15 JULY 2007

       In the Gospel reading for today, Let us look at the comparison of the traveler in Jesus’ time to traveling in modern times and see how comparable it might be in today’s times. The problem is we travel at such a much quicker pace than in biblical times, that it is harder to recognize our friend and neighbor “in need.”

       The scholar asks Jesus, “Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law”, and the scholar finishes the answer with you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and live.” So as these scholars often do, in a hostile manor, he followed up with another question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus, always the teacher, proceeds to tell the story of the traveler on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho. The man was stripped and beaten and left half-dead on the side of the road. A priest and Levite both “saw” the injured man but chose not to go near him. They even went so far as to go to the opposite side of the road.

       This would be a good point in the story to reflect on the opportunities we might have had to assist our neighbor. Is there any person, group, or class of people you won’t get near? Do you stay away from people who may be poor because you don’t want to be bothered? How about the uneducated the crippled or the physically challenged? Think about the aged, the criminals and the unrepentant, or those of a different race. These are people that we might not think of in the context of the person on the side of the road, in Jesus’ parable, that the priest and the Levite apparently tried to avoid. There could have been any number of reasons why they chose to pass by, and not stopping to offer help.

       In this day and age there is so much that can be done for our neighbor that we don’t even think about. Just this past week in the news, is the story of a state trooper that was killed, apparently doing what the Samaritan was doing, and that is offering assistance on the side of the road. As of the last report I had heard the motorist apparently shot the trooper and then himself. The trooper was under no obligation to stop and help this motorist but he did, and now he is no longer with us. This kind of incident really gives us pause, when a decision has to be made on whether to offer assistance to our neighbor, with no thought of the consequences or do we just drive on by.

       Likewise the priest and Levite were probably of the mind to protect their cultic purity so they might fulfill their ritual obligations. They relished the places of their Temple status. The priest, who offered daily Mass and the Levite who assisted in the rituals had a call to purity before God. In Leviticus we hear where the Lord tells Moses to tell the priests “…None of you shall make himself unclean for any dead person…” Leviticus 21:1. This could be an explanation of why these two men of the church passed by on the opposite side.

       The Samaritan had nothing to lose by attending to the man on the side of the road, in all likelihood the man was a Jew in this story. The Samaritans had a general hostility towards the Jews, so this story probably got the listeners attention. By introducing the Samaritan, Jesus depicted a person most unlikely to offer assistance because he, the Samaritan, represented both racial impurity and religious heresy. The Samaritan poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. The significance of the wine would be the alcohol composition to clean the wounds and the oil would be to soothe the wounds. The Samaritan also helped the victim onto his animal and transported him to an inn, and paid for his room.

       So now we see what was going on during the time of Jesus, how do we make this real in our time and space? The state trooper attempted to be a “Good Samaritan” and lost his life. Should this keep us from attempting to help someone in need? Jesus tells us to “go and do likewise” as the Samaritan did for the man that was beaten and robbed and left half-dead. We don’t know what the trooper’s faith was but we do know that he stopped to help a stranded motorist or at least someone on the side of the road. The sides of the highway these days are dangerous places. If we can not stop the least we could do would be to see that some assistance was sent.

       But let us broaden our vision of neighbor to take in the above mentioned people. The poor, uneducated, crippled the physically challenged, the aged, the criminals and the unrepentant or those of a different race or religion. These may also be called victims in need of our neighborly attention. After all we believe we are all God’s people. I submit to you that there is enough work to be done right here in central Indiana.

       As we go forth in our deaconal lives let us never forget that there are people of many backgrounds and stations in life that we may be able to attend to in some form or fashion. If we can’t attend to a person’s particular situation, maybe we know of someone or some organization that could be of service to an individual in need. Helping a neighbor in need is certainly the one way we can most show that we are doing what Jesus commanded the scholar to do, and that was to “go and do likewise”. Treat our neighbor as we would treat ourselves.

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