Where Are Our Neighbors?
Did you hear the story about the lawyer who tested Jesus by asking him what is needed to inherit eternal life? The story is found in Luke’s Gospel. A lawyer asks Jesus what is needed to inherit eternal life. Jesus answers the question with a question, “what is written in the law?” The lawyer responds, “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.” Jesus commends the man for his answer and tells him that if he does just that, he will live. The Bible tells us that the man wanted to justify himself. I can imagine that he wanted Jesus to give him a high five. I’m thinking that he wanted to justify himself in front of his friends. Maybe he and his friends had already had a discussion about who’s right and justified in inheriting eternal life. Perhaps he nudged his friends and said, “Watch this” as he pressed Jesus and asked, “Who is my neighbor?” I can hear his friends snicker and say, “There he goes again.” The lawyer wanted a win. He wanted those around to know that he was one of the good guys. He needed validation and the sense that he had been doing the right thing.
He wasn’t expecting what Jesus said next.
Jesus tells the lawyer the story of a man who had fallen into the hands of robbers. A man, who I’m sure, was just minding his own business when robbers came along and decided that they wanted what he had. A man traveling from Jerusalem with what could be imagined as thoughts of what he heard in Jerusalem, on his mind. He may have been thinking about what he would do when he reached Jericho. Maybe he was married and was thinking about the prayers he submitted on behalf of an ailing wife. Maybe he had a sick child or servant he sought the priest’s prayer and guidance for. I don’t know why the man was in Jerusalem and why he was traveling to Jericho but I do know that tragedy befell him. Out of nowhere, a band of robbers stripped and beat him, went their own way and left him half dead. He was stripped of his pride. Stripped of his will. Stripped of his dignity. Stripped of his well-being. Stripped of his clothing. Stripped of his possessions. Stripped…and left for dead. A priest sees the man from afar and passes by on the other side. A Levite, too, sees the man and passes by on the other side. Two individuals that represented all things holy, walked by the man ON THE OTHER SIDE! Two, by calling and vocation, commissioned to serve God and God’s people, passed by the man. The ones that took an oath to serve God and God’s kingdom, passed by the man. Those who should have been first responders for the sake of the kingdom, passed by the man.
But then, there was the Samaritan.
The triumph in the text is found in the grace and compassion of an outsider. This grace comes from the unassuming, under-appreciated, under-valued, Samaritan. The Samaritan, came near. The Samaritan, seeing someone different than him, was moved with pity. The detested and despised of society, came near. The rejected and disliked, came near. Perhaps the Samaritan knew the pain of being violated, overlooked, and treated savagely. Maybe he knew what it was like to be rejected, overlooked, or violated. Whether he knew the feeling all too well, or not, he was moved with pity. But instead of just pitying the beaten man, he did something. The Bible tells us that:
- He went to him,
- Cleaned his wounds with oil and wine,
- Bandaged his wounds,
- Put the abused man on his own animal,
- Brought him to a place of shelter and safety,
- Took care of him until the next day,
- Gave someone else instructions to take care of the man, and
- Made provisions for his care.
Yes he was moved with pity, but he went beyond pitying the abused. It wasn’t just enough for him to see the man, he had to do something. He was not satisfied with being a spectator. It wasn’t enough for him just to be a witness to the injustice. He needed to do something.
The Samaritan was not satisfied with observing the man, he went to him. He wasn’t content with just being there with him seeing him bloody and bruised, he needed to clean his wounds. He wasn’t satisfied with just cleaning his wounds, he needed to bandage them. Bandaging them and leaving him on the side of the road was not enough, he needed to remove the man from that situation. Relocating the man and making provisions for him was not enough, he had to take care of him. Taking care of him was not enough, he needed to make sure he was cared for in his absence. The Samaritan’s concern for his neighbor caused him to go above and beyond the call of duty.
People of God, people of color have fallen into the hands of robbers. Where are their neighbors?
For centuries people of color have been robbed. Robbed of their country. Robbed of their rights. Robbed of their dignity. Robbed of their person-hood. Robbed of their lives. Robbed of their future. Robbed of possibilities. Robbed of adequate healthcare. Robbed of economic opportunity. Robbed of land. Robbed of possessions. Robbed of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
People of color have been robbed.
The Christian community has had too many priests and Levites see beaten and abused people of color and cross the road to the other side. Too many people have walked by and have shaken their heads in judgment. Too many have walked by the other side not to concern themselves with the welfare of their neighbors. With more than 318.9 million people in the United States and with 83% of those individuals identifying themselves as Christians I have to ask the question, where are the neighbors?
Where are those who realize that they too were once aliens and foreigners in God’s kingdom? Where are the ones that realize that the bloodied and beaten people of color on the ground need their neighbor’s assistance?
June 17th’s shooting of innocent God-fearing people in a historically black AME church shows us that people of color have fallen into the hands of robbers. July 17, 2014’s tragedy with Eric Garner shows us that people of color have fallen into the hands of robbers. August 9, 2014’s tragedy with Michael Brown shows us that people of color have fallen into the hands of robbers. Countless other people, events, headlines, legislation and community divestment cry out that people of color have fallen into the hands of robbers.
When will the Christian community respond with going to the victims, cleaning their wounds with understanding, bandaging their wounds with reconciliation, opening doors of opportunities for healing, bringing the battered and bruised into safe community, taking care of them, and seeing to it that others take care of them as well? We have enough gawkers, naysayers, priests and Levites. It’s time to see our neighbor. It’s time to see those who may not look like people of color but who are concerned enough about their welfare. It’s time to see the one who leans in in uncomfortable situations and provide support. People of color are not looking for a superhero. We’re looking for our neighbor. Where are our neighbors?
State Farm has a jingle, like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. I would like to sing in this day and time, like a good neighbor, the church is there. Like a good neighbor, the evangelical community is there. Like a good neighbor, the Christian community is there. Like a good neighbor, non-people of color are there. Like a good neighbor, citizens of God’s kingdom, are there.
The question on the table is this; where are our neighbors? People of color will remain bloodied, bruised, abused and left half dead on the side of the road until members of the Christian community decide to be neighborly. Racism is knocking on your door. Will you be a good neighbor and answer, or will you cross to the other side?
Like a good neighbor, will you be there?
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:1-5 (NIV)
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