Last week I walked the narrow road connecting the ancient city of Jericho to Jerusalem.
The ‘road’ is a winding dirt path that hugs the barren mountains high above deep desert canyons. The mountains are uncomfortably close together, made of rock, and there are countless caves tucked into the crags and crevices.
Pro tip: It’s important to guard your steps and definitely NOT let your imagination run amuck as mine did.
What would happen to me if I were to stumble (I’ve always been clumsy) and fall headlong into this canyon? How would they get me out? What, or who, is hiding in all those caves? How would I escape an ambush? Who would rescue us? We’re sitting ducks in this place! If we don’t make it out of here tell my kids I love them! The noise in my head was embarrassing and obnoxious.
I lift up my eyes to the hills,
From where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD;
Who made heaven and earth.
In addition to the uneasy height, there is not enough room for two people to pass comfortably on this road. One traveler would need to press herself flatly against the rock-wall to allow the other traveler to pass by. Being a person who enjoys a fair amount of personal space, this also was unnerving to consider on many levels.
How on earth did a family going up to Jerusalem make this trip with toddlers? Animals? The lame or aged? How did they keep safe from bandits? From where would their help come from?
He will not let your foot be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
It’s on this road, in this vulnerable place, that Jesus would set the stage for what it means to live out Shema. What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? In fact, who is my neighbor?
Love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind, and strength. And also love your neighbor. Because he is just like yourself.
Jesus tells a story to the Jews in Galilee: A man is walking along this Jericho road and is ambushed by bandits. Lucky for him he is not thrown down to his certain death in the canyon.
A priest arrives on the scene. He is a devout Jew who had prayed the Sh’ma earlier in the day, but now find himself literally JUMPING OVER a helpless and abandoned man. Did he have to lift up his robes, shamefully exposing his naked legs, to hurdle himself to safety?
A Levite; a priest in The House of God, also finds a way to get around the man so as not to touch his body. This effort to ‘go around the man’ must have required some serious agility and impressive acrobatics. Levite spidey-skills. It’s almost funny to imagine the scene.
And then a man with no honor – a man despised and rejected – comes along and finds his enemy helpless to save himself. He cares for him as if he were a brother or a son. He carries him and provides for him until he is healed and whole.
Who is the one who lives Shema? Jesus asked. Who is the one who loves his neighbor as God has commanded?
Jesus, of course, is the Good Samaritan in this story. He’s always the hero and we are always asked to identify with all the other unfortunate actors.
Who, or what, are we unwilling to touch with a ten-foot pole? If no one was looking – if no one was around to judge – who would you walk away from without regret? Who are the swine not worth your precious pearls? Who is unworthy to receive your generosity?
We all have such people in our lives. We all have neighbors who sorely challenge us to live out Shema with our bodies, money, and time, and not just as a religious ideal.
A question for contemplation: Where are you so busy defending your own dignity that you neglect the dignity of your own neighbor?
Some of us would rather do anything than show compassion to a liberal activist or an NRA advocate. Some of us would leave a Planned Parenthood employee, or an ICE agent, or a certain church elder, for dead. The world – the church – is better off without them, we think.
Some of us are full of zeal for God’s house and yet will go ‘far around’ those in our midst that we quietly despise in our thoughts and private conversations.
And then some of us are full of zeal for compassionate causes out there but will hike up our religious robes to leap over those nearby that we hold with self-righteous contempt.
But Jesus comes to the helpless outsider; the rich and educated insider; the bleeding woman; the thief on the cross; the children; the devout and the worldly; the zealous; the politicians and prostitutes and priests; the royalty and the reprehensible. You. Me. Us.
He sees our full humanity. He forgives our legion of sins. And – thanks be to God – he loves us and keeps us as his own cherished family.
Shalom to you and yours, for the LORD – the one true Yeshua – is your Good Samaritan.
Now, by the power and grace of his Holy Spirit, walk on and do likewise.
Psalm 121 + Luke 10