Sermon: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Luke 10:25-37

And who is my neighbor?  Many times, in sermons and Bible studies, I have heard the answer to “who is my neighbor?” as “everyone around you, regardless of circumstance or ethnicity or any other thing that people use to divide ourselves into groups.”

But it why would it matter in the story that the rescuer is a Samaritan? Why would Jesus include that detail in his parable?

The Samaritans and the Juedeans were both descended from Abraham. They shared a lot in common, but there were also differences in how they worshipped and followed God. The people of Judea were also wary of the Samaritans because they had a different story of surviving imperial oppression. The Samaritans had been conquered but not deported by the Assyrian empire. The people of Judea were conquered and exiled in Babylon for generations. The Samaritan and Judean religions were so close that they would now probably be called denominations of Judaism. But these close neighbors weren’t very friendly. They were all trying to make it work in their homeland under the Roman Empire, but as we know so well today, there was tension and strife between the people sharing the holy land. 

The question “Who is my neighbor?” Can be answered with “everyone”, but why did Jesus tell the story about a *Samaritan*? Why not just make the neighbor another Jewish guy? The man who asked the question probably could have more easily identified with the rescuer then. Or why didn’t Jesus tell a story about a Roman centurion or another immigrant, if the story is supposed to be about how every person, regardless of ethnicity or station, is your neighbor? Why did he tell a story about a *Samaritan* being the neighbor of a Jewish man?

I think part of “go and do likewise” is to be neighbors specifically to the people we are close to *and* at the same time disagree with. Sometimes our similarities make the differences harder to overcome.

Sometimes our differences become more important than the things we share. Sometimes our differences turn us from neighbors into enemies. 

Rachel Barenblat, a Jewish rabbi and poet, posted a poem today that I would like to share. She titled it “Status Update”

Dear Most of the Internet:

this is not the Superbowl

or the World Cup, so

wash the face paint off

your social media accounts.

Sit down with one of “them”

face to face, knees touching,

and listen to their losses.

Then do it again, open heart

becoming bruised like a peach.

This is called compassion:

feeling-with, the center

of feeling we call the heart

constantly vulnerable.

I don’t want to hear anything

from people who mourn

only one set of children.

Likewise if your answer is

“get rid of all of them,”

go to the back of the line

and think about your choices.

Is your status update helping?

If not, go wash the dishes.

Or send a condolence note

to someone in your community

who just lost a parent. Or

practice on Duolingo

and get one word closer

to understanding

someone different from you.

The hardest thing is to truly understand and recognize your neighbor even when the differences seem to make us competitors. The Samaritans and Judeans shared so many practices, shared so much culturally and historically. But the differences they had became so important that they treated each other like enemies. 

Who is my neighbor? Everyone. But specifically, it’s the people with whom we have at the same time shared history and deep disagreements. 

This is not the Superbowl or the World Cup. This isn’t a game. We don’t need to choose sides. Because neighbors are on the same side. “Go and do likewise” means that whether we agree with them on everything or nothing, we care for our neighbors. 

Being a neighbor means that even if we know we disagree on important things, we still listen to each other, we still work to understand each other. Especially if we disagree with them.

Sit down with one of “them”

face to face, knees touching,

and listen to their losses.

Then do it again, open heart

becoming bruised like a peach.

 “Go and do likewise” doesn’t mean caring about only people you agree with. “Go and do likewise” means sitting with the very people we disagree with and bandaging their wounds, caring for them from our own supplies. “Go and do likewise” means continuing to care even when it costs us. “Go and do likewise” means being a neighbor to the people with whom we disagree and with whom we share everything at the same time. They, we, are neighbors. 

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