The Law Vs. The Samaritan
It has been a difficult week in our country, yet I do not want to imply that it is unique. It seems that we have become a nation of addicts looking for their fix of violence. There are legitimate reasons for anger, rage, resentment, fear and sadness. These have all got to be expressed and worked through in ways that are constructive and not destructive to us as individuals and a community. Easy for me to say, right? We live in a society where the very true feelings of anger, despair or fear legitimize sometimes spiritually disastrous responses to helping brokenness.
There is a certain impatience, weariness and frustration that these latest killings leave. There is also a feeling of helplessness that can give way to a psyche killing nihilism. It is not unique; it is as old as humanity itself. This cycle of violence, and the perception that we are passive participants assigned to our fate.
Jesus knows this to be untrue. Today’s text begins with the unfeeling law and ends with the caring Samaritan. Jesus encounters a Lawyer, literally someone who was an expert on the Jewish law. This person asks a very important question. The lawyer asks: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus knows that this man knows the law. So, he returns the question with a question, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
Of course the lawyer knows the right answer and rattles it off, “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 affirms his answer and gives him assurance that he will have life. Yet, that is not the real question. The real question is about responsibility. So, the lawyer now is able to ask the question that is on everyone’s mind, “who is my neighbor?”
In essence, “So, what is my responsibility when I act?” Ah, here is where everything becomes much more complicated. It is so easy when we have a theory, an agenda, a philosophical study of what is to be done for life. It is when we have to act upon our best laid plans that our true selves are exposed for all to see.
You see there may be a giant spiritual chasm between the law, political ideology or religious creed and the mercy filled requirement of following Jesus Christ. This is the parable of the Good Samaritan. We all know it. The upright, respected political and religious leaders walk on by when there is a person who has been bloodied and left broken on the side of the road. It is for the heretical Samaritan to scoop up the hurting man and bring him healing. That act of mercy is the answer to the question of responsibility.
Who is my neighbor? Well that depends on whether you care enough about mercy? It would be far too easy for Jesus to give us a pass and tell us that our pain and suffering allow us to focus only inwardly, to ignore the wounds of the world around us that need binding. Jesus does not give us easy answers, but questions us. Who is our neighbor?
Far too often we walk with the Levite or Priest, sure our logic is unimpeachable, our political program true, our cause unique, our prayer perfectly written and know that our actions are devoid of mercy. We must be unapologetic, consistent, responsible, disciplined, spiritual, unwavering, and unambiguously against all forms of violence. Peace and justice are not secular tactics, but spiritual imperatives that are not bound by unjust law or ideological purism. But there is something more than that. We must be filled with mercy, mercy for those who might trod the path of violence to their own annihilation. When they return broken by a system that does not care about their rage, anger, despair and fear we can be the grace that they so dearly need.
Our world has been littered with triumphalist political and spiritual agendas from its inception. From Plato to Jefferson to Hilary to Chomsky to Joel Osteen there are many strategies for success politically and spiritually. When they all fall into the dust of time the one true answer will still remain: mercy. When it is lived out in this world we will truly know life.