Some of you might know that one of my favourite comedians is Chris Rock. I like him not only because he’s hilarious, but also because of his very honest take on life and all that it brings. Well a few months ago I saw that he was back with a new special on Netflix, and as usual he didn’t disappoint. But there was one bit on gun control that I thought really relates to today’s theme.
(I had a video here but apparently it is copyright protected, sorry. But basically Chris Rock said that people who protect current gun laws say that someone with a gun can kill just as many people with a knife. Chris’ rebuttal to that is if 100 people get stabbed by the same person at the same place at the same time, then that means 97 people deserved to die. It’s a good bit, look up “Chris Rock: Tamborine” on Netflix to watch it).
Now I know a lot of people will have different views on gun control, but we’re not going to be talking about that here, not today at least. But I found it interesting how Chris Rock was saying how some people deserve to be stabbed because they were too… how shall we say… dumb to get out of the way.
And we get that term again, “what people deserve”.
Last week, if you were here, you might remember we talked about our natural tendencies to want to give people what they deserve as our own sense of justice. We talked about how we just want to pay back evil for evil, hurt for hurt, an eye for an eye. We also talked about how that probably isn’t the best response as that isn’t the same as God’s justice.
But that isn’t exactly the same as what we’re talking about here. What we’re talking about here isn’t about retaliation, but perhaps a common sense result of certain actions. And if you lack the common sense to avoid those certain actions, then maybe yeah you deserve what coming to you. I’m not talking about doing something bad and then something bad will happen to you, but I’m talking about predicable outcomes to poor decisions, outcomes that shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone who has like half a brain.
Like, if you take your kids to school when it’s raining but don’t dress them in the proper rain gear, then expect them to be a little soggy by the time you pick them up. Or if you know you’re lactose intolerant but don’t take any precautions before eating pizza or ice cream or drink a litre of milk, you can expect some of the “rumbly tumblies”. Or, if you walk alone in a dark alley in the bad part of town with a lot of nice clothes and jewelry on, you can maybe expect that you probably aren’t in the safest place.
This would be the case in the setting of Jesus’ parable today when he talks about the road from Jerusalem down to Jericho. A little background on this road, it is literally “down” as the road takes you from Jerusalem’s elevation of roughly 2,500 feet above sea level to Jericho’s 825 feet below in a span of about 25 kilometers. So you can imagine that it was steep, rough, and had a lot of other issues with the drastically changing environment and drop in vegetation.
And because of the rough and rocky terrain, the whole road was like a breeding ground for bandits and thieves, as they could easily hide anywhere to catch travellers off their guard and then run off into the desert with little chance of anyone pursuing them. It is so dangerous that part of the road between Jerusalem and Jericho was nicknamed “bloody pass” or “ascent of red” for reasons you could probably guess, and another part is known as “death valley” or the “valley of darkness” as might be the one referred to in the 23rd Psalm.
The hearers of Jesus’ parable would recognise this road and the dangers that it brings. So they shouldn’t at all be surprised to hear that the man was robbed and beaten and left to die. In fact, hearing that he was alone, they’d probably expect it. They would be like, “This guy was going from Jerusalem down to Jericho by himself? He deserves to beaten and robbed.” Nope. No surprise there.
Then a priest and a Levite walked by him and paid no attention. This might sound like the surprise of the story, that these two religious folk who earn their keep by being good and upright and faithful would ignore one of God’s children who is clearly in need. But in fact, this wasn’t the surprise. See those religious folk were scared too, as they were also in danger just by walking down this road. They also had a religious responsibility to keep themselves pure, and not defile themselves by touching what could be a dead body. And if it wasn’t a dead body, it could be a decoy for all they knew and they weren’t about to fall for the oldest trick in the scroll. So no, there was no surprise that these two religious leaders didn’t stop to help, they couldn’t. It wouldn’t be wise for them to do so. It was either them or him, and they are of course much more important than him.
Then comes the Samaritan. We all know the story. We all know what he does. We all know that this right here, a human being helping another human being, is the actual surprise of the story. This is the unexpected twist. Being helped, especially by a lowly Samaritan, was not what the man in the ditch deserved.
Why? Because the Samaritans hate the Jews, and the Jews hate them back. This isn’t just a rivalry, but it is a deep seated cultural battle that ran back for generations. Think the British and French over the centuries, or the US and former USSR relationship for much of the 1900s, or the Starfleet and Klingon war of the Original Series of Star Trek. These people hated everything about each other, and the other could never be good enough. So much so that when Jesus asks the lawyer who the neighbour was, he couldn’t even bring himself to say the name, but just generally alludes to “the one who showed him mercy.”
This is who helped the man in the ditch. This is the example of being a neighbour. This is the unexpected surprise of the story, and what a shame.
Not a shame that the man was helped. Not a shame that this is the example. But a shame that it is a surprise. A shame that the default is that the man deserved to be beaten. A shame that no one thought a Samaritan, an outsider, the “other,” could ever be considered as good.
My question now is, can we ever change? Can we ever change the norm to make the surprise that no one feels safe travelling down a dangerous road? Can we change the default that a person will just help another person simply because they are in need? Can we ever change the perspective that the other truly can be and is and we can treat them as our neighbour?
For the lawyer who approached Jesus wanted some sort of answer of who he has to love and who he can continue to hate, he wanted some sort of permission on living the same segregated and privilege laden life, he wanted justification for the answer of “how can that person be my neighbour?”. But Jesus turned the whole question of “who is my neighbour” on its head. Rather, Jesus revealed to the lawyer that our definition of good and bad may not be the same as God’s, our view of who deserves to be loved or unloved is wiped away by God’s grace, our perspective on the world then becomes “how can that person not be my neighbour?”.
For God’s love is expansive, it is inclusive, it reaches out to the margins of society and touches every living thing, reminding us all that by God’s grace we deserve to be regarded as humans, deserve to be welcomed into community, deserve to be God’s beloved children in the world.
In this season after Pentecost, may we see the value and worth in the other, see how they deserve to be called our brothers and sisters, and be welcoming to all in this body of Christ to which we all belong. Thanks be to God. Amen.