Homily by Terry Pierce on Luke 10: 25 - 37
My grandmother lived in the country up in the Panhandle when I was small. She and my grandfather had raised cotton and cattle for many years close to Wellington. We called her Mammah.
A train track ran close to my Mammah’s place. I was visiting of a summer when I was seven or eight and looking for adventure. I was bored. After the cousins have gone home and the chickens are fed and there’s been a little work in the garden, the afternoon draws out. I told Mammah I was going for a walk and she said, “Stay away from the train track; there are men out there walking the track and don’t you talk to them.”
Those men aren’t your neighbor. They are other. They are not like us. Good admonition to a seven year old who knew no strangers.
Being of the same composition I am now, the first thing I did was to head toward the train track. I climbed up on it and walked on the tracks and then I heard a train coming and I shot off the tracks into the ditch. The engineer waved at me and I was very excited and waved back as hard as I could so he’d know I saw him.
And suddenly, there he was…the other, the man who is not like us, the one who is not your neighbor. He was walking up the track and he waved at me, too. I shot into the field as fast as I could go headed to my Mammah’s house and I didn’t look back and I didn’t slow down until I got to the chicken coop. There I stood, catching my breath, daring a look behind knowing that I was in shouting distance of salvation…calming myself so I could approach the house nonchalantly without giving away my adventure.
Those people aren’t like us.
Jesus has turned his face towards Jerusalem. He has foretold his death. He has sent the seventy out to pray and heal and teach and they have returned joyful at the possibilities.
Then a lawyer shows up…lawyers are something like Pharisees. The Pharisees were terribly concerned about the state of Israel and particularly about Israel’s relationship with God and they believed the solution was in following the rules in all their affairs with devotion and perfection. They often challenged Jesus because he and his disciples were not following the letter of the law and Jesus often responded that it was not the letter but the essence of the law that was to be followed. Lawyers do sometimes seem to have the same relationship to rules that the Pharisees have.
So this lawyer approaches Jesus to say how do I get this eternal life thing you’re talking about. Jesus says what does the law tell you? And the lawyer replies that the law is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus says yes, that’s it. And the lawyer says, Yes but who is my neighbor…He wants a specific and detailed road map.
Which ones of these people am I required to love…and so Jesus tells the familiar story of the good Samaritan. Now remember, two weeks ago, Jesus had visited the Samaritans and they would not receive him because he was on his way to Jerusalem. The Samaritans were people who claimed the same heritage from Abraham and Moses as the Jews. They had broken off from the Jews about the time of the exile to Babylon. Rather than worshipping at Jerusalem, they claimed Mount Gerizim as the true place of worship. So two weeks ago the disciples wanted to rain fire on the Samaritans because they wouldn’t receive Jesus and Jesus rebuked the disciples. Today Jesus uses the Samaritan as a positive example. The priest and the Levite walk on the other side of the road. The Samaritan stops and cares for the stranger. Jesus asks the lawyer, who is the neighbor, and the lawyer replies – the one who shows mercy. Jesus tells the Lawyer – Go and do likewise.
In the last speech he made before he was shot, Martin Luther King spoke from this parable. He wondered why the priest and the Levite didn't stop to help the injured man and he speculated that maybe they were on their way to Jerusalem for a really important religious meeting and didn't want to be late. Or maybe they were on their way to Jericho for a meeting of the Jericho Road Improvement Association where they could deal with the causative problem of trouble on the road rather than an individual result.
Then Dr. King says,
“But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, ‘I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.’ It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred miles, or rather, twelve hundred feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the ‘Bloody Pass.’ And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking , and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’
“But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”
When one of my sisters was old enough to drive but not old enough to drive the three hours from Lubbock to Wellington, she had a fight with her boyfriend and took off to go to our Mammah’s house. Mammah’s house was that kind of place – it was a refuge. Outside of town, my sister ran out of gas. A man in a pickup stopped; she was too scared to open the door. He called Mammah and said he thought one of Virginia’s kids was out on the road – he could tell by looking at her.
She was a stranger when he stopped his pickup; some kid stuck at the side of the road. And she was his neighbor because she was stopped in a car by the side of the road in the town where he lived; because she looked like his kids and all the kids that had grown up there. She was a neighbor by virtue of years of relationships and helping each other, tilling the land and building houses and going to church and looking after each other’s children, that happen in a small community. And he asked himself, "If I do not stop to help this child, what will happen to her?"
I always talk to my momma about what I'm preaching. When we talked about Dr. King's response to this gospel, my momma said "Well the question is, what will happen to me if I don't help this man?" What will happen to me if I keep walking on down that road?
Last week, our Muslim brothers and sisters began celebrating Ramadan which is their major religious observance of the year. I often feel uncomfortable meeting Muslim men because they choose not to touch women strangers and generally avoid eye contact with me. I’m used to hand shakes and eye contact. Two years ago I met a person who was in the midst of the process of changing her gender from male to female. I often felt uncomfortable around her; I was distracted by her differences from me but I didn’t feel comfortable asking the questions that were always on my mind. Our church here is close to 100% white; we reside in a neighborhood that is 50% Hispanic, black and Asian. I wonder why people of color haven’t found their way through our doors.
People who aren’t like us. People who may need our help today simply to be safe in our neighborhoods. If we don’t stop to help when there’s a need, what will happen to these people in our neighborhoods? Will they be safe? What will happen to me if I turn away from them?
Years after my Mammah’s death, I heard this about her. During the Depression, lots of men walked those tracks and you could see her house from the track. She was a small woman who supported her parents during the Depression with her egg money. My Pappah was often in the fields working or taking care of the cattle. Those men, the hungry strangers, would come down to Mammah’s door. She would always open the door and find them some work to do for a meal.
If I do not help this stranger, what will happen to him...what will happen to me?