In the Parable of the Good Samaritan that we read today we hear the story of three people who come across a man lying in the ditch alongside the road, having been robbed, beaten, and left for dead. The first two good Jewish men—a priest and a Levite—see the man but pass by on the other side of the road. The third man—a Samaritan—is moved with pity and stops and helps. For whatever reason the first two do not stop—the point is that they are focusing on what they cannot do. The last man focuses on what he can do. He can bandage the guy up, get him to someplace with a bed and food, and pay for his care. These are the things he can do. Mind you there are a lot of things the Samaritan man could not do. He could not stay with the man and continue to help him heal; instead he had to trust in the innkeeper’s willingness to do so. He could not replace what had been taken from the poor man when he was robbed: though he can provide for his immediate needs. He cannot promise him a future in which he knows security; he can only tend to his hurt and suffering in the present.
For Jesus, this is less a parable about a “good” Samaritan and more a parable about using what you can do to help another. That is the answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells us to love God and love our neighbor. Notice the identity of God is not questioned by the pious lawyer: the man is not wrestling with a question of theology and Jesus does not enter into a theological debate. This parable is not meant to tell us something about God, it is meant to tell us something about humanity and how we are to act in the imageo dei, the image of God, as his creation.
The ESPY awards were given this past week. The ESPYs are an awards presentation for significant athletic achievement. They recognize various accomplishments by professional and non-professional teams and individuals in the world of sports. Basically, they are the Academy Awards for athletes. Each year the Jimmy V award is given to an inspiring individual in the world of athletics. This year’s recipient is a man named Rob Mendez. Rob Mendez was born without arms or legs. He is completely wheelchair bound and relies on a man named Mike to take care of him. He is also the head coach of the Junior Varsity team at Prospect High School in Saratoga, California. Coach Mendez has never let his disability keep him from doing what he loves—coaching football. Though he has never touched a football in his life, he is a smart strategist and passionate about the sport he loves. His passion is infectious and he is able not only to inspire his team in playing strong and bonding as family, he inspires those around him who watch him never quit or get lost in what he can’t do. Rob Mendez’s success as a coach and as a person is dependent on the fact that others must succeed. That is what it is to be a coach—you, too, are a member of the team and if the team doesn’t win than neither do you.
Coach Mendez voiced that in his acceptance speech. As he was thanking the number of people who have helped him to achieve inspirational status, including his parents, Mike, family, even Jesus, he also thanked the game of football for “allowing [him] to be part of a team.” Then he goes on to say, ““When you dedicate yourself to something and open your mind to different possibilities and focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t do, you really can go places in this world.” Like Coach Mendez and like the Samaritan in our parable, when we focus on doing what we can do, we can change the world. But it is not simply in focusing on our own abilities that offers us the opportunity for transformation.
We “can” do a lot of things that contribute to our success in this life. But the thing that both Coach Mendez and the Good Samaritan have in common is that they use their gifts and talents—the things they can do—to help others succeed. Coach Mendez led his team to the championship game in the play-offs and an 8-2 season. You can’t do that unless you are working hard to get your players to be the best they can be as individuals and as a team. The Samaritan not only cleaned up and bandaged the guy left half dead, he carries him to an inn so he might continue to recover in a safe and secure environment. In other words, he puts him in the best position he can to succeed in his recovery.
I think that is what Jesus is trying to tell us in this parable. To be a neighbor is not simply about doing what you can to help someone—if it were so then why wouldn’t the Samaritan in Jesus’ story simply bandage the poor fellow up, give him a couple of bucks, and send him on his way with a hope and a prayer that he would make it home and fully recover? Instead, being a neighbor is about doing all that you can to help the other person succeed—in whatever way the other person needs to succeed in that moment. Notice the Samaritan attends to the beat up fellow’s immediate needs—not his future ones or even his perceived ones—but the ones that are limiting his success in the present. That is who we are to be as a neighbor according to Jesus—we are to do all we can to help the other person succeed, regardless of who they are, whether or not we like them, stranger, family member, or friend. And that is all we are responsible for. The parable never tells us what happened to the guy that was beaten, robbed, and left for dead. We don’t know if he lived or died, if he became a bandit or the high priest. All we know is that the actions of the Samaritan set up the other man for successful healing—the rest is up to that guy, not the Samaritan.
Moses tells us in the Book of Deuteronomy that God takes delight in prospering us. The truth of that is that if we are made in the image of God, then we too take delight in prospering others. And that in God’s image, we find that we give back to God in the helping of others to prosper, in the helping of others to succeed.
The psalm this morning is completely attuned to this work of God in helping us be successful. God does not want us to be humiliated. God teaches us and leads us to truth. God offers us love and compassion especially in the face of our sins and transgressions. God guides us to do right and teaches us the way of love and faithfulness. God wants us to succeed.
Even Paul in his letter to the Colossians reiterates God’s commitment to our success as the one, “who has enabled [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
And it is not only the reminder of God’s desire for the saints’ success, but Paul pledges his own commitment to that success by reminding the Colossians of the fruit they have born in their faithfulness and pledging unceasing prayers for their being filled with the knowledge of God’s will for them; their continuing to lead lives worthy of the Lord; and that they may be strengthened in the Lord and be given patient endurance. Paul’s entire letter is a pep talk for the faithful Christians of Colossae to succeed.
When we are committed to the success of others we are committed to the mission of the Church: the work God has called us too. Helping others to succeed is our small way of partnering with God and one another to do the work of reconciliation we are all called to do. The works of lifting up one another—stranger or friend, family member or foe. The Samaritan lifted up the man who had been robbed, and in his own way the man who had been robbed lifted up the Samaritan—they gave each other purpose in living into the relationships God calls us too. Coach Mendez has done the same—he has lifted up young men in a game designed to teach them about being a team and he has made them a family. And Coach Mendez has been lifted up himself—the thing that inspired him to becoming a football coach was the act of another coach. When Coach Mendez was just a kid, his friends invited him to go watch football practice and the football coach threw him a jersey and made him feel a part of a team. The ways we live our lives and the invitation and encouragement we offer others can change the world. It’s not about doing something big, it’s simply about doing what we can through the gifts, time, and opportunities given us by God.
5 Pentecost Proper 10: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-9; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
Church of the Ascension – Episcopal, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, July 14, 2019
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer