One of the best parts of my job as a Regional Pastor with Grace Communion International is to visit our churches. Church visits are vital for me to see firsthand what is happening in the lives of our pastors and members, and I gain an enormous amount of encouragement and inspiration from these visits.
Once in a while a pastor asks me to give the sermon. Lately, I have been giving an interactive message from Luke 10:25-37 about the story of the Good Samaritan. We read through the story from three different translations, and on the third reading the members are asked to consider which character in the story they relate to the most; which character reflects their personality and life experiences. Then we break into five groups representing the five players in the story.
|The Good Samaritan is much like a paramedic who moves into danger to rescue others and doesn't bother with issues of gender or race or what sin was committed.|
Before we continue, think for a moment about the concept of heroes and villains. In our western culture we are pre-conditioned to think in terms of good guys and bad guys—we want to honor and celebrate the heroes, and we long to catch and punish the villains. Jesus turns the Jewish world upside down by portraying a despised non-Jew as the “heroish” example of a good neighbor. (As much as this is an important factor in the story, stay tuned for a twist at the end.)
The people who identify with the lawyer who asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” are brave enough to confess that they are detail people who want to know the requirements. They are wired to need clarity and are not shy about asking hard questions.
I lump the priest and Levite together as they represent the religious order of Judaism. The church members who see themselves in this light admit they are reluctant to get involved—sometimes out of fear or caution, and sometimes because they are focused on their destination and don’t want to become distracted.
Some church members identify with the victim because of various degrees of abuse they have suffered in their lives. One member said he liked identifying with the victim because of the rescue and nurturing restoration outcome.
I have been surprised how many members relate to the obscure innkeeper. They are open to help when a situation is brought to their attention, and they are happy to serve beyond first aid to provide long-term convalescent care. The groups liken this example to the mother’s role in the family and to the pastoral care received in church.
Many identify with the Good Samaritan. Their hearts are moved by the love of God to reach out with compassion to others in need or peril. The Good Samaritan is much like a paramedic who moves into danger to rescue others and doesn’t bother with issues of gender or race or even the matter of “What sin did this person commit to land in such a predicament?”
It would be easy to stop here and surmise that the religious people are heartless bad guys, and the wandering Samaritan who has a heart to do the right thing is the good guy to emulate. However, the story goes much deeper.
Each character has something worthy of consideration and validation. Is it okay to be a detailed person who desires clarity? Is it acceptable to be cautious and focused on what is in front of you? Is it okay to be a person who engages only after being invited to do so? Is there any one of us who has not needed rescuing? It takes all types of personalities to make up the family of God, and we are all in this human experience together.
The real twist to the story is that the Good Samaritan is a Jesus figure. This is the deeper lesson. Who is the great rescuer? Who can effectually disinfect and heal humanity? Who provides an open account for the provision for our needs? The Good Samaritan, Jesus is “the who” we all need—whether we are the victims, the religious folks, the cautious people, the daring people or the nurturing people. For us to join in the good work of the Good Samaritan, we must first be joined to the Good Samaritan—then it is our pleasure to participate with him!
It is Jesus who saves us and it is Jesus I continue to discover as I visit GCI churches and interact with the wonderful church members who teach me.
This is Greg Williams reporting from the field!