The Mission of Doing
By Bishop Chris Giesler
Sermon Text: Luke 10:25-37
A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the hatred between the Jews and Samaritans of Jesus’ day. They worshipped the same God but did so with different rituals and a different geographical center. The Jews focused most of their religious practice and orientation through the temple in Jerusalem. At the same time, the Samaritans considered Mount Gerezim (called Shechem in the Bible) the holiest place on earth. You might remember that when the local Samaritans refused to welcome Jesus and his disciples as they made their way to Jerusalem, James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to blast those dastardly Samaritans off the face of the earth. Jesus rebuked his disciples’ desire for retribution and told them to move on. Today, those Samaritans show up in the narrative once again.
This time it comes in a conversation between Jesus and a teacher who is trying to test Jesus, hoping to get him to say something that will turn the crowds against him. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the man asks of Jesus. Jesus asks back, “What do the scriptures say?” The man answers back with the central affirmation of the Jewish faith, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” This comes from Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18 and are the verses found on every door post of every Jewish home and said at the beginning and end of every day. Indeed, to love God with all of who we are and to love ourselves and our neighbors is the essence of faith even for us today.
Jesus affirms his answer as correct, but the man wants to go deeper and asks, “And who is my neighbor?”
To answer this, Jesus tells a powerful story that has woven itself deeply into our society today. Ask anyone you meet what a “Good Samaritan” is, and they will tell you that it is somebody who helps others. Even if they knew little about the Bible, they can tell you that a good Samaritan is something we should all try to be. There are “Good Samaritan” laws in most US states which say that if you render aid in good faith, you will not be liable for any civil damages resulting from rendering assistance. So this is a value that all good people hold to be important.
Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey is quoted as saying, “Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors.” You can’t put it any more plainly than that. Show me how you treat, show me how you love, and teach me with your compassion for others; those are all action statements. This is precisely what Jesus was trying to communicate to the teacher who asked how he was to achieve eternal life. Jesus essentially says, let heaven take care of itself; your concern here is to make the world a better place.
The answer was an action statement, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
To answer the teacher’s question about who his neighbor was, Jesus takes us back to the despised Samaritans. The story Jesus tells is well known. A Jewish person is traveling down a dangerous road and is beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the side of the road. The devout priest and Levite who passed by the mugging victim were great knowers of the faith but not doers. And the hero of the story was the Samaritan, who, by standards of religious authorities of the day, had no standing. But he was the one who did something. According to Jesus doing is essential in life, and we should be just as concerned with our neighbors here as we are with our eternal lives in heaven. And by neighbors, Jesus is not referring to those whose homes happen to be next to ours. He is talking about those whose skin color might be different than yours; one whose political persuasion might be a total opposite of yours; one whose religious views might not look like yours, one who speaks a different language and eats foods other than yours. A neighbor is anybody who has needs that you can help to care for.
In the summer of 1992, I preached on this text as it came up in the lectionary while serving a Moravian congregation in Richmond, VA. It was a blistering, hot day in July, and right after the service, I, along with my pregnant wife and 3-year-old son, loaded up the car and headed to the North Carolina beach for a vacation with my extended family. As we exited Interstate 95 and entered Interstate 40, which would take us the final leg of the trip, the engine in our car failed. The timing belt had broken and we would need to be towed. This was long before cell phones were available, so I got my wife and child set up 20 yards off the road sitting on a blanket under a tree, and I started walking what would have been a several-mile walk back to a gas station to call for a tow truck. But as I took my first few steps down the road, a limousine pulled off the road just behind my car. Out came the African-American driver and owner of the car, who had been working a wedding in the Raleigh area and was heading back to his home in Wilmington. He asked if he could take us to the next exit to make the call and then back to the car to wait for the tow truck. The three of us climbed into the back of the limo, which had seats as large as our living room couch, and my son’s eyes were wide open. He had never seen anything like it. Our Good Samaritan was a lawyer in Wilmington who owned this car and used it to make a little extra money on the weekends. When I told him that he was a living example of the sermon I had preached that morning, it brought a tear to his eyes.
As followers of Jesus, our mission is to be living examples of God’s love for the world. So let us not simply be pew-sitting hearers but active examples of God’s love for all our neighbors, near and far.