't even sure if I could move, if I would live to see another day, if I could ever find a way to go on. And I know Jesus has saved you, too.
Once we acknowledge that we don't get ourselves out of ditches, that we don't heal ourselves, that we don't bring ourselves to full life, that it is Jesus who makes our paths straight, lifts every valley and makes the mountains level, Jesus lifts up the ditches so we all stand on level ground, when we admit that it is Jesus, the one we rejected, the one we betrayed and denied, that reaches into the ditch and hauls us out, who cleans our wounds and gives us food and shelter and everything we need, we see that person in the ditch in a new way. That could be me.
That could be me, sitting in a car with my kid in the backseat, pleading for medical attention for my partner. That could be me afraid every time my son leaves the house that he won't be treated fairly that I might never see him again. That could be me, there to protect a crowd of peaceful protesters, fired upon by a maniac, that could be me desperate, and alone and helpless, acting out of anger instead of love. To each person, Jesus reaches out a hand of love and understanding and forgiveness. And because of what he did for us, we don't have to get stuck in the guilt of all that we should have done and didn't. We can be thankful for the times he helped us.
We live in a world where people get robbed and beaten and left in a ditch by the side of the road. We live in a violent and cruel world. And we live in a world where people help each other, where they pull each other up out of the ditch, share of what they have, bring healing to one another, are generous and loving to people it seems they have nothing in common with. The question is, what kind of world do we want to live in and then to take action. Every time we do reach out with compassion, God is working through us to make a Good Samaritan world.
We can also let go of the guilt of not responding every time. It is easy to get fatigued by all the people in the ditches. We start with those close to home, situations we know personally, right here in our neighborhood. And we also know that I am not the only one. Yes, Jesus works through me, but he also works through neighborhood organizations, and nonprofits, and thousands of other people who are also close to the situation and perhaps more prepared to handle it.
Share a time you were the one in the ditch. Who helped you get out and come to healing?