Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost - 07/10/2016

So what is it, anyway, about a “Samaritan hero” helping out this beaten and robbed Jewish man that makes it so unusual? … When we think about the parable of the Good Samaritan, we, of course, see it as a moral lesson – that is, we are to do good for our neighbors. But what makes this hero so remarkable? Well … the Jewish people consider Samaritans outsiders, not true descendants of Abraham, but foreigners brought in by Persian conquerors. And, what is the natural reaction to a foreigner, an outsider? Often negative, right? We use negative words to describe our reactions – like prejudiced and even xenophobic (that’s one I’ve heard often these days). Even the word barbarian has roots in the concept of an outsider; it’s from the Latin meaning “outside of the tribe” and has come to represent one who is a dangerous threat to a group of insiders. And a dangerous threat is just the opposite of what we want and need – we’re looking for security, protection, and well-being in our lives, not risks.

The Samaritans are outsiders, even though they believe they are descendants of Abraham and his great-grandson Joseph; they are people who preserve Mosaic Law. Those of you who were in our Minor Prophets Bible study remember the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. In the north, the Samaritans worship on a different mountain than the Jewish people, and their temples are in separate places. The two groups disagree with each other, and it is usually the Samaritans who end up being ridiculed and put down. In the New Testament, the Samaritans aren’t treated with much respect either. Remember the story of the woman Jesus encounters at the well? She is a Samaritan, and we are told simply that “[Jewish people] do not share things in common with Samaritans.” And just two weeks ago, we heard in the Luke reading that the people of Samaria had not welcomed Jesus on his way through, and the disciples are ready to rain down fire on them, destroy them for it! … Relationships between the two ethnic and religious groups aren’t good. Tension exists because the Samaritans are considered ritually unclean, socially outcast, and religious heretics. It is discrimination because of their race.

This morning we’re re-visiting the story that we know so well – I think most of us remember the details and the ending to this parable. The Samaritan, unclean, outcast, heretic, ends up being the good guy, helping the unfortunate Jewish man who’s been robbed, stripped of his clothing, beaten, and left half dead. … For a minute, let’s go back to that scene . . . and try to imagine what it was really like during the encounter on that road.

This image was essentially re-created by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his last speech the night before he was assassinated back in 1968. His words are referred to as the, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, and he actually describes traveling the same treacherous road where all of the characters in today’s parable are walking – it’s a mountainous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. In Jesus’ time, this path is notorious for its danger and difficulty; people call the road the “Way of Blood” because so much blood is shed by the travelers targeted by robbers. The Rev. Dr. King tells us it’s a winding, meandering path, quite steep, with a rugged terrain . . . and really quite conducive for ambushing. It is fifteen dreaded miles.

And in our parable, the priest sees the man lying on the ground. What is going through the priest’s mind? Well, the robbers could be lurking in the bushes nearby, and he’s probably thinking he could suffer a similar fate. He certainly doesn’t want to be “that guy” in the ditch. Plus, when a priest touches a dead body, he’s considered unclean for seven days and has to go through a purification process; in the meantime, he’s disqualified from priestly duties in the temple and has to live outside of the community. So he makes the decision: re-route to the other side of the road. Between the fear of great bodily harm and the potential impact on his ability to live and work, it makes total sense to avoid this man.

Then along comes a Levite, and he, too, passes to the other side. Perhaps he is thinking, “You know, maybe the guy on the ground is faking it, and he and his robber buddies are just waiting for another unfortunate victim to pass by – someone like me – and I don’t want to be that guy in the ditch either.” So he crosses to the other side, too.

The Samaritan, of course, is the one who helps, at great risk to himself. It’s certainly possible the robbers are still around, but he takes the time to dress wounds. He’s carrying money and he has a donkey, making him a target, and now his passage is going to go much more slowly; he’ll even be stopping at an inn where he’ll likely be unwelcome. He’s a foreigner, a long way from home, placing himself in jeopardy.

Yet he’s not afraid. He’s living into God’s command from Leviticus 19: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

So in this encounter, really, who is the outsider? The one who follows God’s will for us or the ones who do not.

In his speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. tells us that the priest and the Levite are both worried – “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” and they come to the conclusion that helping their neighbor is potentially very dangerous. Much easier to ignore the situation than to take a chance and get involved.

Under the same circumstances, I think most of us would have done the same risk analysis and then come to the same conclusion: I need to cross over to the other side. It’s human nature to think of ourselves first. We, too, are quite capable of actions that keep us outside of God’s will for us. Truth be told, we do turn our backs on those in need, don’t we? I’m not even talking about the “big stuff”, like social justice issues – refugees, immigration, racial discrimination, world hunger, and clean water . . . Of course these are all important, but thinking locally, considering our neighbors, we find all kinds of ways to avoid caring for those closer to home. You know, like visiting the homebound or those in assisted living facilities, taking time for family, calling someone who is grieving. We always want to do the right thing, but our days fly by, and we don’t seem to make a dent in our long list of to-do items.

Does this make us bad people? Of course not, but we are busy people focused on what seems urgent to us, and we often fail to see or even acknowledge the hurting persons all around us. Our automated thought process isn’t that different from that of the priest and the Levite: “If I stop to help this person, how will this affect me”?

Yet, we can make the shift to a transformed question by starting very small. If we take a moment and consider those in our midst, our neighbors, and think … “If I stop to help this person, to visit, to call, to listen, what will happen to them”? Not to me, but to them …

The Samaritan takes all kinds of risks in this parable, and we can take risks with our neighbors, too. One visit, one conversation, one attempt to reach out can make a difference. Let me repeat that. One visit, one conversation, one attempt to reach out can make a difference – for others and for us.

While small actions may appear to be the proverbial drop-in-the-bucket in light of the overwhelming tragic news and injustices we have heard about all week, this parable reminds us that being the hands and feet of Christ means something. Living out our volunteer roles in the life of this church does put into practice the meaning of this wonderful parable.

And as a community in Christ, we have the gospel to carry with us – even when we don’t always do as God wills. But thanks be to God who provides the Good News, that there is salvation for you and for me through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the same Christ who today, through this parable, reminds us how we can be a neighbor.


Vicar Terry Frankenstein


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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