A man was going up from Fort Worth to Denton and he got a flat tire. A group of thugs passed by and trashed his car, took his wallet, his wedding ring, his GPS device, his cell phone, beat him within an inch of his life, and left him for dead, laying in the breakdown lane in front of what was left of his car.
Now by chance, an Obama for America organizer was driving by to a house meeting and she made sure to steer around him so we wouldn’t dent her Prius. Then a Unitarian Universalist minister drove by on the way to a UU leadership event and passed by not wanting to be late because he had to lead the opening worship service.
In similar fashion, the directors of the local farmers market were on their way to visit a potential new grower wishing to sell local organic produce and they were so animated in a conversation about sustainability that they didn’t event see him.
But a local rancher and Tea Partier while on the way home from a Wake Up America gathering noticed the banged up car with the flat tire and pulled over to investigate. The Tea Partier pulled over his pick up truck with the gun rack and the “No Obamacare” bumper sticker. He got out and he heard the man moaning in pain. He administered basic first aid and called 911. He followed the ambulance to the hospital and when he learned the man had no health insurance he told the hospital to make sure he got everything he needed and send him the bill. He made arrangements with the hospital to pay it, whatever the cost. The next morning, learning the man was without family and facing a long recovery far from home, the Tea Partier made arrangements for the man to stay at the guest room in his own house until he was well enough to travel.
Now, which of these was a neighbor to the man on the Denton Road?
The power of the original Good Samaritan story comes from knowing a bit about Samaritans. They were not like “us”. Somewhere in the history of the Jewish people they branched off the “wrong way” on the family tree. They lived on “the other side of the tracks.” At the time in history Jesus tells this story, he knows his general audience would consider Samaritans generally low-down, no good, and suspect.
It’s a great story because any group can tell it for affect, making the Samaritan “the other.”
A.J. Jacobs is the author of The Year of Living Biblically in which he as a non-religious Jew (Jacobs says he is Jewish in the way Olive Garden is Italian) spends a year following every religious rule in the bible both Old and New Testaments. It’s a great book. When he gets to the story of the Good Samaritan, he is in Samaria, in Israel, at the Good Samaritan Coffee Shop. He figured he’d go ask a Samaritan what a Samaritan thought of the story. The answer he gets is profound. The Samaritan always wanted to be asked that question. Said he thought a lot about it, actually and thinks that Jesus is the man who was robbed and left for dead. Jesus told the story because he knew what it was like to be the victim.
Don’t we all? Don’t we all know what it’s like to be literally or metaphorically beaten up and left for dead or abandoned? Who will be our neighbor? And if we know that, if we can remember that feeling, perhaps it can help us be the neighbor to others we pass on the road.
After his Year of Living Biblically A.J. Jacobs noticed something after he followed all the laws and rules of both the Old and New Testaments for a year. A lot of the religious rules were things that he didn’t really believe in, but did as his social experiment. Yet other rules such as not lying , cheating, coveting, and others made him a different person, someone much more aware of his behavior and his values. He says that be changing his behavior radically, he began to change the way he thought.
I think that we operate often from the perspective that if we change our mind, we will change our behavior. A.J. Jacobs found that it was the opposite for him. He changed his behavior for a year and it changed his thinking.
What if we do this? What if we actually start living out our religious values, our covenants and our deepest most sacred promises to God and each other? What if we get out into the world and act in a certain way for no other reason than it’s who we say we are? We’ll make everyone our neighbor because we say we are the people who make a difference and stand on the side of love.
If we do that, radically change our behavior to become an outward focussed church, we may change the way we think. Not just about our neighbors, but about ourselves. We will become a people with a mission and others will see that and join us in our work.