Fr. Bill Carroll – The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 10, 2022
“Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”
I speak to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best-loved stories in the Bible. But who are we in the story? Are we the priest and the Levite who pass on by—preserving our personal purity, but failing to help our neighbor in need? Are we the Good Samaritan—the feared and hated foreigner, with different beliefs from the mainstream, but lifted up by Jesus as an example of Godly love? Or are we perhaps the wounded person—lying in a ditch, and longing for someone to see us and help us?
At different times, we are all these people. And it’s useful for us to ponder who we are in the parable. One thing is certain, though: The story Jesus is telling us here is vital for following him today. For we live in a land filled with violence, with distrust and division. And we all need love and healing.
Let’s start with last weekend. A young man shot and killed some of his neighbors while they watched a Fourth of July parade in the Chicago suburbs. I’m told that even more people died of gunshot wounds in the city that day. A similar attack was planned but foiled in Virginia. And, at the same time, a white-nationalist hate group marched on the freedom trail in Boston. If that’s how we “celebrate” our Independence, what will the midterm elections bring? What about 2024?
Will there be more violence in our streets? Will we be able to preserve our democracy, or will we bring out the guns instead? Maybe our divisions will deepen, and we’ll move closer to civil war? As a nation, our confidence in the institutions provided by our Constitution—from the Presidency, to Congress, to the Supreme Court—is at an all-time low. Who then will support and defend our Constitution? Who will step up and stop those who try to subvert our democracy? Who will nurture the ties that bind us together?
As we consider the problems in our country today, I’d like to begin with something that Brené Brown said. Brown is a popular author and teacher, who happens to be a Texas Episcopalian. A while ago, a number of us read her book, Braving the Wilderness, together. And, in one chapter, Brown observes that “People are hard to hate close up. Move in.” She cites James Baldwin, the great African-American writer, who was convinced that we stubbornly cling to our hates, in order to avoid our pain. And then, she gives us three examples, drawn from her own extensive research, of people we might be tempted to write off and hate.
First (and remember that this is a composite, drawn from many interviews with real people, that Brown is offering us), she says that someone might be tempted to use the talk-radio, cable-news rhetoric that: “Democrats are losers [or worse]” But then that same person moves on to their real-life experience: “But what about your closest friend at work (she asks)—the one who drove you to the hospital when…your husband had a heart attack… The one who sat with you in the [Cardiac Intensive Care Unit], and then raced to pick your kids up from school and take them to her house? The one who helped you plan the funeral and shouldered your workload while you were out? She’s not a loser. In fact, you love her. And she’s a Democrat.”
Another person, Brown writes, might be tempted to endorse the statement that “Republicans are selfish jerks [or worse, whatever the term of abuse].” But then that same person moves to their real-life experience: “Except for your son-in-law (she writes), who is a loving and wonderful husband to your son and the most amazing father to your granddaughter. Thank God he’s in the family. Even more than your son, he’s the one who sends you and your wife all the cute pictures and keeps you connected to your sweet granddaughter. He’s not selfish. He’s not a [jerk]. And he’s a Republican.”
And yet a third person, Brown writes, might be tempted to espouse the view that “Anti-abortion activists are hypocrites and close-minded fundamentalists.” But then that same person moves to their real-life experience: “As a feminist activist (she writes), you couldn’t agree more! Except for that great teacher you had in your Catholic high school. She had more integrity than anyone you know, and she constantly encouraged you to think critically about tough issues, even when it meant disagreeing with her. She’s actually the one who taught you how to be an effective activist. She’s not a hypocrite or close-minded and she’s pro-life.”
“People are hard to hate close up. Move in.” This advice relates directly to a post that some of you shared on Facebook last week:
When you die (it says), God isn’t going to ask you about someone else. He won’t ask you about the two men down the street who got married. He won’t ask you about the girl who got an abortion. He won’t ask you about the atheist that lives on the corner. He won’t ask you about [the transgender person in the midst of their transition]. But he will ask you about how you loved those people as he called you to do.”
In the spirit of Brené Brown, we might ask how God calls us to love all those “loser Democrats,” pro-life activists, pro-choice activists, and “selfish, Republican jerks.” Whoever is on the other side of any divide in this country for you, God is going to call you to love that person just as Jesus does.
And what does it mean to move in and listen to the experience of a gay couple—with all their joys and sufferings? How do we listen to the experience of responsible gun owners, even as we debate public policies to keep guns out of the wrong hands? And how do we listen to the experience of the victims of mass shootings and their families? What does it mean to listen to the experience of the girl who had an abortion? Or the girl or the woman who needs one—like that ten-year-old child who was sexually assaulted in Ohio and then forced to travel across state lines? What does it mean to listen to the experience of the atheist (or the Hindu, the Muslim, or the Jew) who lives down the block? Or the person going through a gender transition?
It doesn’t mean we don’t have an opinion and a perspective. Many of us do, one way or the other. But it means that we are called to be more loving and pragmatic—and less rigid and ideological—versions of ourselves. Jesus is always calling us to become the best version of ourselves. It means that we have to move in and get close enough to really see each other—close enough to really listen to each other, learn from each other, collaborate for the common good, and sometimes (not always, but sometimes) it means that we might have to change our minds.
For only if we approach one another with this attitude can we bring our principles and convictions into the public square in responsible ways that respect the God-given dignity of every single human being. That’s how the many become one. That’s how we “form a more perfect Union.” We do follow the will of the majority, even as we try to protect the rights of minorities. And we welcome active participation from all people in our democracy, within the framework of our Constitution—even and especially those with whom we disagree.
There is an old, old saying that “charity begins at home.” (And it’s true.) Because, if we don’t love the people closest to us, the people who are like us in various ways, we probably won’t be able to love strangers very well either. But Jesus tells us the Parable of the Good Samaritan, not because we struggle to love those closest to us (which we often do), but because we are tempted to limit who counts as our neighbor. They’re all our neighbors, and Jesus won’t let us off the hook.
In the story, our neighbor turns out to be the Samaritan—the hated outsider. For Jesus, a neighbor is anyone who shows mercy to anyone in need. In the story, he is confronting our attempts to limit our love.
In order to find the Good News in the story, we need to see ourselves not just in the people who walk on by, but also in the wounded man himself. There’s an old tradition of reading the story that way—with Jesus himself as the Good Samaritan. It is Jesus (who often comes to us as a stranger), who climbs into that ditch with us. He lifts us up and binds up our wounds.
We are all wounded. We are all tempted by various forms of hate. Perhaps we are wounded by loneliness or loss. Maybe we resent how our lives have turned out. Maybe we are in the grip of an illness, a painful memory, or some particular sin. Maybe we’ve been traumatized or oppressed. Often, we are simply afraid.
In our country today, we need to move in closer and learn to live as neighbors. We need to embrace that perfect love that casts out fear. That means loving our neighbors who don’t look like us, agree with us, or live the ways we do. For the Gospel isn’t about being right (or being pure). The Gospel is about turning to Jesus and accepting his love. It’s about loving the neighbors he gives us—and making strangers into friends.
“Which of the three,” Jesus asks us, “was a neighbor to the man?”
“The one who showed mercy.”
And then, Jesus tells us to “go and do likewise.”
NO exceptions. NO excuses. “Go and do likewise.”