The Separation of Church and Hate | Neighborly Engagement

We all know the type. The know-it-all, the “I know-more-than-you-do,” the “I Stayed-at-a-Holiday-Inn-Express Last night” Expert. Whether the topic is politics, COVID, or even theology, they think they know more than anyone else. They may have some knowledge but they are always pushing things to make a point. In my experience, these “experts” never know when to stop, always trying to show they have the upper hand.

We meet an “expert of the law” in Luke 10 who asks Jesus about the key to eternal life. Jesus, in turn, asks the expert what he thinks. The expert, more than happy to oblige, says,

“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 love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus gives the expert credit, saying that he has answered correctly. At that point, the conversation should have been over. The expert was trying to test Jesus so he said, “Who is my neighbor?”

In response to the expert, Jesus tells a parable. A parable is a story that is told to teach a point. This is sort of like an object lesson. The trouble with this particular parable is that it is one that we are very familiar with and that can cause it to lose power when we read it because it is so familiar. Try to think about this parable as if you were hearing it for the first time.

There as a man walking from Jerusalem to Jericho. It was a treacherous journey on the road between the two cities. There is a 4,000 ft. elevation change in just over 15 miles and there are plenty of hiding places for robbers and bandits in the nooks and crannies of the terrain. Unsurprisingly, the man is attacked, beaten, robbed, stripped, and left for dead. One can imagine this man in excrutiating pain, crying out to God, eyes filled with tears, gasping for air saying, “I can’t breathe.”

As if an answer to prayer, a priest comes by and surveying the man in the ditch passes to the other side. Another religious leader happens by, a Levite, sees the man in the ditch and maybe even hears him say, “I can’t breathe.” He passes on the other side of the road.

Two religious leaders have the opportunity to be the answer to this man’s prayers, but they passed on the other side of the road. There was risk in helping the man. First, the robbers could be nearby waiting to accost anyone who would help the wounded man. Secondly, the man appeared to be dead and to touch a dead man was to become ceremonially unclean. They would have been unable to perform their priestly duties. Finally, getting involved in the tragedies that other people experience would require the priest and the Levite to get personally involved. Their clothes might get ruin. Their time would be spent. They might have to use their own money. Getting involved in the lives of other people is messy business.

Finally, a man Jesus describes as a Samaritan comes along. Jewish listeners would not be able to imagine that a Samaritan could be the hero of the story. Samaritans were half-breeds and less than human. But Jesus says that the Samaritan saw the man and “took pity on him.’ The Greek word for pity is the same word as compassion. This Greek word means to be moved in our deepest parts. The Samaritan is sick to his stomach at the man’s condition and is moved to act. He treats the man’s wounds and loads him onto his donkey. He takes the man to an Inn and pays for his stay there, promising to pay for other expenses that may be incurred. The Samaritan got involved in the messy life of the wounded man.

When the religious leaders saw the man condition and counted the cost of getting involved, they passed to the other side. The Samaritan saw the man’s condition and was moved to action.

The religious leaders saw the man and felt fear, disgust, contempt, and even apathy.

The hated Samaritan saw the man and is so deeply moved that he has to ACT.

Jesus asks the expert: “Which of the three was a neighbor?

The expert replies: “The one who showed mercy.” (He can’t even bring himself to say the word Samaritan)

Jesus instructs him: “Go and Do likewise.”

When I was younger, I would think about things like- how much trouble can I get away with without getting in trouble or how little homework can I do and still get the grade I want? We do the same thing with sin- we’ll think (or we act this way without realizing it) How worldly can I live and still profess to follow Jesus. The so-called expert of the law was asking Jesus: Who do I really have to love? Much like the expert, there are times when we can live with minimal engagement in the lives of those around us. In hearing a parable like this, we should identify with the Priest and the Levite who fail to connect their faith and their actions in a congruent manner. We can identify with seeing a need and choosing to not get involved.

Over the last six weeks, we have been exploring the ways that Christians can be peculiar people by being a healing presence in a polarized world. To do this we must be a people where our beliefs and our words and our actions line up with one another. As apprentices of Jesus should lead us to love our neighbor. Who is our neighbor?

The Biblical answer of the question is this: Our neighbor is anyone who has a need. Our neighbor is anyone that we have the opportunity to assist. In an age when our world is shrinking because of the internet, our neighbor could be halfway around the world just as easily as living next door. Just as the Samaritan looked on the man lying in a ditch with compassion and acted; just as Jesus looked over the crowds with compassion and acted- a disciple of Jesus will look with compassion and act of behalf of those in need. It will be neighborly engagement of the church that will be a healing balm in our world.

In the 1990’s, Nepal lifted restrictions on climbing the legendary mountain in order to bring in more tourism dollars. As of 2006, there had been more than 2,700 people who have reached the summit of the mountain, many paying more than $60,000 for the experience.

One of the results of this commercial influx is the decay of the moral code on the mountain. In a rush to the top, those who have paid a fortune to do so often do it at the expense of others.

David Sharp became a casualty to the mentality in March of 2006. The 34 year old enginer from Cleveland managed the reach the summit on his own. However, he ran out of oxygen on the way down, 984 feet from the top. As he lay dying, 40 climbers passed him by, too eager to achieve their own goals than to use up oxygen on someone else. As a result, David Sharp froze to death.

This doesn’t just happen exotic hiking trips. In 2007, LaShanda Calloway had stopped to shop at a convenience store in Wichita, Kansas when she was stabbed during an altercation. As she lay dying, a survellience camera recorded no less than five people stepping over her to continue down the store’s aisles. One stopped briefly- to take a picture of Calloway with her cell phone. The last thing that Calloway saw before she died was people literally stepping over her.

A few months ago, after the shooting of George Floyd in Minneapolis, I heard the recording of Floyd’s last few seconds. It was painful to listen to. I had tears in my eyes as Floyd cried out in pain saying, “I can’t breathe” and even calling for his mother.” As I listened, I wondered what I would have done or how I would have responded as a passerby. As a Christian, I’ve wrestled with my response to the injustices that exist in our community and our world. Will I stand with my Black and Latino brothers and sisters in the injustice they face? Am I willing to be an engaged neighbor? Am I willing to get involved? Will compassion move me to act? Has my faith taught me to respond as a good neighbor? A godly neighbor?

N.T. Wright says, “No church, no Christian can remain content with living life in a way that allows us to watch most of the world lying half dead in the road and pass by.”

There is much of the world that is lying half dead; famine, war, abuse, drug addiction, sex trafficking, depression, racism, and poverty are just some of the ways that people are dying. I know I can turn a blind eye to it and wrap myself up in my own little world. Like the people in the convenience store, I can step over LaShonda Calloway on my way to another family night. I can walk past a freezing David Sharp in order to go out to eat. I’m too busy to be bothered. I don’t want to risk getting involved.

If we want to engage the world as good neighbors, godly neighbors, then we must take responsibility in this world and carry the burdens and wounds of others. We must look around us and be moved with compassion deep within us that moves us to action on their behalf. As apprentices of Christ- we cannot remain detached or uninvolved.

If we want to see a change in the world, it will not come from politicians and political parties. It will come from the Body of Christ living as the hands and feet of Christ. It will come from Christians looking on their neighbors with compassion and acting on their behalf. It will be when Christians get involved in the messy lives of those around because Jesus came for us when we were a mess. It will come when Christians make the decision to live more like Jesus. It will happen, not as a result of an emotional experience, but daily making the conscious decision to the a doer of the word.

In a polarized and divided world, we have a choice to make- will we contribute to and live into the division? Or will we make the decision to live in such a way that Christ brings healing through the way we live and talk? Who was the neighbor in the story? The one who showed mercy. Go and Do likewise.

About Steve LaMotte

Husband of Andrea and father of four amazing children. Pastor at Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, Delaware.
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