The Stuff of Life: Working What Works

First, read the context for the Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable from Luke 10:25ff (The Message):

An Excellent Question on Stewardship

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. "Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?"
     He answered, "What's written in God's Law? How do you interpret it?"
     He said, "That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself."
     "Good answer!" said Jesus. "Do it and you'll live."
     Looking for a loophole, he asked, "And just how would you define 'neighbor'?"

The religious man here was someone of significance and power as one of the “elite” working for the Temple.  He was surely one of the most educated people in Israel.  He knew the law and worked to interpret it for the Temple priests – think Supreme Court Justice.  Hear the tone of a lawyer asking about who qualifies as “neighbor”.  Given what we know about the tone of the Temple leadership at that time (early First Century C.E.), he is trying to get as narrow a focus as possible.  Perhaps he is hoping to only need to consider well qualified, practicing faithful Jews?

This raises an interesting question or two.  Are we any different than this religious lawyer?  How do we qualify who we choose to help and who we don’t?  What is our decision-making process on whether or not to help?  We can easily judge this guy because we know he’s about to get schooled by Jesus.  But we might want to slow down on that front, because he is no more or less human than any one of us.

The Good Samaritan Parable…

     Jesus answered by telling a story. "There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
     "A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man's condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I'll pay you on my way back.'
     "What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?"
     "The one who treated him kindly," the religion scholar responded.
     Jesus said, "Go and do the same."

Jesus turned everything on its head with this parable, which is why it has been a subject of dialogue ever since.  Below are some things happening for the original audience that might be worth having conversation about.

Jews hated Samaritans.  The origins of the hatred between the two groups (both of which hailed from early Judaism) went back centuries.  The Samaritans first thought the rest of the Jews were a bunch of liberals who wanted to add to the sacred scriptures texts that were not suitable.  Generations later, Jews hated Samaritans for intermarrying with people from other cultures which opened the door to new influences that infiltrated the Jewish faith.  Samaritans refused to honor the Temple as the true residence of the Presence of God – because it was on the wrong mountain (of course).  Every Jewish person hearing this story would have assumed that the Samaritan may have been the robber – not the hero!  Furthermore, Jewish people would be very uncomfortable with the idea of a Samaritan tending to their needs and being dependent upon them for survival.

Questions. In our personal life, who would we imagine to be the most likely person to be the thug, and the least likely to be the hero?  How would we feel about that person taking care of us?

Samaritans hated Jews.  We usually make a good case for why we hate other people, yet I wonder if we are open to hearing about the case made against us by those who hate us?  In my experience, for instance, I have heard people make strong cases for their prejudice against people of color, other religions, other nations, and the LGBTQ community.  They feel justified.  Yet when we/they begin to hear about how these same group members feel about us, we get really indignant and defensive.  Because we look down on others, there may even be a part of us who, like some in the original Jewish audience, would almost think it a privilege for the Samaritan to serve the Jew.  But I doubt that’s how the Samaritan felt (or the POC, non-Christian, non-US, LGBTQ person about doing anything lovely for us).

Questions.  Think of people who feel oppressed in our culture today.  How do you suppose they feel about feeling oppressed?  How interested do you suppose they might be in generously providing for our needs?  What do you think must have gone through the Samaritan’s head and heart that led him to serve a Jew so prodigiously?

One commentator summed Jesus’ point very succinctly regarding the question of who we help:

Do not think as much about who THEY are; focus on who YOU are.

Being a giving person is deeper than simply following a rule or law or ethic.  It is driven by something deep within us – an identity, a way of being, an ethos – that guides our heads, hearts, and hands.   Long before we begin deciding where we choose to be helpful, we need to check our motive.  I believe that if we are doing things mostly out of fear of retribution or as part of a transaction to get God to do God’s part of the deal, we’ve missed Jesus’ message entirely.  It seems to me that Jesus’ Way was altogether differently.  Jesus’ Way – which was driven by the Spirit of God – was one of being at complete home in the grace and love of God for ourselves and everyone else, and living as if both were true.  We give generously because it’s who we are not because of who they are.  Once we’ve settled that, we can move to questions of stewardship – how will our generosity make the most difference with those ventures with which we are most aligned?  How do we prioritize the causes we believe in?

A glimpse into my thought process.  This will come as no surprise, but CrossWalk is – by far – the largest recipient of Lynne and I’s charitable giving.  The reason is simple: it is most aligned with what is most core for us.  We are Jesus followers, and want to support a church that promotes the Jesus Way well.  We think CrossWalk does this in so many ways.  Also, there are national and global projects that CrossWalk supports.  For instance, we give to Furaha and Deborah’s House through CrossWalk instead of directly, since there is no extra administrative cost to do so.  We know that supporting CrossWalk supports all who CrossWalk supports with her campus and voice – not just paying the bills.  We are proud of CrossWalk and are proud to contribute.  After that, there are a range of things we contribute to, but it’s pretty sporadic and usually tied to relationship with friends who have invited us to a fund raiser.  I like doing this because it supports our friendship and the cause all at the same time.  One other thing to mention has to do with prioritization.  There are a very limited number of people who help support CrossWalk financially compared to much larger causes.  Your generosity is really, truly felt at CrossWalk because there just aren’t that many people supporting us.  Also, CrossWalk is, by comparison, crazy efficient.  The number of people we serve is staggering given how little we bring in.  Sometimes we are so close to it we can’t appreciate it.  But having been up close and personal with other non-profits and congregations has helped me see ourselves for the incredibly potent group we are.  I can feel really good about supporting CrossWalk because we get a ton done on a dime. 

As Pastor of CrossWalk, and as a contributing fan, I invite you to support her, too. If you’ve never supported CrossWalk, I invite you to begin. For those of you who already support, I thank you and applaud you.  And I ask you to consider increasing what you are giving so that CrossWalk can confidently move forward with bolder strides instead of being held back by limited funds.  There are areas we must improve – brick and mortar as well as helpful support – and we need funds to do it.  Out of a place of generosity, will you consider being a Good Samaritan for CrossWalk?