“Why Go and Do Likewise”
by Chad Gurley
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “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.” And Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” ~Luke 10:25-37
“Go and do likewise.”
When Pastor Clint asked me to preach on July 14th, I practically sprinted from his office to the Book of Worship to read the lectionary for the day. I would love to report that I did so like a child skipping toward his presents on Christmas morning, full of glee and anticipation; however, to be honest, since this is my first sermon, it felt a little more like going to the dentist; you need to and you know you’ll be glad you did but still...
I read the scripture lessons and saw that the gospel reading was the story of the “Good Samaritan.” Well, that’s easy enough, I said to myself smiling. I mean, growing up in church, I must have heard the Good Samaritan parable hundreds of times. And it does seem pretty obvious what Jesus is trying to say to the lawyer who wonders about who his neighbor is, right? Everyone is your neighbor, the entire human family is your neighbor. Sure, it may be a rough pill to swallow sometimes, for we don’t generally like all people all the time, especially those who are not like us and those who don’t live in our neighborhood. But Jesus sternly says to the lawyer and to us, “Go and do likewise.” I’ve always heard that as, “Go and be like the Good Samaritan.” If you see someone hurting or in need, help them, assist them, care for them, love them. Anything less is simply sinful. Be like the Good Samaritan. Be a good Samaritan. Be a “good” Christian. Amen.
Sermon ended. Word has been given. May I sit down now?
But as I thought about this, something troubled me.
You too have probably heard this parable many times. You may have even seen some dramatic interpretations via television or YouTube or in the theatre. As a new teen, I remember one Christian youth drama group coming to our church to perform, and one skit they performed retold the story of the Good Samaritan in modern-day junior high melodrama. Just like a teen movie, up on the stage, a group of bad guys with black t-shirts walked down what was an imagined school hall of lockers and then shoved to the floor the stereotypical smaller, thin boy, wearing glasses, knocking all the books out of his hands and yelling, “You nerd; get out the way you wimp.” Then they walked away laughing. Surrounded by his scattered books, the boy sat on the floor and hung his head frozen in sorrow, humiliation, and shame. Before too long, a group of three “mean” girls in cheerleader uniforms were talking and giggling as they approached the boy. When one of them saw him, she stopped the others and pointed, and they began whispering with one another. Then they walked past him in silence, making a large arch around the boy and his books littered across the floor. As they walked past, one of the girls looked back over her shoulder with disgust and they disappeared off-stage. Just after them, a group of guys walked onto the stage acting “too cool for school” in their sunglasses and popped-collars. When they noticed the boy crumpled there before them, they looked around to see if anyone was watching, then snickered together and bolted past the boy without a second glance. Then a very pretty girl walked onto stage. The cross around her neck indicated her Christian faith, and she immediately noticed the boy on the floor. Touching her cross, she then walked over to the boy and lifted his head. She looked into his eyes, and pulled him to his feet. Then she gathered his books and gave them to him, patted him on the back and put her arm around his shoulder. The boy smiled widely. This girl was beautiful inside and out. The Good Samaritan of Hard-Knocks Junior High. A lesson had dramatically been given: When you are a Christian, you help people who are down and out, even while the rest of the world thinks they are above such kindness.
As an impressionable young Christian, I remember watching the skit and thinking, I want to be just like her – like the Good Samaritan – the attractive one with the really good skin and the good, shiny hair who helped that poor little boy with glasses bullied by those mean guys. My own personal movie came into my mind: “The Good Samaritan of Blytheville Junior High” starring Chad Gurley. Like the Man of Steel, I would help the helpless, aid the distressed. I would be a SUPER Christian.
But as I thought about this, something troubled me.
My sister, Dad, and I were at a gas-station getting gas not too long ago when a man walked up and knocked on my sister’s window saying, “My wife and child and me are on our way to my mother’s and are out of gas.” He pointed towards his car and passengers and asked, “Could you happen to spare some extra cash?” My dutiful sister reached down into her purse to discover that she actually had no cash, only her debit card, and told the man that she was really sorry that she couldn’t help. After he walked away, she looked back at me and said, “Gosh, I feel like such a bad Christian. Should I go to the ATM and get some money for him?” I said no, no. A voice that sounded like my mother’s came into my mind adding, “You don’t know what that money is really going to go for. He could be buying alcohol or drugs. By not giving him money, you might really be helping him.” Then I told my sister that someone else would likely help him and that she shouldn’t worry about it. Well, later, overthinking the way I often do, I started worrying about that moment with my sister and my flippant response to her. Did we miss an opportunity to be a Good Samaritan and help those people? Were they angels in disguise, as we have sometimes heard people claim, testing us to see if we were good Christians? Then, two weeks ago, at a gas station near where I am living this summer, the same situation happened again. A man walked up and knocked on my window and asked for money for gas while pointing to his car where there was a child sitting in a car seat and a woman in the front. I felt so guilty about the situation with my sister that I pulled out a 5-dollar bill and handed it to him. “God bless you,” he said as he walked away towards another person pumping gas to ask for money again. Self-satisfied, I drove away patting myself on my back and thinking what a Good Samaritan I had been. I believed I “went and did likewise.” Wasn’t that so Christ-like of me?
Ahhh, but guess what? As I thought about it, something troubled me.
So what was it about Jesus Christ’s Good Samaritan story that troubled me? - a parable we’ve all heard countless times, watched demonstrated in plays and movies, and have even attempted to emulate ourselves. Why, when the parable’s meaning seems so cut and dry, so matter of fact, was God troubling me about it? What was I missing? Is it perhaps that I am, perhaps WE are, in need of some “spiritual wisdom and understanding?”
Because you are here attending worship today, because you have come to church without being made to come here, well, most of you anyway, I’m willing to bet that many of you really do try to be a Good Samaritan. I’ll bet that some of you even stress your comfort zone by helping those less fortunate than you, by aiding those who are extremely different from you, and by assisting those who live outside your own neighborhoods. Some of you try really hard to be a Good Samaritan, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But I think the question with which God keeps troubling me is WHY? WHY? WHY are you, why am I, trying to be that Good Samaritan?
Is it because Jesus commanded us? Is it because we believe God will prosper us if only we follow God’s commandments? Is it because we desire to be “good?” Is it because our culture teaches us that the star is the selfless hero of the movie, and we long to be stars? Is it because we think that if others see how kind we are they will want to be kind too, that we’ll be a witness for Christ? Is it because deep down we want to affirm ourselves, give ourselves a pat on the back? Or is it because we believe we are better than others, better off than others, and so we are able, perhaps entitled, to give? If I’m to have integrity, I have to ask myself these hard questions. We have to ask ourselves these uncomfortable questions, troubling questions.
So you’re a Good Samaritan; that’s great, but why? Why do you do what you do?
Although sometimes unsettling, I’ve learned that it’s actually productive to have these questions, to “live the questions” as the poet Rilke wrote to a young aspiring poet. The questions scratch at the surface of our lives and grow meaning. The questions sheer away superficiality and create depth and intensity. Struggling with the questions strengthens our faith, and can even grow our relationship with God, when we ponder the answers in conversation with God prayerfully. They demand us to live fully, ironically by never outgrowing the question so often uttered from mouths of children, “Why?”
Well, in this instance, an answer begins to be found in the Samaritan, a much more complex character than our title of “Good Samaritan” allows.
To illustrate, let’s briefly look back at the play I saw as a teenager. Now, if the youth drama group had really wanted to portray the Good Samaritan parable authentically as Jesus told it to His listeners, especially the lawyer, yet still via a teen film genre, then the stereotypes would be quite changed. Instead of cheerleaders, it should have been the Bible Club teens donning crosses that would have passed by the boy on the floor. Instead of the cool dudes, it should have been the boy’s own friends out fear of association that would have left him crumpled there –the one’s you do not expect to leave the boy languishing. And the Good Samaritan, well, if they really wanted to startle us like Jesus had shocked and appalled his audience by using a Samaritan as the hero, a Samaritan who was “outside the pale of orthodox Judaism,” they should have made the Good Samaritan the token African-American character who was the brunt of jokes yet watched with suspicion and apprehension; or perhaps the Good Samaritan should have been an effeminate, skinny boy with highlighted hair and a limp wrist who schoolmates attacked with homophobic slurs. If truly echoing Christ’s drama, the Good Samaritan would have been the one already on the margins of junior high society according to teen films, who helped the little boy because of seeing himself in the boy, and so he joins him on the ground, rescues him from his shame, and helps him to his feet, all the while doing so with sincerity and without a single thought, with absolutely nothing to gain, without a fantasy of an expectation of approval or reward, without ever being told to “go and do likewise.”
So then why does this parable have any relevance for our lives as Christians if a teen movie can make the point? I believe it is because it profoundly demonstrates our faith in Jesus Christ. Further, our faith matures in Christ when He is the focus. Because for us, Christ is the true Good Samaritan, our Good Samaritan. Our ostracized, marginalized, crucified Savior daily, hourly, finds us upon this road of life stripped of our dignity, beaten by the world’s circumstances, situations, and injustices, robbed of our joys, our passions, our hopes, and left for half-dead, soulless beings. And every moment of our lives, Christ finds us and embraces us, passionately loves us, and shows us immeasurable kindness. Mercifully, he bandages our hurts, our wounds both self-inflicted and otherwise, and anoints our imperfect loving with unwarranted forgiveness. Then upon the wings of His Grace, he carries us to God’s Heavenly Banquet. Christ had everything to lose and nothing to gain, but He loves us anyway.
Thus what I’m saying here today, what I believe Christ really asks of us, is to truly engage our human family as we engage Him, deeply, authentically, to be in real relationship with others genuinely, and not out of a sense of duty, not superficially, not because Jesus happened to say, “Go and do likewise.” In echoing Luther, understand that we not do good works to establish our own righteousness, to prove to others or ourselves our own good Christianship, but instead because we live our faith in God’s love and mercy for us out-loud. Thus the transformative message of Christ, the Love He offers us, the Grace He freely gives us, ignites love in our hearts for others so that - we do - simply because we do – not because we’re told to. To truly love your neighbor as yourself, to truly love your enemies, a love Jesus Christ perfectly embodied unto his crucifixion and beyond, is a way of being, a way of living your faith. Faith.
So yes, even after all the questioning, I still invite you as Christ invites you, do go and do likewise.
Go and show unfathomable mercy to your human family.
Go and love each and every person you meet unconditionally.
Go and be Christ’s physical embrace of a broken and wounded world.
But don’t do it to be good.
Don’t do it to be a hero.
And don’t do it because you were told to.
Go and do it because you live your faith,
the faith that Christ loves you so very much that He does it for you!
© 2014 Chad Gurley
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