Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"Who is My Neighbor?"

"The Good Samaritan" by He Qi.  (Posted by Patheos 7/2/13)
This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach extemporaneously at my congregation here in St. Paul, Humble Walk Lutheran Church.  In the month of July we are gathering in the park and our liturgy is more informal and  we join in a potluck together.

The lectionary text (for more about what a lectionary is click here) for this past Sunday was the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Luke 10:25-37

This is the most frequently retold parable and is deeply culturally ingrained.  We talk about being a "good samaritan" and we have "Good Samaritan Laws."

We usually hear it preached or re-told in a certain way.  Usually it is something along the lines of, "When you see someone hurt by the side of the road, you should find it in your heart to help them.  Be like the Good Samaritan, do not be like the Priest or the Levite."  And we like to imagine ourselves right into this specific parable as the Good Samaritan.

But the fact of the matter is that we are not the Good Samaritan.  A Samaritan at the time was part of a very reviled and marginalized group.  They would have been instantly recognizable for their style of dress.  Any self-respecting person would not have accepted help from them. But we have essentially mythologized this character of the "good samaritan" and seem to have forgotten that this was a very real person from a very real social class.  At my text study last Wednesday we tried to come up with modern day comparisons for the Good Samaritan.  We talked about witnessed someone in Islamic dress or the Hijab.  We talked about encountering someone on the street who appeared to be homeless and mentally ill.  We talked about encountering someone who is of a different race.

Then the George Zimmerman verdict happened on Saturday night.  For those of you who do not know, George Zimmerman  is a man who was recently put to trial for shooting and killing an unarmed African American teenager, Trayvon Martin, in Florida in February 2012.  George Zimmerman was acquitted by a jury on Saturday amid much public outcry.  Some people are proclaiming triumphantly that justice was done because George Zimmerman used his own gun to shoot someone he found threatening.  More people are crying out in lament that this misguided neighborhood volunteer shot and killed a teenager who was walking home from the convenience store carrying only Skittles.  No gun.  We will never really know what happened because George Zimmerman did not testify and Trayvon Martin is dead.

In liturgy on Sunday night, one of the questions that I asked small groups to reflect on was "Who would you cross the street to avoid?"

Some of the answers I received (these are multi-generational small groups): 

a bully, someone who looks different from me, someone who is asking me for money, someone who smells bad, someone with a weapon, etc.  

All this felt terribly poignant in the face of this latest news on race relations in the United States.  I am part of a privileged group.  I will never understand what it is like to be a racial minority.  And as I read the Gospel, as it talked about the priest and levite passing by the wounded and beaten man on the side of the road, I wondered how often we are actually those people, passing by our neighbors in need.  And all I could think about was a mortally wounded black teenager in Florida.

Who is my neighbor?  Why?  Is it only someone who looks like me?

And how are we the wounded man and in need of help?  Would we be willing to accept help from someone who is so different from us?  We generally only break down our strict cultural delineations when it's life or death.  Natural disasters, communal grieving, etc.  I am not an expert on racial matters.  But all I know is that George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin are both my neighbors.  It's easy to want to care for the wounded.  I find it a little more difficult to want to care about George Zimmerman.  But no one won with this verdict.  We all lost.  My pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, laments the place where we find ourselves with violence and guns in A Lamentation of Sorts for Sunday July 14 (A Day after the George Zimmerman verdict).

Who is my neighbor?  I have no clue.

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