In his last sermon, the night before he was murdered, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached about the Good Samaritan. He said,

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 a setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about [2200] feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about [1200] 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 … lure them [over] there for quick and easy seizure. And so 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?”

What will happen to me? v. What will happen to him? That’s really the daily struggle, right? Self-interest v. interest in others, looking out for ol’ Number One v. looking out for those around us.

St. Luke tells us of a lawyer who stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer 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 love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” Of course, Jesus was saying to do this perfectly; no one who is honest would claim he has always led a life of perfect love. The lawyer, knowing this and now wondering how it is that he will not end up in Hell, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

“A man was going down from Jerusalem,” Jesus replied. And so began the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Greek text says anthropos tis, which could be translated literally as “a certain man” or could more colloquially be translated as “some guy.” Some guy, some anonymous fellow of indeterminate age, of unspecified ethnicity, and of unknown origins was taking a trip. He could be anybody, and just that is Jesus’ point: he is anybody,” anyone at all. That guy was minding his own business when, as we should all expect on that dangerous road, that guy got mugged, beaten senseless, and thrown in a ditch to die. All who pass by the man ignore him except some Samaritan fellow, who managed to take care of him for a while.

“Now at this point [we could] assume that Jesus will say, “You asked who your neighbor is, and now I’m telling you: your neighbor is that anonymous man in the ditch.” It “would make sense for Jesus to say that.” The lawyer had asked, “Who is my neighbor” and so Jesus shows a faceless and nameless crime victim as His … answer to that question.

And, of course, that would have been a perfectly acceptable answer. That man, that hapless guy, is our neighbor, and we should be cognizant of that. But that’s not what Jesus said.

“Instead, Jesus turns things around and asks, “Now, which of the three passersby acted as a neighbor to the mugging victim?” This is a subtle shift in emphasis, but it packs a wallop! You see, we tend to think like this lawyer: we think that what we need to do is scan the society around us to see who out there counts as my neighbor. But here Jesus says that figuring that out is less important than making sure that you yourself act as a neighbor to everyone you meet. Who those other folks out in society are, how they treat you, what they look like, whether or not they seem like folks with whom you have some stuff in common is not nearly so important as making sure that whoever they are, you are their neighbor.”

On the night before he was murdered for standing up for his neighbors, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. weighed the questions: What will happen to me? v. What will happen to him? We know what his answer was. What will yours be?

–Quotes from This Week

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