no enemies, only neighbors


    I took my trip on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho today, as did many of you who are in churches that follow the lectionary, and listened again to the parable we have come to call The Good Samaritan. Many of Jesus’ parables have gotten misnamed over the years — the three in Luke 15 for example: The Lost Sheep should be The Good Shepherd, The Lost Coin should be The Persistent Housewife, and The Prodigal Son should be The Loving Father. I think, however, that we labeled this one pretty well because the Samaritan is the one who drives the point home.

    When the lawyer quoted The Law back to Jesus – love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself – and then asked who his neighbor was, he was expecting a theological discussion, not a call to incarnational living. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. In this parable, he changes his vocabulary from enemies to neighbors: love your neighbors as you love yourself – oh, and by neighbor he meant anyone that’s not us.

    That’s a tougher road to take than the Jericho Road ever was.

    One of the best sermons I remember on this parable focused on the guy who was beaten up, though I can’t remember who preached it. The preacher said, “Everyone thinks the Samaritan is the Christ figure in the story. I think they’re wrong. Jesus is in the ditch.” Everyone is my neighbor because Christ is in all of them. Ginger made the point this morning by recalling the closing scene of the trial in A Time to Kill. Jake Brigance is a lawyer defending a black man who is on trial for murdering the white man who raped his nine-year-old girl. The jury is all white. Jake struggled the whole trial with how to get people to see something other than race. He has a breakthrough in his closing argument:

    I want to tell you a story. I’m going to ask you all to close your eyes while I tell you the story. I want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to yourselves. Go ahead. Close your eyes, please. This is a story about a little girl walking home from the grocery store one sunny afternoon. I want you to picture this little girl. Suddenly a truck races up. Two men jump out and grab her. They drag her into a nearby field and they tie her up and they rip her clothes from her body. Now they climb on. First one, then the other, raping her, shattering everything innocent and pure with a vicious thrust in a fog of drunken breath and sweat. And when they’re done, after they’ve killed her tiny womb, murdered any chance for her to have children, to have life beyond her own, they decide to use her for target practice. They start throwing full beer cans at her. They throw them so hard that it tears the flesh all the way to her bones. Then they urinate on her. Now comes the hanging. They have a rope. They tie a noose. Imagine the noose going tight around her neck and with a sudden blinding jerk she’s pulled into the air and her feet and legs go kicking. They don’t find the ground. The hanging branch isn’t strong enough. It snaps and she falls back to the earth. So they pick her up, throw her in the back of the truck and drive out to Foggy Creek Bridge. Pitch her over the edge. And she drops some thirty feet down to the creek bottom below. Can you see her? Her raped, beaten, broken body soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen, soaked in her blood, left to die. Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she’s white.

    Several of the jurors visibly flinched. They saw a little girl they knew and loved and that changed them. Love and pain are the common denominators of our humanity. Such is the profound power of the Incarnation. No enemies, only neighbors.

    The parable is even more difficult to live because it pulls us to both compassion and justice. When we see the images of the victims of the genocide in Darfur, or any one of the civil wars going on around the globe, the call to do whatever we need to do to save them is crystal clear, even if our resolve to figure out how to live that calling is still muddled. But the racial tension between the Jews and the Samaritans adds another layer. What if it were Osama in the ditch? Is it still Jesus, too? How can we be at war with our neighbors in Iraq and Afghanistan? How can I stop to help someone when I know they want to kill or hurt me because they think I represent my government? Am I really supposed to stop to help heal someone who stands for things I’m against?

    This neighbor business is messy, difficult stuff. I have a hard enough time with my actual neighbor who sits and his porch and yells at the driver of the ice cream truck to turn off the music. If only Jesus had met him, I’m sure the parable would have had at least another paragraph of exceptions.

    Our foster daughter drove out from Boston with her girlfriend to have dinner with my in-laws before they go back to Alabama tomorrow. When she got in my car to go to dinner, she said, “I’ve got a CD you’ve got to hear” and put in James Morrison’s Undiscovered. He’s a young British singer who has both soul and substance. Here are the lyrics to the title tune:

    I look at you, you bite your tongue
    I don’t know why or where I’m coming from
    And in my head I’m close to you
    We’re in the rain still searching for the sun

    You think that I wanna run and hide
    I’ll keep it all locked up inside
    I just want you to find me
    I’m not lost, I’m not lost, Just undiscovered
    We’re never alone we’re all the same as each other
    You see the look that’s on my face
    You might think I’m out of place
    I’m not lost, no, no, just undiscovered

    Well the time it takes to know someone
    It all can change before you know its gone
    So close your eyes and feel the way
    I’m with you now believe there’s nothing wrong

    You think that I wanna run and hide
    I’ll keep it all locked up inside
    I just want you to find me
    I’m not lost, I’m not lost, Just undiscovered
    We’re never alone we’re all the same as each other
    You see the look that’s on my face you might think I’m out of place
    I’m not lost, no, no, just undiscovered

    I love that: I’m not lost; I’m undiscovered. Though they seem worlds apart, my own need to be discovered in the ditch is not really so far from my seeing Jesus in the ditch whether I’m looking at a transient or a terrorist. We are called to discover one another, or perhaps to discover the Jesus in one another.

    No enemies, only neighbors.



    1. I agree with Towanda…

      Hey, this is great stuff – both the preaching and the music. I love the idea of turning the evangelical buzzword of ‘lost’ souls into something more like ‘undiscovered’…isn’t that more fitting?

      Great stuff, and another $9.99 to iTunes for new music. You ought to start getting a kickback from the artists you’ve turned me on to; they’re making money off of you!

    2. Reading your blog is part of my day. I’m making a copy of today’s to share with my family. Thank you for sharing in the rich way you do.

    3. You’re right, this neighbor business is messy. Just when I think I have my neighbors and enemies identified, my neighbor stabs me in the back and my enemy comes to my aide. No wonder Jesus tells us in one instance to love our neighbors, and in another tells us to love our enemies. They are the same people, just as we are also neighbor and enemy to so many others.

      BTW…Another take on the parable of the prodigal would be the “Prodigal Father.” After all, isn’t the father just as reckless with his love and generosity as the younger son was with his inheritance, and the older son with his love for his family?

    4. Add my voice to the chorus of “right-on’s” who have already commented.

      And James Morrison. Wow–great stuff…I was actually introduced to him by a high school kid’s MySpace page–his song “A Better Man” was playing as the page’s background music–I was immediately hooked.

      Two artists I’d HIGHLY recommend if you like James Morrison: Sonya Kitchell and Joshua Radin.

    5. This is so wonderful Milton.

      I don’t comment all the time, but I am always fed by your reflections.

      Do you miss preaching? I would love to be in your congregation. (Actually, either your restaurant or your congregation. Preferably both.)

      Pax, C.

    6. Cecilia

      I think the best way to answer your question is I like being the spouse of the pastor much more than I liked being the pastor. 🙂

      I do like to preach, but I love to cook.


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