Interventions: The Real Distance of Our Neighbors (Luke 10:25-37)


For Sunday morning September 6 we covered the parable of the Good Samaritan. We did things a little differently this morning. At the beginning of the service we watched the short film from Deidox called Robert (See my review here). Then after singing and prayers, I read the queries for the morning, then the host and I both read the parable in different translations (NRSV and the Message). Then I showed four images I found on the web that represent this parable and then we went into a time of open worship. Afterwards I decided to scrape what I’d prepared to preach and reflected briefly on a few points I was drawn to during open worship. Finally, after all this, we did a “body prayer,” where we laid hands on each other to represent reaching out and drawing near to our neighbor.

Given this flow for the service, the rest of this post reflects how we did it on Sunday morning.

The Queries:
Which of these characters stands out to you? Why?
When was a moment when you were like one of these characters?
Have you ever been in a situation when you needed someone to show mercy to you?

The reading of the parable: Luke 10:25-37
The Message


Open Worship:

Here is the sermon as I prepared to deliver it, though I decided to not use this.

This morning we are reflecting on one of the most powerful interventions within the Gospel of Luke. The parable of the good Samaritan, or more accurately “the compassionate Samaritan” is deeply profound and moving story that is one of Christ’s most well known tales.

It is about one man intervening in the life of an unexpected other.

As a way of closing I would like to briefly reflect on what this passage says about the real distance between us and those who we might call neighbors.

Neighbor literally means the one who is near or close by, and so it may seem odd to reflect on those nearby by suggesting there is a true distance between us and our neighbors. It makes more sense however when we realize that Jesus changes the focal point of the lawyers question: who is my neighbor.

The shift happens subtly. It can be easily missed. But as you’ve noticed Jesus never actually answers the question the Lawyer gives. He shifts the focus of the question: who treated this man as a neighbor? He turns the perspective ever so slightly, so that the lawyer is faced with a far deeper question than the one he gave. Jesus version of this question goes like this:

Rather than asking the question, “well then, who am I ultimately responsible for?” You should ask the more serious question, “in the time of need, when you yourself are in need of watch-care as was this man lying naked and virtually dead, who will be your neighbor?”

When everything arrives at your doorstep, calamity of every kind, do you have anyone who will be kind enough to stretch out his or her hand to you? Will there be at least one person willing to cross whatever distance lies between you and them, to put their hand on your shoulder and carry your burden for you?

Or will they, like you ask, who is that I am really responsible for?

The lawyers question was based in his religion. As a law abiding Jew who knows the correct answers about what it means to love God and Others, is it true that I am only responsible for those like me, for those who are also Jews?

This is a question about who is the real Israel, and whether Jesus will follow the laws put in place, or transgress them.

So the two have a discussion around law versus mercy. And Jesus shows that the law introduces what I’m calling here a distance, or a gap.

I think there is a distance within ourselves. The lawyer approached this questions about what it means for us to be faithful to his religion with an interest for a sense of self-protection and self-preservation and Jesus retooled the question in a way that reminds him of our his vulnerability.

The lawyer is trying to keep people at arm’s length and protect himself through his religion.

The distance is something we put into our own practice of spirituality. Rather than continually asking how we determine the proper lines, the correct boundaries, the laws that determine and answer the question “who is my neighbor,” we as Jesus’ people recognize that behavioral codes, like the law, are not meant to apply in every situation, and often times, like in this story, the become an obstacle for those who actually need help.

Instead, Jesus wanted to free this man to live within the complexity of God’s kingdom, a complexity that begins and ends with mercy, not law. Whereas the lawyer used the law, these behavioral codes, to keep people at a distance, or those who weren’t his neighbor, Jesus invites a practice based in relationship and encounter. It is a faith layered in the ambiguity and complexity of life, rather than guarded by the legalism of the law.

It’s similar to what Bob Dylan sang, “So when you see your neighbor carryin’ somethin’, Help him with his load, And don’t go mistaking Paradise For that home across the road.” (it’s right here, right now).

I think Jesus shows that the real distance is within ourselves. It is fear of an encounter with the other, people who are unlike us. The “distance” are those moments when we try to figure out reasons why we are not responsible, why we should not help, why we are off the hook. In order to cross that distance, we have to begin by crossing the gap between law to mercy.

This is the call of the sermon on the plain.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

This is the call of Jesus’ inaugural address.

“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind
to set the oppressed free…”

It is the call for us as the people of God, to live within the space that seeks to restore and heal, rather than turn and walk away. We are called to be like the Samaritan who offers the outstretched hand, rather than the lawyer who wants to, like the priest and the Levite, pull it back.

Final Prayer (From Pagitt’s book “Body Prayers”):

Stand and gently place a hand on the shoulder of a nearby person, or let them place their hand on your shoulder. Let them represent God’s hands resting on us and providing the watch-care we need and heard about in the parable this morning.

May the road God has laid
Rise up to meet you.
May God keep you and bless you,
Shine his light upon you,
And give you peace.

Here are all the slides used from this Sunday mornings meeting for worship: