How we treat people matters

July 14, 2019 (The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Amos 7:7-17

Psalm 82

Luke 10:25-37

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

10:25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He 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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37, NRSV)

Let us pray: Almighty God, you give the holy law to your people so that it will guide us and our children. Through our Lord Jesus who has fulfilled the law in every way, grant that we may love you with heart, soul, strength, and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves. Amen.

The parable of the good Samaritan, is like an old shoe, we know it so well that it has become comfortable, so why am I bothering to preach on it again?  This story is such a familiar tale that non-Christians know it.  On the positive side the repetition and familiarity of the parable lets us know how just how important it is to love our neighbor.  One the negative side the repetition and familiarity of the parable makes it easy to tune out and overlook.  It is a powerful story and that has it all: a lawyer, bandits, violence, conflict, questions, plot twists, unlikely protagonists, and it ends with a call to action. How we treat people matters.

The story begins with a lawyer asking Jesus some questions.  The lawyer cuts to the chase, “what do I have to do to inherit eternal life…be saved?” Jesus responds with the Shema,[1] “love God and love your neighbor.” Then the lawyer asks for clarification, “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus responds to the lawyer’s question with this familiar parable that we know as the good Samaritan.

So often a sermon on this parable focuses on the priest and the Levite, two men who are not only religious leaders in Judaism, but they also held positions of power and privilege in Jewish society.  Remember, it is these two men who pass by on the other side of the road.  Some commentators say that the priest and the Levite were just following the rules. They had to remain ritually pure so they could not stop and help the injured man.  However, Amy-Jill (AJ) Levine, a Jewish New Testament Scholar challenges this information: “Neither [Jesus nor Luke] gives the priest or Levite an excuse.  Nor would any excuse be acceptable.”[2]  Neither the priest nor the Levite are heroes of the story, but they tell a truth that is important to hear: They had the Torah; they knew the calls to care for those in trouble; they had their own “go and do likewise,” but— for whatever reason, they chose to pass by the injured man and be on their way.  So, most sermons on this parable become a moral tale about how to love everyone and not be a hypocrite. “How we treat people matters”

I have also heard sermons on this parable that focus on the victim. The victim deserved what happened to him, because he was stupid for traveling on the dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Everyone knew that bandits and robbers were a constant threat on the Jericho road.  He got what he deserved, he was wearing provocative clothes, he was flashing his bling, he was asking for trouble.  But this parable is so much more that a cautionary tale on how to avoid trouble from bandits and thieves while traveling on the dusty roads of life.  It is also important that we don’t victim shame.  The danger and violence that he met on the way is not his fault and that is an important message for all of us to hear today. “How we treat people matters”

So, today, I would like to offer a different take on this parable, Jesus lifts the actions of the Samaritan more than shaming the choices of the others.  Notice the details of how the Samaritan cares for the victim, binding his wounds with oil and wine, he put him on his own animal, walked with them to an inn and paid the innkeeper to care for the injured man.  Jesus is telling us how to treat people!  The Samaritan is our guide.   It is a twist that those who were present when Jesus told this story would have been shocked to hear.  They would expect bad behavior from a Samari­tan, because they were clear enemies of Jews.  Like today when you hear a moral tale, you insert the worst of human life as the antagonist of the tale. Instead, he turns out to be the hero of the story—the one who provides an example of how we are to live our lives. “How we treat people matters”

So, with this surprise twist, and a shocking hero, Jesus is trying to change the narrative and to surprise them into a new realization.  Jesus could have simply said, “The greatest commandments are these: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Then we can respond, as we so often do; Great. I’m on target. Love God—check.  Love other people—check, most of the time.  Instead, this parable shows how to live out what it means to love God and our neighbor. “How we treat people matters”

The great commandment is so much more than words, it is a call to action! Love is action, not emotion. We show our love by how we treat people. It’s not enough to see our fellow human beings and think about how much we love them. We must show it by living it and doing it. “How we treat people matters”

So, here is where the rubber meets the road.  So, preacher, how do we treat people?  How do we love our neighbor?  Oh, it is really, really, hard to love others.

So, let’s start small.  We might not start out by stopping for every stranger in need that we see or giving away all our money and possessions or moving to the streets in solidarity with the homeless.  However, we ought to treat each other not on the basis of what is worst in each other but on the basis of what is best in ourselves. Kindness, gentleness, respect, and love are hard enough to come by in this tough and unbending world.  So, let’s start where we are.  Start with those close to you.  How you treat your spouse matters.  How you treat your coworkers matters.  How you treat your next-door neighbor matters.  How you treat your brother-in-law who drives you crazy matters.  How you treat the cashier in the checkout line matters.  How you treat the person at the DMV matters.  How you treat illegal immigrants matters.  How you treat LGBTQIA people matters. How we as a church treat visitors matters. “How we treat people matters”

It’s not enough, however, to only treat the people we love well— how we treat each and every person matters.  Priest, prostitute, prince, pauper, sinner or saint, how we treat each other matters.  Again, I am the first to admit that this is really hard!  It’s much harder to love those who are have behaved in horrible ways. But we must love them too.

A lawyer asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” His question is one of moral responsibility.  Regardless of politics or partisanship. What is their worth to us, to God? 

It is in the baptismal covenant of the Episcopal Church, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

I will, with God’s help.

The question is asked; how will we respond?  Our answer is lived out every day.  We show our love for God by loving each other. “How we treat people matters”

Let us pray:

[1] The “Shema,” Jesus answered, “The first of all the commandments is, ‘Listen, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” -Mark 12:29-31

[2]Amanda Brobst-Renaud, Commentary on Luke 10: 25-37, Amy-Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi (New York: Harper One, 2014), 94.