The Good Samaritan is, probably the most famous parable Jesus has ever told. Basically, in the setting Jesus is confronted by a young lawyer.
“The "lawyer" is sometimes termed "scribe." There is little difference between these appellations. They were professional teachers and expounders of the Mosaic Law and of the vast complement of traditional sayings which had gathered round it. As the whole life of the people at this period was ruled and guided by the Law, written and traditional, this profession of scribe and lawyer was an important and influential one. Stood up. The Master was evidently teaching in a house or a courtyard of a house. Many were sitting round him. To attract his attention, this lawyer stood up before putting his question to Jesus. This scene, as we have said, took place most likely in or near Jerusalem, not improbably, as the Bethany episode follows, in that suburb of the city, and perhaps in the house of Lazarus. And tempted him; that is to say, tested him and his skill in answering questions out of that Law which then was the rule and guide of daily life in Israel. It is not unlikely that the lawyer hoped to convict the broad and generous Rabbi of some unorthodox statement which would injure his reputation as a Teacher. It was a hard and comprehensive question, this query how eternal life was to be won, and possibly one carefully prepared by the enemies of Jesus.”
Now Jesus uses the parable of the Good Samaritan to answer a legal question with a legal question. But why the example of a Samaritan?
“Imagine the hatred between Serbs and Muslims in modern Bosnia, the enmity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland or the feuding between street gangs in Los Angeles or New York, and you have some idea of the feeling and its causes between Jews and Samaritans in the time of Jesus. Both politics and religion were involved…
The fact that there was such dislike and hostility between Jews and Samaritans is what gives the use of the Samaritan in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) such force! The Samaritan is the one who is able to rise above the bigotry and prejudices of centuries and show mercy and compassion for the injured Jew after the Jew’s own countrymen pass him by!”
Mercy and Compassion, I believe, that is the challenge. The parable addresses physical injury but we know that the physical is only the surface from such an event, underneath it all lies trauma. Imagine, if you will, to be randomly mugged and beaten on the street with no one around, fear sets in, anxiety builds as you wonder whether this is the place and this is how you are going to die.
Then you notice hope coming down the road …someone is coming, a priest! A leader of the people a person who lineage passes from father to son. “In order to become a priest, one had to be the son of a priest and be pure in mind and body. (And according to the Pentateuch, priests were also said to be from the tribe of Levi.) It is likely, based on both biblical and Mesopotamian texts on priesthood, that every time a priest came to the temple to carry out his service there, his purity would have been tested by a group of priests and Levites who would probably have physically examined him (for skin diseases or broken bones) and made sure that there were no allegations of misconduct.”
You may hear something in this definition, purity! A priest had to remain pure…so why does he pass up the man lying injured on the road?... One commentator hypothesizes that “ The priest did so because Num 19 states that he must avoid corpse . Touching a dead or dying body, even holding a hand over it, would render the priest ritually impure and put his temple service at risk.”
So, the priest passes by and any and all hope the poor man had on the side of the road goes with him. His hopes have been dashed his fear heightens we may be able to add depression to his symptoms at this point.
Then the Levite is seen heading towards the victim and yet again he passes by on the other side. The other side? The priest crossed the road to avoid him so I have to imaging the Levite is side stepping the body by inching his way along the path with his back pressed against the wall…
Now the Levites had less of a rank than that of the priest; “therefore, because of the lower expectations for Levites, the reasoning that it might impair temple function is less of a concern as a generic Levite tasked with menial, janitorial and other trivial temple duties would not impair the functioning of temple life.
Additionally, by Selecting a Levite as the secondary character, Jesus moves from the most prestigious character (the priest, a pillar of the community) to a common "man-on-the-street" type of character and then finally to a villain archetype. The Levite therefore provides a transition from one end of the continuum to the other.”
There is also a possibility that this “lawyer” was himself was a Levite, for they were well versed in the law, making the point a bit stronger.
As for our poor victim here, his hopes are lifted again as a matter of fact, his potential savior is passing by so close he could almost reach out and touch him. Yet he moves on his way again dashing all hope.
This cycle of; anxiety, then hope, then loss, then fear, then anxiety and seclusion all affect the victim here. Our hero doesn’t necessarily Aleve any of these at first…
We know that the Samaritan, upon seeing the victim, heart goes out to him and he is moved with pity. Pity moves him past his own prejudices, yet our poor victim, upon seeing a Samaritan once again may feel fear rise up, his anxiety level increases for fear of more pain or injury about to be inflicted upon him because of systemic prejudice.
Because of systemic prejudice, Jesus listeners are shocked that it is a Samaritan providing care. But that is what he does and does well…
You see the Samaritan assessed the situation and recognized the need, the website, the fruit of brokenness puts it this way
“But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him…
The Samaritan RECOGNIZED.
…he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him…
On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him…
and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’
He RETURNED, and, if necessary, he would have REPEATED”
We have an example of Biblical Crisis intervention! Yet there is more needed here there is long term support, support to allow the person to express their fear and anxieties as a result of this crime.
The United church of Christ has what is called a Mental health Network and they speak of becoming a W.I.S.E. congregation. What does that mean? W.I.S.E. is an acronym for Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive and Engaged. This is a process much like becoming an ONA congregation.
The Mental health network states:
“The United Church of Christ Mental Health Network works to reduce stigma and promote the inclusion of people with mental illnesses/brain disorders and their families in the life, leadership and work of congregations.
Our intent is to be a resource for you in the local congregation as you take these steps. While what you have right now from us is still a work in progress, be assured that we will continue to engage with you as the new insights and practical suggestions come to our attention. We want to hear from you so that we can pass information along to other congregations who may be dealing with similar situations.
The chief goal with this toolkit is that your congregation will become a WISE Congregation for Mental Health. There are no dues. There are no other requirements other than you will send the UCC Mental Health Network a letter confirming the process by which you have voted to become a WISE Congregation for Mental Health. You would then be among the other UCC congregations who have taken this step and therefore you will be apprised of new resources, new suggestions, and new ideas which would be shared from you to others.”
I spent 15 years working with people with different abilities and I know for the most part people are at a minimum un comfortable around anyone who is different. Many times people avoid those who are differently abled as they fear saying the wrong thing or doing harm unintentionally.
“Since one in four individuals lives with a diagnosable mental health condition, it’s safe to say that individuals in your congregation are dealing with any variety of mental health and substance use challenges every day. Due to stigma, many of these people may be reluctant to either seek help professionally or speak about it with their pastor or other members of their church. However, an atmosphere of openness and acceptance in a congregation makes members, friends, and visitors more likely to feel safe and free from judgment. This acceptance and sense of safety can help create a place of belonging, where truly everyone, no matter where they are on life’s journey, is welcome.”
This process actually furthers the challenge of our ONA statement. It answers the question asked in today’s Gospel …who is my neighbor?
There are ten steps to becoming a W.I.S.E. congregation
Step 1: Secure the pastor’s and leaderships support…well
Step 2: gather a WISE Team two or three who are interested in making us WISE congregation and it is recommended if there is someone who is openly living with a mental health challenge that they should be invited to be on the team the mental health network has a motto “Nothing about us without us” in other words we should not look upon this as an us them type project but a we project where we are all in this together.
Step 3 is to connect with the UCC Mental Health Network so we do not make this journey alone
Step 4 would be to establish educational programing around Mental health this is important because… “Media misinformation and societal stigma against those living with mental illness encourage us to equate mental illness with danger. Thus, the first questions some faith leaders and congregation members often raise about becoming WISE relate to keeping the congregation “safe.” Research and the lived experience of existing WISE Congregations for Mental Health demonstrate that safety is not an issue: offering radical inclusion to everyone, including those with significant mental health and brain disorder challenges, is a sacred activity, but not a dangerous one.”
Step 5 is to draft a wise Covenant which there are samples of online
Step 6 the team then presents their Covenant to the board
Step 7 is a congregational vote
Step 8 is to have a celebration upon our certification
Step 9 is to inform our community that we are a WISE Congregation and what that means
Step 10 is to keep ourselves on new opportunities and ways to be present to the community so that we may continue to expand our welcome
This is one way we can answer who is our neighbor and continue to expand our welcome. Just as the Good Samaritan recognized a need, responded, referred to professionals as needed, and returned and repeated the process so we are called as a congregation to evaluate, recognize the needs in our community and respond or refer out as needed and then return and reevaluate all over again
All this so we can be true to our proclamation no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here. Amen.