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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost - 7/15/07

I’ll bet that the lawyer wished he hadn’t asked his follow up question.  But…to be fair he had successfully anticipated Jesus’ answer to his first question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He did turn it around and have the lawyer answer his own question, but Jesus accepted the answer of “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Then again, how could he not accept that answer?  It was straight out of the catechism as it were, part one a quote from Deuteronomy, part two a quote from Leviticus.  This lawyer had been through confirmation.  He knew the right answers.

Or so he thought.  His follow up was, “And who is my neighbor?” but he guessed wrong on Jesus’ response to that one.  Most likely he was looking for another catechism answer, something from the holiness and purity codes of Leviticus perhaps, something that defined who was clean and unclean, something about who were insiders and who were outsiders.  Instead though, Jesus gave him the story of the Good Samaritan, a story that upsets all that clean and unclean stuff, a story where those who are expected to be the good guys aren’t so good, the one who is supposed to be the bad guy is the hero of Jesus’ story.

All of which apparently left the lawyer speechless by the time Jesus was done with him.  You might have thought that he’d want another follow up question to get further clarification, but on the other hand maybe hearing Jesus say, “Go and do likewise,” the lawyer realized he was already in deeper than he wanted to be so maybe he’d better be quiet.  Actually though, I don’t think Jesus would have had any more to say anyway, even if the lawyer had asked another question.  With parables the idea isn’t to leave you with a simple “moral of the story” or a detailed explanation for that matter.  The idea is to leave you with questions to wrestle with, challenges to your stock answers.   I think Jesus had already said all he wanted to say to the lawyer on this occasion.

In the past I’ve preached the Good Samaritan as a “What would Jesus see?” story.  A few years ago WWJD bracelets were quite popular, what would Jesus do (maybe they’re still out there along with lots of similar bracelets) but in order to do what Jesus would do you first have to see what Jesus would see; WWJS.  In this story what Jesus sees is a different kind of neighborhood.  The usual boundaries and distinctions and categories don’t apply, so in essence, everybody is part of the neighborhood.  That’s a different kind of vision.  Until we see what Jesus sees, we’re never going to do what Jesus would do.

That is a valid approach to this parable, something useful for any of us to think about.  But there is another problem that concerns me here; that is the problem of numbness.  I think it is one of the prevailing problems of our society, one which I think works against the teachings of the Bible, especially against the teachings of Jesus.  By numbness I mean an attitude of resignation where we look at what’s going on in the world and figure that’s just the way it is and we can’t do anything about it so we might as well just go along and make the best of it. 

It’s an attitude that becomes unable to imagine the possibility of anything else which leads to an attitude that can’t imagine God as a living, active player and can’t imagine the teachings of Jesus as anything but Sunday morning feel good stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with real life.  It’s an attitude that certainly can’t imagine the possibility of anything as radical as resurrection and the hope that goes along with it.  In a condition of numbness, imagination may be the first thing to go.

Numbness also shrinks the neighborhood.   Perhaps some of you saw the movie Hotel Rwanda that was out a couple of years ago.  It’s about the civil war in Rwanda during the 1980’s and 90’s that resulted in a genocide in which close to a million people were killed.  At one point in the movie though, someone was talking to a UN representative and says, “Certainly when the American people find out what’s going on, they’ll come; they’ll help us.”  The UN representative kind of sadly shook his head and said, “When the American people see this on the evening news they’ll say, ‘Oh isn’t that awful,’ and then they’ll go back to eating dinner.” 

We become numb.  We retreat into our own little world of family and close friends, numb to the neighborhood.  Even the death of a million people doesn’t shock us because they’re far away and don’t look like us and what can we do about it anyway.   

So we just go along, we eat dinner and go shopping, resigned to the world as it is, not necessarily meaning to support it all, but in our resignation and acceptance that’s what we do.  We’re enablers; we enable those who practice injustice and oppression and immorality to keep doing it.  Some of us still go to church because something tells us that’s important, but in our numbness do we still hear the hope and promise of the Bible, the alternative for life offered by Jesus, or are we here just because we’re hedging our bets on the hereafter?

In the story of the Good Samaritan it may be that the priest and the Levite, the people who are supposed to be the good guys here, were just numb to the reality of their world; they’d seen it all before.  With the Samaritan, the difference was that he had compassion, in our translation he was moved with pity.  In Jesus view of the world, seeing as Jesus would see, compassion is the key to breaking the numbness.  Compassion is central to Jesus’ own ministry.  The same word used here in reference to the Samaritan is used in reference to Jesus when he has compassion on the crowds because they were like sheep without a shepherd, when he saw a widow mourning the loss of her only son, he had compassion on her, when he saw the crowds he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless. 

This compassion though is more than an emotional reaction and response.  That is certainly part of it and if one preached the Good Samaritan story as a call to exercise such compassion that’s good; we all need to hear that.  But for Jesus compassion represents even more than that.  It’s a form of criticism that counters numbness because it won’t accept the way things are as the way things have to be.  It announces that hurt and injustice are not to be accepted as normal and natural, but as abnormal and unacceptable  conditions for humanness, abnormal and unacceptable conditions for life in the neighborhood.

The danger though of preaching this as a what would Jesus see story, especially for people like you who do want to take Jesus seriously, the danger of seeing what Jesus would see is that it can also lead to numbness.  This story can open the floodgates and drown you beneath all the troubles of the world because in every direction you look there is need and hunger, injustice and oppression, a multitude of causes until in numb frustration you throw up your hands thinking, “What difference can I make?”

That’s when we need to hear Jesus say, “Go and do likewise.”  It’s a message of compassion to be sure, telling us not to do everything, but in compassion to do something, to do what we can.  There definitely is an ethical component here.  Even more though, I think Jesus’ “Go and do likewise,” is telling us not to become numb.  When Christian faith becomes numb to the way things are or becomes a rubber stamp of the world because what the heck, we can’t change all this anyway…when that happens, faith is dead. 

Christian faith, the faith of the Bible has always been about hope and possibility, about God’s ability to transform scenes of hopelessness into occasions of life, possibility and joy.  Faith refuses to accept as a given any situation of death, evil and disorder, always hanging on to the promise of new life not because we can make it happen but because God can make it happen by making the little we can do make a difference.  Numbness works against that faith; compassion breaks through the numbness. 

You can drive yourself crazy trying to be the Good Samaritan; you can also become cynical and numb.  That’s all true.  But still, the words of Jesus echo, telling us as he told the lawyer, to go and do likewise.       


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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