Sermon for 6 Pentecost Yr C, 11/07/2004
Based on Lk 10:25-37
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Our Neighbour is Who?”
A Sunday School teacher once said rather ruefully that she had spent a lot of time teaching a class of children the meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan, then, when she asked one child to explain it she received the reply, “It means that when I am in trouble people ought to help me.” Even the focus of a clear lesson can easily become distorted. There is the danger of becoming so self-preoccupied that we lose our sense of love and mercy towards others.
Some of you may be fans of the popular cat, Garfield. In a one Garfield cartoon, Garfield, seated in a comfortable chair, sees his friend Odie at the window peering in eagerly. Garfield says to himself, “Poor Odie. Locked outside in the cold. I just can’t bear to see him like this. I gotta do something.” At this point, Garfield gets up from his chair and closes the curtains!
Garfield’s way of coping with this situation of Odie’s need was: “If I don’t see Odie, then Odie and his need will be out of my mind.” “Out of sight out of mind” goes the old adage. How many people handle real-life situations of genuine need like Garfield in this cartoon? How many of us have been guilty of being blind toward the needs of others? How much time and energy do we spend avoiding and denying the genuine needs of others? And, further, how much does this cost us in terms of the health and well-being of our hearts, minds and souls? A lack of compassion for the genuine needs of others, according to Jesus, has to potential to kill us spiritually inside so that our hearts and minds and souls only focus on the needs of the self—not the needs of others. We see this happening all around us everyday—there are Jericho roads all over the place with countless suffering, hurting people in need. Yet, so many people pass these needy people by. They might say to rationalize their lack of compassion something like this: “Oh he or she brought her trouble on herself. Why should I help him or her—they only take advantage of me anyways. If I help him or her in public what will others think of me? I’ll ruin my good reputation by associating with people like that!”
In contrast to this hard-hearted, selfish and judgemental attitude, Jesus in today’s gospel challenges all of us to see EVERYONE AS A NEIGHBOUR WHO AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER MAY HAVE A GENUINE NEED. In the following two stories, we learn that Jesus calls each one of us to have compassion and mercy on not just our neighbour who is like us—rather, we are challenged to love even a neighbour who might be seen publicly as an outcast, an enemy, one of questionable reputation.
Mohammed Ajeeb was a teenager when he arrived in England from his native Pakistan more than 30 years ago. He found himself on a London-bound train in freezing weather conditions, but in the company of a genial Englishman who warmed to the young immigrant and did his best to help. He managed to adjust the heating so that the temperature was at least bearable, put his own overcoat around the young stranger’s shoulders, and bought him a cup of cocoa. In fact, he even offered to find the young man a job.
When they reached London, their ways parted. The youngster managed to land a job, worked hard and eventually became a successful businessman in Bradford. In May 1985 he was elected Lord Mayor, the town’s first chief citizen from another country. It was no mean achievement from such humble beginnings.
Mr Ajeeb had never forgotten the man who had befriended him on his first day in England. He didn’t know his name. Indeed, all he knew about him was that he was a farmer in Derbyshire. However, he eventually tracked him down. The Good Samaritan on the train turned out to be the late Ted Moult, the popular broadcaster, and he had forgotten all about his kindness and compassion to a young stranger so many years ago. 1
The parable of the Good Samaritan is teaching us to see and respond to the needs of our neighbour even if they are from another race, nation or religion. Neighbourliness, says Jesus, has no limits—it reaches out to everyone.
The following story, as told by Esther Barnes, also raises the question: “How would we respond to a situation like this? How good a neighbour are we—especially towards those who are suffering, abused and victimized?” We are called to act, respond to the genuine needs of the suffering, abused and victimized—in so doing, we are Christ’s presence in the world.
As a Christian woman was travelling the road between romance and reality she fell in love with a charming but insecure young man.
And it came to pass that after they were married, he beat her and robbed her of her dignity, and she ran from the house bruised and afraid, wishing she were dead.
A pastor saw her swollen face and stopped to give advice. “Wives, submit to your husbands,” he read, then closed the Book and prayed that God would bless the meek. And he excused himself to attend a seminar on Motivating Strong Leaders.
A woman’s Bible Study leader heard her sobs, and felt a rush of pity. “I don’t know what she sees in him,” she thought, and thanked God for her own gentle husband. And she went to buy the young woman a Christian book on Making Your Marriage Work.
A Mission Circle president learned that she was wandering the streets without a purse, her clothing torn, and said to the treasurer, “How awful! Poor dear!” And they agreed that something should be done, and they would bring it up at their next meeting.
And while the battered woman was wondering where she would sleep that night, a stranger greeted her and said, “Sister, come with me. We’ll get some food at the Sally Ann, and maybe some clothes.” She took her threadbare coat and placed it on the wounded woman’s shoulders.
And when they found the Crisis Centre had no empty beds, the stranger took the woman to her attic room, and cooked Kraft dinner and canned peas on the hot plate. She made a pot of tea and listened to the incoherent bursts of pent-up pain. She wept to hear the broken dreams, self-doubt, and shattered faith. And as the woman dropped to sleep upon the couch, the stranger breathed, “You’re a survivor, like me,” and made herself a bed to lie upon the floor.
Which of these people was a neighbour to the woman who fell into the hands of an abuser?
The one who had compassion on her.
Go, and do likewise. 2
1 Cited from: F. Gay, The Friendship Book, 1989, meditation for May 6.
2Cited from: Esther Barnes, “The Good Stranger,” Groundswell, Special Edition, (Toronto: The Canadian Ecumenical Decade Coordinating Group), p. 10.