Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan shows us that loving our neighbor means showing mercy to others, even people who aren’t like us and people we don’t know. Three ways that we can show mercy in today’s world are 1) random acts of kindness 2) respect for and curiosity towards people of different religious faiths, and 3) showing compassion toward people (like recent immigrants) who have experienced trauma.
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Luke 6:32-6, 10:25-37; Ephesians 2:4-10
Next to Jesus, a case could be made that the most popular person from the New Testament in the world today is what’s known as the “Good Samaritan”.
The Good Samaritan has become a household name; it’s a nickname given to people who perform random acts of kindness to strangers, especially when the person shows extraordinary selflessness, generosity, or courage in a potentially dangerous situation.
I mean we see this in the parable that Jesus told of the Good Samaritan, right? He risked his life to save a dying stranger when he could have been assaulted by those same robbers in the process.
And we see incredible generosity as he gives a lot of his time to stop and take the wounded man to an inn, pay for several nights of lodging, and then even give extra money to help with other needs his new friend might have.
I did a google search of “Good Samaritan” and one of the things that popped up was a news page from a TV station that had a variety of stories of people hailed as “good Samaritans”.
There was the teenager who found a purse in a grocery store who took time to track down the owner and return the purse to her, with all the money and credit cards still in it.
There were the people on a road in Florida who jumped out of their cars at a busy intersection to guide a drifting car at a busy intersection to safety whose driver had passed out at the wheel due to a medical emergency.
There was the woman who saw a man trying to kidnap a child, who scared away the kidnapper and rescued the child.
These are just a few of countless stories of people who have been called Good Samaritans. And there have even been medical facilities and churches named after the Good Samaritan.
The Good Samaritan hospital system grew out of the vision of the Franciscan Sisters of Charity.
There’s also a church in Indiana called “Good Samaritan Church” whose website is loveyourneighbor.in. They describe themselves as “open-minded Christians who seek to do what Jesus taught us: to include, love, and serve all people without exception.” (I like that vision; it sounds a lot like ours!).
There’s one last thing I want to share about my google search for “Good Samaritans”. I found a BBC article called “The Last of the Good Samaritans”, and it talked about the real Samaritans living in the Holy Land today, who are descendants of the Samaritans in Jesus’ day.
There are about 800 Samaritans still living in their original territory of Mount Gerizim. The article interviewed some people in the community who said that their mission is to help bring peace between Palestinians and Jews who are their neighbors all around them. They truly are trying to be Good Samaritans!
And I find this kind of ironic, given that when Jesus told this parable Samaritans were known as anything but “good” by the Jewish people. The term “Good Samaritan” was an oxymoron to them.
Samaritans were despised and were to be avoided at all costs. They were considered half-breeds—half-Jew, half-Gentile—they were unclean and unholy.
The fact that Jesus used a Samaritan as an example of what it means to live out the great commandment to love your neighbor was one of those ways that Jesus turned the world of the religious leaders in his day upside down.
And to add to the surprise, in this story he put those leaders to shame by using two of their own—a Priest and a Levite—as examples of what NOT showing mercy looks like. They avoided the man in need instead of helping him.
Jesus is getting at one of the deepest roots, one of the biggest barriers that the Jewish religious establishment had to living out the commandment to love one’s neighbor, which along with loving God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength was, according to Jesus, the entire sum of the Jewish law.
You see, the religious leaders’ barrier had to do with their understanding of holiness. Now in the Old Testament and the Old Covenant that God made with God’s people, holiness was kept by avoiding things and people who were considered unholy or unclean.
There were hundreds of laws that had to be obeyed in order to stay holy and keep from being contaminated: there were laws having to do with keeping kosher regarding food, laws about making sacrifices to wipe away sin, laws about not having contact with people who didn’t obey these laws and who lived lives that were considered ‘sinful’.
Philip Yancey, in his excellent book, “The Jesus I Never Knew” talks about this “religious caste system” enforced by the religious leaders in Jesus’ time, which was a hierarchy of holiness that was reflected in the very architecture of the Jewish temple.
There were the outer courts, where Gentiles and Samaritans could be. Then inside of those courts there was a section where Jewish women were allowed; then farther inside there was the section for Jewish men; then inside of that was where the priests could go.
And the innermost part of the temple, known as the “Most Holy Place” could only be stepped inside once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and only the High Priest, the top priest could go inside of it.
Yancey says that in the midst of this culture, Jesus came and broke all of the holiness rules of his Jewish people. He included women in his band of followers and allowed prostitutes to anoint him.
Jesus touched and healed people who were sick with diseases like leprosy, who were considered “untouchable”. He ate in the homes of Gentiles who didn’t keep kosher and therefore were unclean.
Yancey sums it up by saying “In short, Jesus moved the emphasis from God’s holiness which is exclusive, to God’s mercy, which is inclusive. Instead of the message “No desirables allowed”, Jesus proclaimed “In God’s Kingdom there are no undesirables.”
Friends, what Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan shows us is that living out the great commandment to love our neighbor means showing mercy to others, even people who aren’t like us and people we don’t know.
We can’t be merciful people if we have a ‘holier than thou’ attitude and keep a distance from other people through our own “holiness hierarchy” that we construct.
Jesus was a model of what mercy looks like, and he calls us as his followers to be merciful with those around us, family, friends, and strangers alike. “Be merciful, as your Father in heaven is merciful”, he says in one of our scriptures today.
Here’s the key: we can be merciful with others because God is merciful with us.
We declared in the call to worship from Psalm 145: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” This same phrase permeates the pages of the Old Testament, from Exodus to Numbers, to Jeremiah and Joel, to name a few.
The Apostle Paul experienced God’s mercy firsthand during his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, and he preached about mercy over and over again. We heard it so beautifully in the letter to the Ephesians when he said:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved through faith… (Eph. 2:4-5)
And a little later he says that because of having received God’s mercy, we are “created to do good works” which includes showing mercy to others.
Paul is calling us to be ministers of mercy, just like the Good Samaritan was to the man left for dead on the side of the road.
And being merciful people can be part of our nature because it’s an essential part of God’s nature, the God who created us in own image and likeness.
So what does being a Good Samaritan mean for you, me, and the Church? What does the ministry of mercy look like in the world today?
First, there are always those random, unplanned times when a stranger needs help, like the examples we heard at the beginning of my message.
Sometimes it involves heroic action that could end up saving someone’s life, and I pray that God will give us the courage to rise to the occasion in those moments.
More commonly, there are all those small opportunities practically every day to respond with mercy and compassion to someone who needs a helping hand.
We call these “random acts of kindness”, those unexpected, unplanned times when love is shown in concrete ways to people whom we don’t know.
In our society where people are more concerned with ‘stranger danger’ than ever before, showing kindness and mercy to strangers is truly a prophetic act.
We also live in a society right now where people outside of the Church don’t see us Christians being very merciful right now.
A big section of the Church today seems more concerned with getting laws passed that favor their own political and cultural agenda, and in the process they become judgmental, holier-than-thou and heartless towards those with other beliefs.
In a pluralistic society such as ours where we value freedom and working for the common good, we can show mercy by respecting people with different religious beliefs than ours, and being curious to learn more about them, instead of just judging them.
For example, President Biden sent a message out to Muslims yesterday wishing them a joyous Eid Al-Adha, which is a day that celebrates the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that is one of the five pillars of Islam.
A third area where the ministry of mercy is desperately needed is by reaching out to people who are experiencing the pain caused by trauma.
There’s an excellent chapter on trauma in Rich Villodas’ new book Good and Beautiful and Kind, which I quoted from a couple of weeks ago when we talked about the principalities and powers.
In the chapter on trauma, Villodas talks about the trauma that immigrants and refugees experience,
from the traumatic experiences with violence and oppression that they had in their own countries, to the trauma in their new country of being separated from loved ones back home,
and also the disorientation they have with trying to adjust to living in a place where everything is foreign and new to them.
Some of us who have helped with welcoming our new Afghan neighbors have caught a glimpse of some of the trauma that they have experienced, and also hear some of their stories of their life in Afghanistan and the chaotic days leading up to their evacuation from the country. I’m sure it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Villodas also talks about things like racial trauma, sexual trauma, trauma that gets passed down from one generation to another, and also trauma that occurs as a result of neglect, of not receiving the care and nurturing needed in childhood.
I also thought of all of the people who experience trauma as a result of gun violence, like the recent mass shooting this past week at the 4th of July parade in Highland Park, Chicago.
There’s so much trauma around us and maybe even inside us, and Villodas says that, “it’s in the compassionate confrontation of our wounds and trauma that we stumble towards wholeness, which in turn, allows us to be agents of healing” (with others). P. 52
He says that God’s love and mercy toward us is the source of the healing that we can find, and it gives us the ability to be wounded healers in the lives of others.
One of the keys to being an agent of healing or minister of mercy to those around us is being willing to listen to their stories, providing them a safe space to share their experiences of trauma.
As we listen, we grow in our empathy and our ability to show them mercy.
Friends, let us open ourselves up to receive God’s gracious mercy in our own lives,
And let us find the courage and compassion and the sensitivity to be merciful with others.
Let us not let fear or indifference paralyze us, rather, let us boldly follow the lead of the Good Samaritan and be ministers of mercy in a world that is desperate for the healing touch of God’s mercy.
I want to close with the words of a song from Rich Mullins, one of my heroes of the faith who was touched deeply by God’s mercy and shared it freely with others.
The song is called “Let Mercy Lead”, and the chorus says:
Let mercy lead Let love be the strength in your legs
And in every footprint that you leave there’ll be a drop of grace, and you’ll find peace, where mercy leads.
Questions for reflection:
When was a time when you were helped by a Good Samaritan?
In what situations in our society and world today are Good Samaritans most needed?
What “hierarchies of holiness” exist in the Church today, and how do they prevent us from being merciful with others?