The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
One of the simple pleasures I enjoy is watching the variety of birds that visit the feeders in my front yard. I especially love the vibrant yellow of the goldfinches and bright red color of cardinals and I realize that like us humans all birds can’t be gorgeous and that there is great diversity among them. A few years ago, a rather unique one appeared- a white mourning dove with just a slight smattering of tan spots.
Googling this description, I learned that it is a less than common type that is kind of an outcast among the typical deep brown doves. In fact, it has difficulty finding a mate because its lack of color is unappealing to the rank and file. It’s a loner, pretty much ignored by the others. The outcast little bird spent a good amount of time in the yard, often in a corner by itself To the rest of the bird community, it seemed almost invisible. It was clear that it was an outcast—simply because of the color of its feathers.
When Jesus told this parable the culture of his time was saturated with fear, anger, and rampant discrimination. Violence became the product of that lethal combination which is why he told the story of the Good Samaritan. The shock in this story is that Jesus would introduce a Samaritan as the role model—as the “good guy” who does what the priest and Levite should have done.
Considered half-breeds by homeland Jews, Samaritans were the most despised of all peoples. If we want to hear this message the way the lawyer did and the way the crowds in Judea did, we might change the identity of the Samaritan to one that reflects prejudices with which we are all too familiar. Think about who would be the last person the world’s conventional opinion suggests might stop and help us if we were lying in a ditch bleeding to death.
This story is the foundation for the well known maxim “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” In the dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer, Jesus does not answer the question “Who is my neighbor?” but rather the question “Whose neighbor are you?” The answer is “Everyone” because Jesus does not limit the commandment of love—as the lawyer probably wanted him to—to those tied to him by blood or communal association.
That little unusual dove that appeared in my yard prompts me to offer another slant on the Gospel of the Good Samaritan. Note that the victim has no name. We know nothing about him except that he was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves who beat him and left him half dead.
Perhaps this anonymous character in the story is the embodiment of anyone who has been beaten down by oppression, discrimination, exclusion, and violence. Maybe this unnamed person is representative of anyone who at anytime has been kicked to the curb, marginalized, ignored in their pain, treated as though they were invisible
There is deep meaning to this Gospel if we imagine it as a metaphor. The extravagance with which Jesus describes the way the Samaritan cared for the man left to die is an invitation for all of us to be healed and caressed and comforted by the extravagant love of God—especially in times like these.
The victim has no name because he is all of us. Who among us has not felt like we were left by the roadside at some point in our lives? The Samaritan is Jesus whom the religious authorities of his own time rejected, ridiculed, and killed.
The inn is the place of refuge we seek—no matter who we are or on what road we are walking. It is the place where broken sojourners may rest and be refreshed; where those of us who have been beaten up by the world or robbed of our peace and security, or who sometimes feel more dead than alive can check in and be bathed in the compassion and care of its sanctuary and of the community that lives there with us.
But it can’t end here. Every Sunday the last line in our leaflet reads “The worship is over, the service begins.” What Jesus is telling us today is that we are everyone’s neighbor.
Those drab brown mourning doves in my yard didn’t t know any better than to shun the other because of its color. They lack the free will to decide to ignore or welcome him. Humankind, on the other hand, does.
We have made a promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace, to respect the dignity of every human being. That’s what the Good Samaritan did. Jesus tells us today: “Go and do likewise” which does not mean go and identify whom you consider to be a needy neighbor, but rather go and BE a good neighbor, which invites us into new ways of being, ways that leave us open and vulnerable and pliable, not knowing who and what lies ahead of us on the road.