The Good Redneck
(Luke 10: 25-37)
There was a woman going down from Seattle to Portland on Interstate Five who had car trouble. Her car, a Prius complete with bumper stickers that said: “Feel the Bern”, “Hope and Change” and “We’re All Here Because We’re Not All There” had a flat tire and pulled to the right-hand shoulder and activated her flashers. She was in that real remote stretch of I-5 where there are no services, and traffic was light. The first car that passed was a State Patrol car and it appeared the officer was talking on his radio. The second vehicle was a Department of Transportation truck with several workers in it that moved into the left lane as they passed by. Wait, somebody is pulling over! It’s one of those big jacked-up pickup trucks. You know the kind. Wide tires and loud mufflers with a National Rifle Association sticker on the back window right next to a Rebel flag decal. And out steps this big burly bearded guy with a Rainer Beer hat on with tattoos covering both arms. Quite a scary sight. He offers to change her tire, a gesture she reluctantly accepts. When she offers him twenty dollars he refuses and tells her to follow him to the next exit where there’s a Les Schwab Tire store. When they get there, he offers to pay for the repair and tells the tire man that if there are any additional costs, here is his credit card number and to just charge it to his account. With that, he gets back in his truck and disappears with a roar and a cloud of thick black smoke. Which of the three was a neighbor to the woman?
You don’t even have to go to church to be familiar with the parable of The Good Samaritan. It’s so common that even non-believers refer to The Good Samaritan every time somebody does some random act of kindness. There’s hardly a week that goes by that you don’t see a report on the evening news about some Good Samaritan appearing out of nowhere and saving somebody’s life. I see these reports and think to myself, I bet they don’t have clue as to the back story of The Good Samaritan. And, not surprisingly, many Christians probably don’t know the back story and what it really means to be a “Good Samaritan”.
In our parable this morning, a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell into the hands of robbers. Those hearing the parable in the first century would naturally assume that the traveler was Jewish. Most Jews, when traveling to Jericho, would avoid going through Samaria and would take a more indirect route as, not only was it dangerous, but the Jews and Samaritans hated each other. In any event, the robbers stripped the man, beat him and left him for dead on the side of the road. We learn that the first person to come upon the man was a priest who, when he saw the beaten and bloodied man, passed by on the other side. The next man was a Levite who also passed by on the other side of the road. The hearers of this parable were used to these stories of three and were expecting the next person to come along to be an everyday Israelite, just like them, who would come to the man’s aid. But it wasn’t. The next man was a Samaritan who took pity on the beaten man who the Samaritan probably assumed was a Jew. No matter, as he bandaged the man’s wounds, put him up on his donkey and took him to an inn where he continued to see to his needs. The next day he gave the inn keeper some money for lodging and told him if there were any extra expenses incurred he would pay him the next time he passed through. What a nice guy. These Samaritans must be a special people.
In our Sunday Morning Learning Circle, we’re studying the Parables of Jesus and the parable of The Good Samaritan is one of the ones we’ve covered so far. Professor Amy-Jill Levine goes into some of the back story regarding the relationship between first century Jews and Samaritans. Eight to nine hundred years before the birth of Christ, Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom known as Israel. Jerusalem was the capital of the Southern Kingdom known as Judah. In 732 BCE the Assyrians conquered Samaria and the Northern Kingdom’s people were exiled or assimilated into non-Israelite peoples becoming the so-called Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. The Northern Kingdom, now known as Samaria was populated by members of the ten tribes who remained coupled with others whom the Assyrians relocated into the area. And, so began a history of friction and resentment between two peoples who believed in the same God. The Jews, whose racial purity had not been corrupted, believed they were God’s true chosen children. The Samaritans called themselves “observers” of the law and believed they taught the correct interpretation of the Torah. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible known as the Pentateuch as authoritative. Their scriptures do not include the prophets or the writings that the Jews included along with the first five books of the Bible. Both claimed to be the true descendants of Abraham and both believed the other had gotten it wrong.
All saw the man who had been attacked and first century Jewish law would have required both the priest and the Levite to stop and help. Their responsibility was to save a life and they failed. Some have reasoned that they did not go to the man’s aid thinking he was dead which, if they touched him, would cause them to become ritually unclean. Professor Levine’s theory is that they were probably afraid that the robbers were lurking nearby and moved quickly on for their own safety. In any event, they failed.
When Jesus concluded the parable, he asked the expert in the law; Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? The expert in the law responded: “The one who had mercy on him.” He couldn’t even bring himself to say the Samaritan. This brings us back to his initial inquiry of what he must do to inherit eternal life and Jesus’s instruction to love his neighbor. He wanted to qualify who his neighbor was, as in a general context, it included way too many people. Professor Levine says to ask; “who is my neighbor” is a polite way of asking, “who is not my neighbor”? Or, “who does not deserve my love?” Or, “whose lack of food or shelter can I ignore?” Or, “who can I hate”? The answer Jesus gives is: “No one.” Go and do likewise.
So, back to my parable of The Good Redneck. In our Sunday Morning Learning Circle study of the parables of Jesus, Professor Levine challenged us to rewrite the parable to where it would resonate with 21st century listeners. So, that’s what I did. And, just so you know, I could have written a parable entitled: The Good Tree Hugger. Anyway, I thought about all the divisiveness I see in our country today that shares many similarities with first century Israel. We have people firmly entrenched in their political views on both the far right and far left that can’t engage in any sort of meaningful dialogue because of the contempt held for each other. Like the Jews and Samaritans of the first century, there is more that unites us than should divide us. We’re from the same country and presumably worship the same God. We love our lives, we love our families and we love our country. But you wouldn’t know it to watch the great debates and exchanges on television and on social media. To hear each side tell it, you’d think the other side is hell-bent on destroying our country. On Facebook the conservatives refer to the liberals as “libtards” and the liberals refer to the conservatives as “repuglicans”. Neither side would spit on the other side if they were on fire. When I or someone else tries to intelligently enter into the discussion, the common response is usually something like “yeah, but how about when so-and-so did such-and-such” as if that makes anything right. You just want to say, “If what you say is true, it wasn’t right then and it’s not right now” so can we talk about what’s going on now? There probably aren’t too many issues that we couldn’t reach some sort of common ground, but the hatred and disdain is so great that neither side is willing to yield for fear it might be seen as some sort of weakness. Neither side wants to make the first move.
What’s the answer? Where do we start? I wish I knew. Professor Levine asks; How do we regard others with whom we are in conflict? With me and Teresa, there are topics we don’t even bring up around some friends and family members. On social media, rather than try and intelligently engage these people, I stop following them blocking their posts. Avoidance if you will. I’m sure they avoid certain topics around me and have probably blocked me on Facebook too. But Professor Levine poses the question; Can we finally agree that it is better to acknowledge the humanity and potential to do good in the enemy, rather than to choose death? She’s right, we should be looking for the good in the other and try to find the common ground upon which we can agree and build positive relationships that benefit us all. To choose not to do this is to choose death, the death of our country. She tells us to imagine the potential of being able to bind up our enemies’ wounds, or to have them do the same to us. It’s like saying to the other that you know there are things you can’t agree upon, but I see you are hurting, so what can I do to help?
Jesus doesn’t say, go and be likewise. He says, go and do likewise, with an emphasis on action. Go and do. He’s telling us that the love of God and the love of neighbor are to be enacted. You have to ask yourself; If I do not stop and help this person, what will happen to them?
Please pray with me.
Lord Jesus, you command us to love our enemies. Teach us that this love is not so much about what we feel as about what we do, and strengthen us, by your Spirit, to see, to touch, to provide for, to heal, and to care in practical ways for those we may be unable even to bring ourselves to name, that we may be children of your Father in heaven and ours, who causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and who sends rain to shower both those who are righteous and those who are not. Amen.