(Preached in Spanish at our 1 p.m. Spanish service at All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA on July 14, 2013. Posted in English at parishioners’ request.)
My friends in Christ, it is difficult to preach today. It is difficult to preach about the Good Samaritan and the injured man in the road the day after the Florida verdict in the case of George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon Martin, a seventeen-year-old boy. The jury in Florida say that Zimmerman was not guilty. It is difficult because we want to focus today on caring for the injured stranger, not killing him. The Holy Spirit cries out for our children to be protected, not cut down. Nevertheless, may the Holy Spirit center our thoughts on the loving care of our own neighbors.
We just heard the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is probably the most famous, the most retold story in the New Testament. Even those who have no knowledge of the Bible or of Christianity are familiar with this story of the Good Samaritan. It has even been memorialized in legal terms such as Good Samaritan laws. These are laws that protect those who offer assistance to others from being sued in any way for injuries that occur while they are trying to help someone.
In the common retelling of the story, the focus is on the Good Samaritan himself. We frequently hear about how Samaritans were considered undesirable and untouchable by the Jews in the time of Jesus. In contrast, the priests and Levites of Jesus’ time were considered the intellectual and moral elites. Thus,we tend to focus on what appears to be the moral of Jesus’ story: that the religious professionals, the supposed moral elites, are not showing love and compassion toward the victim, whereas the undesirable Samaritan does show mercy toward the victim.
I want to change the focus of our attention today. I want us to focus our attention upon the man lying on the ground. The victim of the crime. The story starts with him, after all: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.” Half dead.
The story seems to be about the contrast between the Good Samaritan who shows mercy and the priests and Levites who do not. The starkest contrast is, on the one hand, between the man who has been beaten and is half dead, and on the other hand, those who have the opportunity and ability to help him. The victim is completely vulnerable and unable to care for himself. He’s so beaten that he is not even able to ask for help. He’s half dead. On the other hand, everyone else in the story has the resources to help him. Priests and Levites were well paid, and clearly the Samaritan had enough income to aid the victim.
Perhaps the priest and the Levite did not stop because the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was considered very dangerous. Perhaps they were afraid of getting mixed up in any violence. And perhaps, as well paid, important people, they also had important meetings to get to. Stopping to take care of a mugging victim would distract them from their important work. It would slow down their arrival at their goal. They had important careers. They had important appointments. They were important.
The man in the ditch, he was just another victim. Perhaps they considered his injuries regrettable, but they also were afraid to get involved. Notice what they did: the priest crossed to the other side of the road. The Levite crossed to the other side of the road. They did not want to get mixed up in the violence on the wrong side of the road.
When I visited Pasadena a few weeks ago to interview for a job here, I was told a tale of two cities: this part of Pasadena, south of the 210 freeway, and Pasadena north of the 210. That is to say, Pasadena on the other side of the road. I was told that the lives of people on either side of the freeway are dramatically different. Of course, this is a gross oversimplification of the actual neighborhoods of Pasadena. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that life looks different in Northwest Pasadena than it does in this neighborhood or South Pasadena. North of the freeway is on the other side of the road. On that side of the road, our Latino and African American neighbors struggle with weak public schools, poor employment prospects, lack of health care, and lack of healthy water and food options. They are not shopping at Trader Joe’s.
Still, we are all neighbors. Some of our neighbors fear deportation because they lack legal status in the United States. Some of our neighbors suffer from gang violence. Some of our neighbors wonder how they will find adequate employment or a decent education. They struggle with daily frustrations and fears that most of us south of the freeway do not experience. And each of these frustrations is like a small blow, one blow after another, that knocks people down and leaves them, in the words of Luke, half dead. Or to put it another way, half alive.
I have compared the man who was beaten, stripped, and left half dead to our neighbors north of the freeway. In another way, it is also true to say that our community here at All Saints is only half alive. Our community may not seem badly injuried and lying in the road. In many ways, we thrive as a church community. But can we truly say that we are fully alive? Are we fully alive as God’s holy people if our church does not include and represent all of those who live in Pasadena? Without our neighbors, we are only half alive.
In First Corinthians, Saint Paul writes, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,”’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'” He means that to be the Body of Christ, we must include all the members of our community. We cannot cut off any part of our community in Pasadena and expect to live fully as the body of Christ. Rich and poor. Citizens and non-citizens. English speaking and Spanish speaking. Married and single. Educated and less educated. Employed and unemployed. We do not fully see until we see through the eyes of the other. We do not fully hear until we hear through the ears of the other. When we can remove the barriers of class and language, race and status, we discover how much we need the other in order to be fully alive ourselves.
It may seem strange to compare the more privileged people of Pasadena to the half-dead man in this story of the Good Samaritan. We typically cast the poor and the victims of violence in the role of the injured traveler in this parable. Latino liberation theology, however, teaches us that the poor, while crucified with Christ in some ways in their poverty, are also the means of salvation for the rest of us. Jon Sobrino of El Salvador titled a book, No Salvation Outside the Poor. In this book, he and the theologian Ignacio Ellacuría explain how salvation comes through the poor. They write that we cannot be freed from the shackles of privilege and division until we experience a close solidarity with the poor. This happens when those who are privileged offer assistance and community to the poor. It also happens when the more privileged ones accept the assistance and fellowship offered by the less fortunate members of our community.
Of course, it is overly simplistic to say that everyone north of the freeway is poor and oppressed and everyone south of the freeway is rich and privileged. I do think it is fair to say that All Saints Church tends to attract the more privileged members of our community and not the less privileged. In this sense, we are a poor community due to this lack of diversity. We lack the resources that will make us fully alive.
On the other hand, we are rich in several ways. We have several ministries that reach out to the less privileged of Pasadena. For example, through our Office of Creative Connections, we partner with the Pasadena Latino Coalition and other groups. These groups work to improve the educational, medical, and housing prospects for Latinos and Latinas in Pasadena. We have a feeding ministry for many homeless people on Monday mornings. We are working with the community to end gun violence and gang warfare in Pasadena. We cannot save Trayvon Martin, but we can help other boys and girls in our own community. In these ways, we enrich our whole community by forging connections with the less fortunate.
At this time, we at All Saints have a tremendous opportunity to reach out to those who feel beaten down or abandoned on the other side of the road. The first step is to recognize how poor we are without the Latino and Latina community In Pasadena. The next step is to share the many riches we possess with our neighbors—our beautiful music, our theology of inclusion, our wonderful programs. In this way, we saints of All Saints can be fully alive as the resurrected body of Christ. Amen.
Thank you so much for sharing food, not only with your congregation but also, with me in the name of Christ. Amen! My Franciscan sister. Tina.
How timely – after a week of the Doctrine of Discovery, then the verdict… then the parable… Certainly a lot to think about! Thank you.
Carol Kent, tssf
As difficult as it is to accept the verdict and move on, I can only say that my trust in God will handle this injustice!
Amen, Walter. Human-made laws and processes do not always coincide with justice, but God is always just–and merciful. I pray for all the parties involved in this case, and also for families of gunshot victims all around the country, especially in my particular corner of the world right now: Pasadena.
“I do think it is fair to say that All Saints Church tends to attract the more privileged members of our community and not the less privileged. In this sense, we are a poor community due to this lack of diversity. We lack the resources that will make us fully alive.”
Thank you, Janine, for drawing attention to what I feel to be All Saints’ most glaring void.
As you mentioned, our church is rich beyond measure in so many ways, but it pains me to see such a culturally and economically homogeneous parish. I know there are so many things about our church that clearly attract newcomers; I witness things about our church, however, that I fear might serve to intimidate, if not repel, potential worshippers.
Your gifts of honesty and humility are deeply appreciated. Thank you!