sermons, songs, etceteras
Good morning, Beloved Community of God.
A couple months ago, I confessed to you that I don’t really understand or know how to love in this world. Over the time that has passed since, I admit I have not learned much, despite ample opportunities. In fact, oftentimes I do not even know how to be in this world.
And so I am grateful for today’s gospel, which is a story rife with hope and promise and specific instructions for how to be love. It is one we all know really well, I’m sure. We have heard it a thousand times at least, and so its lessons may seem obvious. But it is one, I think, we can never hear enough.
In this story Jesus is asked by a legal expert -- a theologian -- “what do I have to do to gain eternal life?” Jesus returns the question, asking “what does the Law say?” and the expert recites what we know as the Greatest Commandment: to Love God with your entire being, and Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus affirms his answer and encourages him to go do it.
But then, in a very legal move, the expert asks a second question: “Who, precisely, is my neighbor?” So Jesus tells a story.
A Certain Man is robbed and left for dead along The Jericho Road. It’s a dangerous road known also as The Bloody Way, not just for the risks inherent to traveling a steep, narrow, winding road descending 3,300 feet from Jerusalem on the Hill down to the Jericho desert 17 miles away, but also for its violence.
It wasn’t uncommon for bodies like The Certain Man’s to be left in the road for travelers to literally walk over. There was no public safety there. No officers to call for help. It was a free-for-all. And every body that was left for dead was both a promise and a prophecy of what could await someone who passed through at the wrong time or with the wrong people.
So it’s on this well-known Bloody Way that Jesus says both a Priest and Levite pass by without rendering aid, leaving the man to die. Now, You might expect these two, of all people, to stop and that would be fair. But …maybe they were afraid for their personal safety -- that would be reasonable given what we know of that road. Maybe, knowing the dangers of Jericho Road, they only carried with them the bare necessities and so had no means of assisting. Or maybe, as Dr Martin Luther King Jr suggested in HIS sermon on this text, they were on their way to some very important meeting with the Jericho Road Improvement Association and really could not be waylaid any longer. Whatever their reasons, and however ””Justifiable”” they may have been, they left the man to die because the Jericho Road was where you could leave someone to die and no one would judge you for it. The Bloody Way was its own risk. Traveler Beware.
But then, Jesus says, a third man, a Samaritan no less, stops. He renders critical aid right there in the road, knowing full well they both may be attacked or killed. And THEN he takes the man to a nearby inn where he pays for the man’s immediate care and promises to cover all his expenses until the man is well. He pays this to an innkeeper who no doubt knows the risks of his location, and probably charges a premium for the relative safety of a cheap motel on the wrong side of town -- maybe he even price gouges for crisis care. Even so, the Samaritan pledges himself to this man’s long term care, risking his body, his safety, his time, and his wealth for a man he does not know. And why?
Because, as Dr King preached, “he made concern for others the first law of his life.”(1) Rather than asking the natural question the Lawyer -and the rest of us- are inclined to ask, which is, “what will happen to me if I help this man?,” the Samaritan reversed it and asked, “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”(2) Thus, Jesus turns the debate from a theological performance by a legal expert seeking to justify inaction, into one about “concrete expression[s] of compassion on a dangerous road.” This is the first part of neighborliness.
But this invitational answer to what Dr King called “dangerously excessive altruism” is only the first, because it draws our eyes and ears to a second question coursing underneath the entire interaction, which is why The Bloody Way exists at all as a place where violence and bloodshed are not only common but accepted. And it’s because The Bloody Way is “the price we all pay” to keep other roads safe for those with the privilege, power, and purse to live and travel elsewhere. The surrounding community at large was committed to ensuring violence stayed on the Bloody Way so that those with the resources could stay out; stay safe; even stay ignorant if they chose.
I’m sure what drove the collective commitment to the Bloody Way’s preservation was a fear of what would happen if the borders blurred and the Bloody Road became the Bloody system of Roads. If the violence spilled out into their protected streets, then everyone who could afford not to would be exposed to The Certain Man and the violence around him. They would then see and have to count how many bodies they had left for dead. And they would all have to reckon with the fruit of their safety and inaction.
But that is precisely why Christ brings such imagery to bear, for when we are forced to look at the dying, we are compelled to act by making the road safer. Seeing shakes us out of the decaying skin of rugged individualism and compels us to join the Beloved Community of good neighbors who hold the space and protect its travelers. When we see, we grow bolder with ourselves and with each other. We’re able to reject what Resmaa Menakem calls the dirty pain of denial and commit to the clean pain of seeing ourselves in the mirror and being transformed from within.(3) And, we begin to understand the necessity of holding that same mirror up to those who keep preserving the Bloody Way, while ignoring both the impact of its violence and their own participation in it.
So, while it is easy to hear this story, praise the Samaritan, and make plans to be just like him, all without giving a passing thought to how this very same reality manifests in the here and now, Rev Traci Blackmon reminds us, we all know where Jericho Road is and we know what’s happening to our neighbors there.(4) The Bloody Way is not just an ancient road in Bible Stories, it’s Florissant Ave in Ferguson Missouri, it’s in southside Chicago, west Baltimore Maryland, it’s Skid Row in LA, and here in Minneapolis, it’s where I live, on the northside, where corners like West Broadway and Lyndale sound a lot like the Bloody Way of Luke 10.
Like the Jericho Road, When violence breaks out in north Minneapolis, whether between neighbors, gangs, or by agents of the State, it is either ignored, written off, or turned into a weapon to keep our communities othered. I cannot count how many times I have relayed harrowing stories of gunfire erupting outside my son’s window, or the hit and run that left a man to die of a gunshot wound to the head directly across the street from our house, only to be told, “well what do you expect, Amy? You live in north Minneapolis!” They lament, “you need to get your son out of there!” without sparing a thought for the other children just like him who can’t get out, or considering why the northside is good enough for those kids but not mine. My community is where our city sends its violence and blight, and so long as it stays in north Minneapolis we can all pretend the Twin Cities are safe, the way we believe the Twin Cities are “clean” -- just not at the dump.
And let me tell you: it is grievous work to try and convince people that we on the northside are not trash; We are holy. We are Image Bearers of the Divine. And we are your neighbors.
My point is this: It is easier to decry the horrors of Jericho Road as the product of its inhabitants, than it is to confront the builders and beneficiaries of such quarantined danger. It is easier to dehumanize its attackers and sacrifice its victims, than it is to use our privilege and power to sanctify the Image of God in our most vulnerable by demanding and creating just long-term outcomes for those along the Bloody Way.
And yet Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan is an invitation to do just that. To love God with our whole selves by seeing and taking risks for people on the roads we avoid. It is a reminder that God is born to and through the least and lowest, and that the instinct to demand neighborliness from others is matched only by the directive to be a good neighbor — a directive that is exclusive to Christianity or any other religion, but is profoundly human and can show up anywhere, in anyone, even our enemies. It is a promise that God does not belong exclusively to Jews or Samaritans, Christians or Muslims, to Black people or white people, but that God’s Kin-dom is made manifest on earth in every resounding “Yes!” answered to the question, “will you be a good neighbor right here and now?”
Friends, the good news is that opportunities to be a good neighbor will abound so long as the Bloody Ways and Oppressive Roads exist in our cities. We do it in small but big everyday ways, like listening to each other, taking walks together, planting gardens and gathering food for VEAP, folding bulletins, and more.
But we do it in big, seismic ways too. As the Beloved community of good neighbors, we get to occupy and transform the Bloody Road. We get to dress the wounds of the injured now and organize to persuade lawmakers to pass laws that minimize opportunities for wounding.
Good neighbors leave water and snacks for migrants crossing dangerous borders even when it may get them arrested, and they demand safe and healthy living conditions at refugee camps. They offer their bodies, time, and cars to transport a 10 year old girl from her home state to another so can get a life-saving abortion after a soul-crushing rape. They arrange for trans youth to receive transition care, and they provide safe passage to that care even when parents, churches, and governments threaten their lives and the lives of helpers.
Good neighbors break bread together in joy, and sometimes we break unjust laws together in rage, in order to grow the critical mass of voices needed to pass just ones.
It’s possible that being a good neighbor will get you charged with a crime, like when civil rights activists occupied lunch counters, or like I did when I filmed police 4 years ago. It may land you in prison, like it did Dr King and Deitrich Bonhoeffer. Some will be wounded, and some will even die like Heather Heyer did in Charleston, South Carolina, holding the space on the Bloody Way. But these are risks worth taking because both the lives of the abandoned and the ground on which they suffer are holy.
That is what this parable is all about. It is more than a story of one person who showed kindness to a stranger, though that is important. It is also Jesus calling us to practice the justice, mercy, and humility that we preach in radical, disruptive, and costly ways.
It summons us to act with immediacy because our actions matter.
It reminds us that loving God is a community endeavor -- that there is no me without us.
It warns us that religious piety is no match for the one who loves with their life and livelihood.
And above all, it invites us to dangerously altruistic love, which transforms us not into heroes or saviors, but simply into good neighbors who, as the Talmud says, are undaunted by the enormity of the world’s grief, because we can do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now, knowing that while we are not obligated to complete the work, and may never see its completion in our lifetime, neither are we free to abandon it. (5)
And so, Beloved Community of Good Neighbors in Richfield, may you leave today held by this promise from Archbishop Oscar Romero, so that you may continue giving yourself to the Love of others:
“You are workers, not master builders; You are ministers, not messiahs. You are prophets of a future not our own.”(6) Build it anyway. Amen.
(1) King, Jr., Martin Luther. A Gift of Love: Sermons from Strength to Love and Other Preachings (Boston: Beacon Press, 2021), 49 (Apple Books).
(2) Ibid., 53.
(3) Menakem, Resmaa, My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies (Las Vegas: Central Recovery Press), 20.
(4) Blackmon, Traci. Taken from author's personal notes at 2018 Festival of Homiletics.
(5) Pirkei Avos (Ethics/Chapters of the Fathers) 2:16. Viewed Here.
(6) Romero, Oscar. The Romero Prayer. Viewed Here.
GOSPEL TEXT: Luke 10:25-37 | The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29 But wanting to vindicate himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and took off, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came upon him, and when he saw him he was moved with compassion. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, treating them with oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him, and when I come back I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”