I wonder what Jesus’ first audience thought about his parable of the Good Samaritan. Samaritans were, after all, the original whipping boys of any Orthodox Jew. A good Jew would do everything she could to travel outside Samaria when moving from Galilee down to Jerusalem and visa versa. Samaritans were the half-breeds of Judaism, compromising their faith by settling for a worship site on Mount Gerizim rather than making the pilgrimage to the Temple to the south. So just hearing Jesus lift up a Samaritan as the hero of this story probably raised the hair on the back of his listeners’ necks.
But notice who the Samaritan helps, because I think that is the more challenging part of the parable for us in 2016. The man who the Priest and Levite avoid but the Samaritan stops for is a man who has been beaten and robbed. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time—after all, any sane person would know that you never travel the road from Jerusalem to Jericho alone. The Priest and Levite could easily have justified their behavior by saying that stopping to help him could have made them victims of robbers as well. No doubt they asked themselves the same questions about safety that we do when we consider picking up a hitchhiker or stopping on the side of the freeway for someone in a disabled vehicle: “Am I making myself unnecessarily vulnerable?” “Will I just become another victim?” “Was this person careless about his own safety, and now he’s risking mine?”
Our world is rife with trouble, and each of us wants to avoid being its next casualty. So we ascribe to the Christian values of love and mercy, but become increasingly cautious, then question our own motives, and feel guilty for not acting out of our beliefs. We are afraid.
And there’s reason for our fear: We leave behind the Year 2015 with an ever-growing awareness of the possibility of domestic terrorism, racial tension, hate crimes, police brutality and police officers who are afraid for their own survival, ethnic and religious conflict and misunderstanding, the unfathomable plight of refugees on the other side of the world, and fear-mongering politics. The brutalities of life that we first-world American citizens have so blithely avoided or ignored are staring us in the face. They are our problems.
Which could explain why many of us are inclined to curl up in the fetal position and wish all this bad news would go away.
But Christ’s light lifts our heads, and draws us out of our fear, to respond to the world he loves. He calls us to be “the ones who show mercy.”
This New Year offers us the opportunity to be Christ’s people who walk in the Light that the darkness cannot overcome. And to do that we have to face our fear. What or who are we afraid of? What stories do we tell ourselves and others about what will happen if we risk approaching the beaten and robbed of our society? What stories do we tell ourselves and others about how “those people” got into the bad situation that they are in? And how can we bridge this impasse of being called but afraid to show love and mercy.
I would like to invite our whole congregation to enter 2016 with a New Year’s resolution to practice what we believe—to be the ones who show mercy. I suggest we do this (beyond the many hands-on ways we currently serve people) by examining exactly the stuff that makes us afraid—racial tension, poverty, violence—and discovering how to practice an empathy that allows us to be the neighbor Christ wants us to be.
On January 10, 17, and 24 at Forum we will be talking about “Race and Faith.” We will examine what the Bible and Jesus have to say about race. We’ll listen to our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton in dialogue with others about the topic. We’ll hear people’s personal narratives. And one of our own members will share her perspective on what it means to follow Christ and work to mend racial divides.
These Forums are the beginning of the Council’s initiative to have “Courageous Conversations” about the controversial issues we find ourselves confronting when we hear the call to “the one who shows mercy.” Please join this conversation, and do it with your heart set on contributing to (as one of our offering prayers says) to the “care and redemption of all that God has made.”
Perhaps this resolution will allow us to greet 2016 with a sincere “Happy New Year.”
Your Sister in Christ,