Next Saturday, I will be representing The General Commission on Religion and Race of The United Methodist Church (GCORR) at the Kentucky Annual Conference’s Martin Luther King Day celebration. The theme of this event is “Building Relationships.” I will be leading a workshop entitled Building Relationships in Society. Additionally, I will be part of a panel discussing “Who are our neighbors? Their Issues, Our Concerns, Debunking Stereotypes.” I am honored to be asked to do this for our Church.
I’m fairly confident that much of the discussion that will take place in the various workshops will revolve around Luke 10: 25-37, the story of the Good Samaritan. I have been reading Dr. King’s draft “On Being a Good Neighbor” located in the archives of Stanford University’s The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Center. Dr. King’s words are as timely today as they were in 1962 when he first started penning them.
In Dr. King’s retelling of this parable, he reminds us that the story “begins with a theological discussion on the meaning of eternal life and ends with a concrete expression of compassion.” In this well-known story, a lawyer answers the most basic question of the law, a test not worthy of his knowledge and experience. Perhaps sensing that his answer leaves the perception upon those around the scene that he could only answer the most basic questions, he counters by challenging Jesus asking the question “And who is my neighbor?”
As a GCORR Board member representing the General Commission at this event, I want to state the three aspects of the GCORR Ministry Model in addressing the question “And who is my neighbor?” They are:
1) Intercultural Competence;
2) Institutional Equity; and
3) Vital Conversations.
Intercultural competence requires “GCORR be the catalyst and partner with other leaders in the UMC supporting the development of interculturally competent leaders who are engaged in ministry that promotes intentional diversity and equity.”
Institutional Equity envisions that “GCORR will critically examine examples of racial and cultural injustice in local and global contexts: setting goals for overcoming them, intentionally measuring progress, and resourcing culturally competent leaders (lay and clergy) to promote and sustain institutional equity.”
Vital Conversations, the area that I hope to focus in this paper, suggests ” GCORR will initiate and model holy conversations throughout the Church about race, cultural diversity and institutional equity. We will gather and share learnings from these conversations that will help grow a movement that honors all of God’s creations.”
In this parable, or morality play, there is only one speaking part, that of the Samaritan. Theologians and Biblical scholars, Midrashim and laity, have sought to explain the actions, or rather, inactions of the Levite and priest. We feel we know the actions of the Samaritan well, through his actions and his words.
Today I ask you to place yourself in the role of the other two characters in this tableau; that of the Jew in the ditch and the innkeeper in Jericho. There is a long history to the enmity between these two groups and we must go back to 2 Chronicles 28: 6-15 to see this:
6 Pekah son of Remaliah killed one hundred twenty thousand in Judah in one day, all of them valiant warriors, because they had abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors. 7 And Zichri, a mighty warrior of Ephraim, killed the king’s son Maaseiah, Azrikam the commander of the palace, and Elkanah the next in authority to the king.
Intervention of Oded
8 The people of Israel took captive two hundred thousand of their kin, women, sons, and daughters; they also took much booty from them and brought the booty to Samaria. 9 But a prophet of the Lord was there, whose name was Oded; he went out to meet the army that came to Samaria, and said to them, “Because the Lord, the God of your ancestors, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand, but you have killed them in a rage that has reached up to heaven. 10 Now you intend to subjugate the people of Judah and Jerusalem, male and female, as your slaves. But what have you except sins against the Lord your God? 11 Now hear me, and send back the captives whom you have taken from your kindred, for the fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you.” 12 Moreover, certain chiefs of the Ephraimites, Azariah son of Johanan, Berechiah son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah son of Shallum, and Amasa son of Hadlai, stood up against those who were coming from the war, 13 and said to them, “You shall not bring the captives in here, for you propose to bring on us guilt against the Lord in addition to our present sins and guilt. For our guilt is already great, and there is fierce wrath against Israel.” 14 So the warriors left the captives and the booty before the officials and all the assembly. 15 Then those who were mentioned by name got up and took the captives, and with the booty they clothed all that were naked among them; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kindred at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria.
What a surprise this is! An Old Testament story reflects that of the New Testament parable. We have the dreaded Samaritans; we have the downtrodden Jews from Jericho; we have the Samaritans taking care of the Jews, treating their wounds, feeding them, clothing them, giving them shoes, placing them on their donkeys and escorting them to Jericho. And then the Samaritans return to Samaria. Sound familiar?
In the context of the New Testament parable and the GCORR concept of vital conversations, imagine what was going through the mind of the injured Jew in the ditch. Near death, beaten severely, and passed by those the tossed-aside man would have expected to help him, he is approached by the Samaritan, someone of another race. Despised because of the Samaritan history of killing 200,000 of the residents of Jericho, the injured man must have been in great fear for his life from this Samaritan.
What could the Samaritan have possibly said that would allow him to approach the man in the ditch? On the road, in a ditch, infamous for thieves and murderers hiding behind curves, rocks and trees, the hurt, tossed-aside man allowed a despised outcast to approach him. Whatever it was, it had to carry great impact to bring down the defenses of both parties.
Now we turn to the innkeeper. First, Samaritan and the Jew, an unusual duo, arrive at the khan, located on the road to Jericho. They check in; the Samaritan treats the wounds on his new acquaintance and then, the next day gives the innkeeper 2 denarii, about 28 cents, and asks the innkeeper to “take care of him, and whatever you expend more, when I return I will pay you.” The innkeeper accepts this.
One has to ask “What is it this Samaritan says or does that makes folks do what he asks and let their defenses down?” What is it that develops the trust that quickly forms between these three parties?
Trust is the key in these relationships. Without trust, it is difficult, if not impossible to develop a relationship. The Samaritan’s success is grounded in his ability to develop trust immediately. How does he do it? The Samaritan sees, hears and responds to the needs of the injured person in the ditch. His spirit is open to loving the stranger. He gives of himself with no expectation of recompense. His actions are unconditional upon anything the Jew might say or do. He epitomizes altruism.
As far as developing trust with the innkeeper, the formula is simple. The Samaritan says what he’ll do, and he does what he says.
With regard to where the United Methodist Church is today, the need for Samaritan-type conversations is great. If we are to make neighbors, be neighbors and love our neighbors, we must emulate the Samaritan. Not only must these vital conversations incorporate our ears, eyes and hands, they demand our response in a compassionate, meaningful manner. We must engage our neighbor without expectations of accolades for our actions, without the intent of meeting some metric of church growth, and most importantly, without question of whether our neighbor is deserving of our goodness and grace.
What Jesus does in the parable of the Good Samaritan is the perfect reversal of fortune. If we were to revise the story to reflect the mindset of most of United Methodism today, we would have the Christian walking the road and rushing to the aid of a non-believer laying in the ditch. Christ intentionally placed the despised, heretical Samaritan as the savior of the Jew in this parable. The person we are inclined to identify ourselves with is the person who is despised. The person we are instructed to love is the one we look down on.
There is Latin phrase that I scroll across my computer screen. It reads: “Proprium humani ingenii est odisse quem laeseris” which means it is human nature to hate a person whom you have injured.
Who is the neighbor we are charged to love? The one we despise, the one we hate and the one we have injured. And it is also ourselves.
 New Standard Revised Edition