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Sermon based on Luke 10:25-37
David Lee Witherspoon Jr. was leaving his job at a food pantry in Phoenix, Arizona when he suddenly saw a man crawling on all fours on the blazing hot pavement. He immediately ran to the man and asked him what was wrong. The man explained that he was homeless and didn’t have any shoes to protect his feet from the scorching pavement. If we think temperatures get hot here in the Triad in the summer, temperatures climb well over one hundred degrees during summertime in Arizona and can easily burn one’s feet. Witherspoon quickly grabbed a spare pair of shoes and a water bottle from his car and then bent down to carefully wash the homeless person’s feet. Fortunately his spare shoes would fit this homeless person. Witherspoon often keeps an extra pair of shoes in his car so he can switch them out between his job in the office of Phoenix Veteran Affairs and the food pantry. While many were quick to call Witherspoon a hero, he says what he did was simple. “A lot of people give up on people now and that’s the biggest problem,” Witherspoon explained.
Certainly Witherspoon’s actions are a modern day Good Samaritan story. It’s interesting to note that in all 50 states there are forms of a Good Samaritan Law. These laws were created to protect from blame those who choose to aid others who are injured or ill. They are intended to reduce bystanders’ hesitation to assist, for fear of being prosecuted for unintentional injury or wrongful death. Sadly many people ignore this law. For whatever reasons people choose to ignore helping others. Many people believe our country is in a downward spiral perhaps more influenced by our selfishness, materialism and lack of tolerance than compassion for one another.
Our gospel lesson is a wake up call for those who might feel that way. Jesus reminds us through this parable that Christ centered compassion extends beyond our comfort zone and requires a degree of risk. Jesus recognized the risk in telling this parable. Since there was a deep and longstanding hostility between Jews and Samaritans rooted in political and religious rivalry, a story with a Samaritan hero shocked his Jewish audience. The Samaritan broke down social and ethnic barriers by serving as a friend and rescuer of the anonymous Jew who was left for dead. on This parable was difficult for many to hear in Jesus’ day. Yet for Christians our circle of concern as demonstrated in this parable should include all people. To help us broaden our circle of concern there are some steps for us to follow in our hopes of becoming more faithful and compassionate followers of Christ.
One step is to overcome restricted love. We see in our parable that the lawyer asked Jesus a very important question. This question was, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He however already knew what needed to be done as 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.”
Similar to someone who wants to receive maximum reward while exerting minimal effort, this lawyer wanted to validate his intrepretation. He wanted to justify the number of people he comfortably placed within his circle of concern. How often do we do this ourselves? Sometimes we are so inolved in the lives of our family and close friends that we forget those in our community who are hurting and suffer. Statistics from a few years ago reveals the following in our city:
- 25% of women in Winston-Salem live in poverty,
- 20% of men in Winston-Salem live in poverty
- One in every three children is living in poverty,
- 17% of Forsyth County residents were experiencing food insecurity in 2014.
- Of our 238,474 residents, 24.3% live in poverty.
On any given day in Forsyth County there are hundreds of people who are homeless. Like Jesus demonstrated throughout his ministry we must begin to practice inclusive compassion. Christ shattered restricted love through this parable by showing us how the good Samaritan practiced inclusive compassion. The Samaritan did not know this victim, his nationality, his occupation, his income, religion, education or diseases he may have had. He merely saw someone in need, took pity upon him and provided for his immediate needs. In broadening our circle of concern we must view people with the eyes of Christ; to see them as humans in need. We should do this not only when someone is being attacked, but also when people are lonely, alienated or grieving.
Another step in broadening our circle of concern is perhaps the toughest of all to follow. This step requires us to use our personal resources of time, talent and even our treasure to provide for others.Merely recognizing a person in need is not always enough. We must also think about doing something about assisting. We all want to believe that we are mature and responsible enough to do the right thing, to be Good Samaritans. But we also know that we can spend too much time calculating costs and benefits and in doing this we become too concerned with the fears or risks involved. The Good Samaritan parable illustrates that there are risks involved in trying to help other people. Jesus noted this cost of compassion. The Samaritan relinquished his time; provided medicine, transportation and money, as well as a promise to follow up with a visit to reimburse the innkeeper. When there are risks, it is often easy for the Church to become complacent or indifferent. The Church can reflect the behavior and actions after the priest and the Levite. We practice religion when it is convenient and often neglect the needs of strangers and pass by on the other side. The Samaritan recognized the need of assistance for another person. He risked his safety because it could have been a trap. Those robbers might still have been in the area. Yet he chose to risk his health, because he touched this man’s bloody body unaware whether the man might have had a contagious disease. Despite the price, the Samaritan used his personal resources without expecting anything in return. We should also be willing to do the same thing, recognizing that at the heart of our stewardship is discipleship. We must be willing to listen for and respond to God’s call that asks us to give of ourselves in greater ways. There are projects to begin, communities to build, individuals to support through our time, talent and treasure all around us.
A final step in helping us to broaden our circles of concern is to start asking the right question. At the conclusion of the story, Jesus asked the lawyer which man acted like a neighbor to the victim. In other words, he was trying show the lawyer that his focus should not be on who qualifies for love. Instead we must analyze our lives to see ways that we measure up to the example of Christ.
As we think of measuring up to Christ’s example, I recall reading the story of a person who was building a home in the mountains in a place where it was very difficult to get water. He asked an elderly man who had been a resident of these mountains his whole life to help him discover the source of water on his property. This person was able to find the source of water and told him to dig about 12 feet straight down and that he should be able to find an underground river. He also told the person that he needed to pump the water out every day. This person followed these instructions and he indeed discovered this river. He pumped it out the first day and more water came in. In the next few days the water rose to four feet, then six feet. When the water reached eight feet he left it unattended and left until his house was finished, ignoring the instructions from the elderly man. He returned a few weeks later when his house was finished and he immediately turned on the water. The first day there seemed to be plenty but by the next day there was no water at all. The well was empty. Despite all his previous work, he ended up spending several thousand dollars to dig another well. He ran into the elderly man who had initially helped him in town one day and told him his disappointing story. He asked him, “Did you pump out the water every day?” He answered that he did not and the elderly man just shook his head in disbelief and said that was his problem. He explained to him that an underground river is made up of thousands of little capillaries running underground. As you pump the water you enlarge those capillaries so that more water comes. Once you stop, the water backs up, the capillaries close and the river is formed somewhere else.
Our lives of Christian service are very similar to that underground river. As we give of our time, talent and treasure, the well will always be filled. In the midst of our busy lives we must recognize those wells of despair around us. We must try to fill them with God’s love and with God’s grace. Together let us widen our circle of concern by following the instruction of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who says, “Go and do likewise.”
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
July 22, 2018