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Not a Samaritan!
August 19, 2001

Luke 10:25-37

In a movie a mad scientist invented a serum that could bring inanimate objects to life. He injected the serum into a statue of a great general in the city park. Sure enough, the statue came to life, and with creaking joints the general stepped down from the pedestal. The scientist said to the general, "I have given you life. What will you do with it? The general replied, "I'm going to shoot two million pigeons!"

A lawyer asked Jesus how to find life, how to live fully and richly, how to receive eternal life. Jesus answered with a question (don't you hate that!), "What does the Law say (meaning the Old Testament law)?" The lawyer answered, "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." Jesus said, "You've got it. That's how to live! That's life!" But, the lawyer, trying to find a loophole, asked, "And who is my neighbor?"

So Jesus told him a story. Jesus loved to tell stories. A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Have you noticed how often it is said "up to Jerusalem" and "down to Jericho"? This is because Jerusalem is on a hill. By the time you reach Jericho (about 50 miles if I remember correctly), you are below sea level. Up to Jerusalem is a steady, steep incline. The way is treacherous, with treeless hills and huge rocks, lots of places for bad guys to hide. The route is an ambusher's paradise.

In the story, Jesus described three approaches to life. As the scientist said to the statue, "I have given you life. What will you do with it?" so, God says to you, "I have given you life. What will you do with it?" The first approach to life Jesus described is: WHAT'S YOURS IS MINE, I'LL TAKE IT.

The traveler was ambushed, attacked, mugged by a bunch of no-goods who robbed him, stripped him, took his clothes, beat him, and left him half dead. Their approach to life was, "Hey, man, what's yours is mine, I'll take it."

This is a popular stance today. Fraud, greed, corruption, embezzlement, cheating, stealing, hostile takeovers are common occurrences, even at the highest levels of society. Where does it stop? How long can a nation survive when "What's Yours is Mine, I'll Take It," is imbedded in the very fabric of society?

The second approach to life Jesus described in this story is: WHAT'S MINE IS MINE, I'LL KEEP IT! A priest walked on Jericho Road that day. Oblivious to the victim lying beside the road, naked, bruised, bleeding; he quickly walked to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Levite came by. The Levite was an official in the temple, one of the religious leaders of the day. He too crossed to the other side of the road, passing the victim by.

The priest and the Levite could not be bothered. After all, stopping to help would take precious time, take some of their energy, and no doubt cost them money. The victim had been robbed. He obviously had no money for medical care, food or clothing. Helping the victim would cost them something, and they practiced "What's Mine is mine, "I'll keep it."

This approach to life is also very popular today, even among church folk. The modern equivalent is, "I've worked hard for what I have. I've earned it. It's mine. Why should I part with it?" But, is that really true? How much of what you have, how much of your wealth and blessings came from your parents, or because you had a good education, or because you knew the right people who could give you a start? What do poor people do who don't know people in companies who can get them jobs?

How much of what you have is because you were born with the color you have? How much of what you have is because you are privileged to live in the United States? How much of what you have is due to God's grace, God's goodness? Is what you have really yours? All yours?

George White wrote:

The preacher never stopped talking about money. The congregations clutched their billfolds and squirmed. He told them not to worry so much about stuff that will rot and rust. He told them that the folding stuff was not the currency to buy meaning and happiness. He singled out one man and told him to sell everything and then give the proceeds to the poor. He had them shaking their heads when he said," Happy are the poor." Some of the best dressed stomped out, their noses in the air. A few of the wealthy and powerful slipped quietly into a backroom and had a contract put out on the young preacher's life. And it only cost them thirty pieces of silver.

In Jesus' story, the thugs practiced, "What's yours is mine, I'll take it." The priest and Levite practiced, "What's mine is mine, I'll keep it."

The third approach to life Jesus described is: WHAT'S MINE IS GOD'S, I'LL SHARE IT. A Samaritan walked along the Jericho Road, saw the wounded man, and had compassion on him. His attitude towards a person in need was: what's mine is God's, I'll share it. The Samaritan poured oil and wine to clean the wounds. He bandaged them. He put the victim on his donkey and took him to an inn, because there were no hospitals. He gave the innkeeper a sum of money equivalent to the average two days' pay for the patient's care, and guaranteed to pay even more if necessary.

But, the first reaction of the victim was probably, "Oh, no, not a Samaritan! Out of all the people who might help me, why does it have to be a Samaritan?" There was bad feeling between Jews and Samaritans that stretched back hundreds of years. After the death of King Solomon, a civil war divided the country into the northern Kingdom, called Israel, with its capital in Samaria from which came the name "Samaritan"; and the southern kingdom, called Judah, from which came the name "Jew". The capital of Judah was Jerusalem. By the time of Jesus, Jews despised Samaritans and would go out of their way to avoid contact. Incidentally, there is a village of Samaritans yet today in Israel.

What is especially remarkable about this story is that Jesus cast a Samaritan in the role of the "good guy." Jews had their world neatly defined in which Samaritans were "enemies." They had it all neatly figured out that Samaritans were worthless; Samaritans were an inferior race of people. And, Jesus subtly disrupts this tidy worldview and undermines their prejudice, by using a Samaritan to teach a Jew about Life'what's mine is God's, I'll share it. Can you imagine the reaction of the victim to be helped by a Samaritan?

If Jesus were telling the story today using modern victims, can you imagine the consternation of a ten-year old boy whose worldview believes girls to be yucky, and a girl stops to help him? Oh, no, not a girl! Or a Jew today helped by a Palestinian, or vice-versa? Or a Northern Ireland Protestant helped by a Roman Catholic? Or a skinhead helped by a black man? Or, imagine the ambivalence of a homophobic to be helped and taught about Life and sharing by a gay couple. Oh, no, not two of them! Probably feeling both repulsed (don't touch me!) and grateful (thank God, someone will help me)!

What is your prejudice? Who are the Samaritans in your worldview? The commercials we will see on television this fall proclaim that United Methodists have open minds, open hearts, and open doors. Do we? Do you?

How Jesus delighted in upsetting the status quo, challenging prejudice, opening his followers to God's acceptance of all people, and stretching us to discover life with a capital L. Jesus used a Samaritan as an example of how he wants us to live.

God says to you, "I have given you life. What will you do with it?" What's yours is mine, I'll take it? Or, what's mine is mine, I'll keep it? Or, what's mine is God's, I'll share it? God has blessed you with financial resources for you to manage on his behalf so you can return 10% to do God's work. God has given you time, each day the gift of 24 hours, and asks you to use them wisely. God has given you unique talents and abilities, and asks you not to hide or deny them, but to develop and use them. What are you doing with the life God has given you?

John Burton joined our church three weeks ago. He came to be baptized, make public his decision to be a Christian, and to join a church for the first time. He is so excited to be a member of our church. I asked him, "What will be your ministry?" Without hesitation, he replied, "I would like to teach art to the handicapped, the disadvantaged, and Indian children." John is an impressionist oil painter and teacher. The next week he went with our young adult group to prepare and serve dinner at UMOM---United Methodist Outreach Ministries. There he volunteered to teach classes in painting. Since then he has received an offer to teach art classes in October to children, ages 6-12, on the Pima Indian reservation. And he would like to teach art classes here at church. He told me how amazed he is. Once he articulated what he felt the Lord wants him to do, doors opened. John is a church member who takes seriously his call to ministry. What he has is God's and he wants to share.

Every member is a minister. What is your ministry? God says to you, "I have given you life. What will you do with it?" What's yours is mine, I'll take it? Or, what's mine is mine, I'll keep it? Or, what's mine is God's, I'll share it?

© 2001 Douglas I. Norris