Good morning! It is great to be with you. I am freshly back home after spending time away with family. I’m very aware of the luxury of having vacation and time off that many of us but not all of us get to have. So I’m doubly grateful to have the time away and to be welcomed back to this community to deliver a message of hope, life, and good news. God’s Spirit does speak even on vacation.
A big chunk of my early years were spent in sunny southern California. The mountains, when you could see them through smog, were usually snow capped, and about 45 minutes away. And the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean was also about 45 minutes away in another direction.
I remember that my Dad was always coming home with a “new to us car” that he purchased from a car auction.
One day my Dad came home with a motorhome for us to take on a summer family cross country road trip.
We took to the road for a really fun road trip that we remembered for the rest of our lives. From the Pennsylvania Liberty Bell and Philly cheesesteaks to the monuments in DC, it was historic. But somewhere on an Arizona highway our motorhome flipped over onto its side going at a decent highway speed.
I was in the back of the motorhome looking for a board game to play, singing a little song out loud to myself or to God, and the suitcases which were stacked up in the shower, for optimal storage space, all came crashing onto me and trapped me for a few minutes. My family called to one another that we were okay, and my sister, pulled me out from underneath the clothes loaded suitcases. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured. I don’t remember much, but I do remember someone with strong arms pulling me up and out of the motorhome and as I stood in the shade of the fallen motorhome waiting for the rest of my family, a young woman noticed my head was bleeding.
She eagerly, sweetly, cheerfully remembered she had a t-shirt in the back of the trunk of her car and returned quickly to give it to me so I could stop the bleeding.
As a 10-year-old I don’t remember very many details, like how we ended up in a hotel or how we ended up back home to California (my mom said A LOT of people stopped to help), but I do remember the radiance and open handedness of that one person and I remember thinking to myself “Wow. How kind. Would I have done that?” I was grateful that she stopped to help me and aided in our family being rescued from that highway accident.
Today, we’re in the 4th week of a less topic based summer sermon series. Reservoir church is following a traditional scriptural reading called the Lectionary— an assigned assortment of readings for each day.
I’ve been listening to my co-workers’ sermons online and I’ve noticed some similar themes emerging — even in today’s sermon, even without consulting one another, there’s consistency in the thematic nature of our sermons and what we’re gleaning from these scriptures. We’re inspired by the same Holy Spirit.
The Good Samaritan
The principle scripture we’ll look at today is Luke 10. It’s a familiar passage to many in the religious world and even in the medical world, laws have been established after this passage.
Let’s read The Parable of the Good Samaritan.
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[c]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d]” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Points: No & Yes
Some helpful and unhelpful views of helping others: The point of this talk is not for us to be guilted in helping everyone we come across in need, nor is it to develop a martyr syndrome where we are sacrificially living for the service of others at the expense of ourselves. An unhelpful way of looking at serving others is through obligation or shame.
The command for us, is to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus says, do this and you will live. It’s motivating for us to help others not only because Jesus says to do it, but because there’s life in being the rescuer, and there’s life in being rescued. We invest in others because it’s worth the cost for them and for us.
I came across this phrase “soft power” coined by an American political scientist in the 80’s, named Joseph Nye. “Soft power” is a way to influence or persuade others to want what you want, culturally, economically, in international relations through the admiration of the others values, and aspiring to their openness and prosperity, all without employing coercive measures. It strikes me that maybe parables was one method of influence employed by teachers in Jesus’ day. Getting others to want the same outcomes without a coercive approach.
Questions & Bystander Effect
If Jesus is using this parable to answer the lawyer’s question about neighbor, the story only raised more questions for me. Maybe this parable also activated the social psychologist in you to ask some of the same questions I had, like:
Why was it so hard for the Levite and the priest to stop and help this person in need?They saw a situation where they were in a position to respond, and instead they actively avoided it. For starters, maybe they were just selfish and late for a very important meeting. Okay, that’s a little harsh and judgmental. So maybe they didn’t know how to help, so they didn’t do anything. They may have assumed someone else knew more or could respond more effectively so they just left the situation as is. (This bystanding effect is called Pluralistic ignorance)- I’ve certainly been in situations like this. Or maybe they didn’t know if this person was still conscious, or “permanently” asleep. Does this person still need help? (ambiguity of need). Maybe they thought someone else would help (diffusion of responsibility). Or maybe they had a bad back and they couldn’t lift the body (there was some danger or cost to helping). Maybe there was some purity or social laws that they feared (fearing disapproval).
I was talking with Steve, our senior pastor, about this topic and it made him recall a study from an episode called “Launching a Behavior Change Revolution” from the podcast Freakonomics. Tom Gilovich a Psychologist from Cornell University, did a study on regret. He and his team found that even though there was more immediate pain and consequence to regret of an action taken, over the course of life the more enduring pain was regret of inaction — advice people never followed up, a choice not taken, a priority or value ignored, a career path they didn’t end up pursuing. The team interviewed college students, prisoners in a state prison, a sample of geniuses, and group after group after group folks were found to regret their inactions. One category of regret was due to fear of social consequences — this “spotlight effect,” the fear of what others would think of them if they were to choose that action (e.g. not going to a gym because the person next to them would be running at a faster speed, or afraid to take music lessons because they didn’t want others to hear them sing). Tom’s advice is the same as Nike’s slogan — just do it. Don’t wait for inspiration. Take the plunge. Inspiration comes from engaging in the activity.
It’s not just me or these researchers saying, but in fact The World Health Organization said that “bystanders must feel empowered to act and confident they will not suffer adverse consequences” (page 3)
This passage challenged me to look at what makes me “walk” past other people in need? Last week my family went on a rare outing, out to breakfast at a chain restaurant. My kids and I peered eagerly over the top of our booth over at the cooks window hoping for signs of our order. It took over 40 minutes for our breakfast to arrive. Our server apologized for the wait and said her mind was preoccupied with a customer who tried to walk out on a bill that was almost a $100. That really was terrible. Honestly. But I was still hungry, and it was a long wait.
Just moments before our food had arrived, I was in no graceful mood. Let me just tell ya. My unhappiness had grown after I saw the fourth booth of folks who had come in long after us, get their food, finish it, and leave. I was so unhappy that I told my husband, if our breakfast didn’t come in the next minute, we were walking out of there and going to get donuts.
But our food did arrive in that minute (the order was also wrong). And after we got that apology, stuffed ourselves and given our bill, the moment of grace and truth had arrived. Tip time. I milled around with the kids while my husband paid and we walked out of there. When we got into the car, the first thing I asked was, how much he had tipped. He said, just over 20%. I was flabbergasted and my heart was sputtering trying to come up for air. Wait. Really? I would’ve given 10% for the inconvenience.
My mind was moved at the thought of being gracious and generous to someone (who just had a bad day)… because, really folks, those few extra dollars worth of kindness could’ve been meaningful to someone who was just having a bad morning/afternoon. But to be honest, my heart was being choked by stinginess and a sense of fairness and the meaning of a service tip. It took me a few days, and to be honest I think I’m still in need of the jaws of life to pry open my stingy heart.
I read an old study in the Oxford University Press on medical doctors in travel medicine. In general these medical providers were in essence Good Samaritans from the nature of their career — traveling to a distant land, providing care. What I found interesting was that the decision to treat a patient even in remote places and regardless of the severity of the medical problem, was assessed by these doctors, based on the distance from the patient and an established medical facility. So, if the distance was suitable they were more likely to lend aid to the patient.
To me, I boiled this down to a matter of hope in the ability of the person to live.
A Matter of Hope
That got me thinking about the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable. Our hero. And one who I believed possessed fearless hope — A hope that his efforts of aid would help to preserve life. Helping someone always has a cost and there is no guaranteed outcome. It’s highly risky.
What was the motivation of the Samaritan rescuer? It goes back to Jesus’ original words, to love your neighbor as yourself. Perhaps the Samaritan knew what it was like to be beat up, to be overlooked, to be passed by, to have the value of her life or his life evaluated and determined by someone else? Perhaps the Samaritan knew such depth of despair and physical pain, that that compassion overrode every other fear and inconvenience. That Samaritan saw themselves in the body and flesh of that broken and bruised individual left on the road to die. I imagine the Samaritan tenderly taking a bruised and swelling limb of the traveler, carefully wrapping it, stabilizing bones that were out of place, speaking in a few words or not at all or detailing what they were going to do next “I’ve GOT you.”
That’s why peer support for those of us in recovery is so powerful — it’s because “just yesterday, we were in the ditch.” Those of us with lived experience of recovery of a condition or disorder are the most impactful to those living and strugging with the condition or disorder of today. As peer support we are impactful because we see ourselves in the life of another.
Guilt is not a motivating factor in this situation. Guilt is short lived. Guilt can become toxic to all involved.
But what is good fuel for loving others, is when the rescuer sees themselves in the one they are trying to aid. When the rescuer sees something familiar, a commonality of struggle, or humanity. They can provide hope and insight and lived experience of survival and breakthrough.
The more that I look at this story, the more clearly I saw Jesus in this parable. The Samaritan started to look so much like Jesus. Jesus, this story is about you. You know what it’s like to be beat up, your name, personhood robbed, cast aside, the value of your life left to the observation of another. You were the one robbed and beat up.
And You are also the Samaritan. You have a fearless hope for the one you are rescuing. You pay it all without expecting anything in return. You rescue life.
Our call is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our call is to be like Jesus.
Our call is to be like the Samaritan- aware of our need and not be ashamed of it. And to be aware of what we do have and to not be stingy with it (whether it be a smile, or a generous tip, a spare shirt in the back of our trunk of your car, an extra room for an asylum seeker, or offering to pay for someone’s college tuition). Our call is to see ourselves in others and to respond with love and kindness and generosity.
Jesus says to do this and you will live.
An Invitation For You
Ask Jesus to help you see your needs (where do you need rescue). Ask Jesus to help you see yourself in someone else’s humanity and need (where can you rescue). Help where you can, being motivated to love that person as yourself.
Spiritual Practice of the Week
For the spiritual practice this week, try fasting with the intention of wanting to receive God’s love for yourself and the possibility of loving somone else. Fasting disrupts your attention and your habits to remind you about something that you want more of.