July 10, 2016 sermon
Whose Neighbor Are You?
How many of you have seen the TV show Seinfeld? The greatest TV comedy in the history of TV. Do you remember its very last episode? The four friends get into a legal trouble for ignoring and neglecting a man being robbed. They even make mean jokes about the victim’s obesity. They get arrested and sent to prison according to the “Good Samaritan Law”; according to this law, one should not see injustice happening and ignore it. There is no such thing as an innocent bystander. How Christian! I almost wish this law was real! In the Western culture, people often use the term “Good Samaritan” to describe someone who helps others who are in trouble, especially strangers. Today we are going to examine where this term comes from and what it means biblically to be a Good Samaritan.
In today’s story, a lawyer asks Jesus a question “to test him”; “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by asking another question; “What does the Scripture say?” The lawyer answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbors as yourself”. Jesus says, “Good! Then go out and do it”. The man still asks Jesus another question; “Then who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells this parable about a Good Samaritan as a response to the question, and to teach him a lesson.
A couple of weeks ago, we heard the story of Jesus being rejected by a Samaritan village and established the fact that Samaritans and Jews were enemies. Jews considered Samaritans as religious heretics, so much so that they called whomever they considered heretics Samaritans whether they were ethnically Samaritans or not. Now in the story that Jesus tells this lawyer, a certain man travels from Jerusalem to Jericho, which is known as a very dangerous road. The man was almost beaten to death, and three people pass by. The Priest and the Levites didn’t help the man. Maybe they were scared of mobs jumping out from somewhere, attacking them too. Or maybe, they didn’t want to defile their body by touching a seemingly dead man. The point is, Jesus’ audience would have been surprised that the hero of the story was Samaritan, a heretic, whether he was ethnically Samaritan or not. At the end of the story, Jesus asks the lawyer, “Who was the neighbor to the injured man?” The lawyer answered, “The one who showed him mercy”. Jesus concludes this lesson by saying, “Go and do likewise”. The focus of this story is us becoming good neighbors to others, not others becoming good neighbors to us. It’s the call of Jesus for us to go out and do the loving before expecting others to come love us.
This lawyer reminds us of a lot of Christians and we can relate to him. Like him, a lot of us are busy analyzing the scripture or having committee meetings before taking any actions. To this lawyer, Jesus says, “Go and do likewise”. Note that the lawyer asks Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” and at the end of the story, Jesus asks him, “Who was the injured man’s neighbor”. Note that today’s sermon title is not “Who is your Neighbor” but “Whose neighbor are you”. The first lesson we can learn from this story is that we should not think too much and just do what is right. Christianity is a religion of action. We are constantly taught to go out and do things; love one another, feed the hungry, do not judge, welcome aliens, and so on. I mentioned some time ago that whenever some disaster or hate crime happens, a lot of us send our thoughts and prayer but don’t do anything to help the victims in a real way. I mentioned, for example, how we cannot pray for the LGBT people when they fall victims of hate crimes and not fight homophobia. We have to act swiftly to help people in distress and fight for justice for the marginalized. Some cases are time sensitive; such as when natural disasters or accidents happen.
The second lesson we can learn from this story involves overcoming prejudice towards others. It doesn’t matter if the injured man was a Jew, Samaritan or a Gentile. It doesn’t matter if the helping hero was a Jew, Samaritan, or a Gentile. The important thing is that we don’t let our differences and prejudice get in the way of doing and living God’s commandments. A lot of times, our prejudice comes from not knowing a person or a group of people. When I was studying in France, there was a scary looking guy in my dorm building. He had spiky hair, black eye makeup, and always dressed in black. He was a Goth. I was scared of him in the beginning but he seemed nice whenever he said hello to me or to others. So one day, I decided to overcome my fear and talk to him. We ended up becoming friends. He was a very gentle and nice person, although his room was full of skulls and other scary decorations, and pet rats.
Since I am involved in the Kimberley refugee group, when I hear Jesus saying, “Go and do likewise”, I immediately think of the refugees seeking safety and freedom. I heard about some countries in Europe actively denying refugees. Some argue that since they don’t have any mosques, they cannot receive Muslim refugees. To this, the British comedian John Oliver said, “Mosques do not just pop up in nature by devout beavers. You know that you can build those things, right?” The point is, in helping people in trouble, we shouldn’t delay our actions with excessive debates and passive attitudes. Are you familiar with the “How-many-whatever-does-it-take-to-change-a-lightbulb” joke? Here’s a Methodist version; how many Methodists does it take to change a lightbulb? The answer it, “we need a committee”. For once, I urge you not to be like Methodists. If something needs to be done to help someone, we should just do it.
Instead of asking who our neighbor is, let us constantly ask ourselves whose neighbor we will be to serve them. We are called to get out there and serve our neighbors; let’s be the neighbors for any of God’s people in need. Let’s be the kind of neighbors who don’t only express concerns or send prayers but who provide real help, no matter who they are, whether we like them or not, whether we agree with them or not. As Jesus said to the lawyer, let’s just “go and do likewise”.
Rev. Sunny Kim