Last Friday, a Palestinian gunman fired on a car full of Jewish settlers. The car crashed and the driver, Rabbi Mark, a father of 10, was killed. His wife and one of his daughters were left seriously injured. It’s unknown who drove past the car, but what is intriguing is who stopped. First, a Palestinian man and his wife stopped and put the wounded girl in their car while waiting for medics to arrive. Dr. Ali Shroukh, a Palestinian doctor, and his brother were driving along the same road on their way to Jerusalem to join in Ramadan prayers. When they, too, rounded the corner on the scene, they stopped when the first Palestinian man called out that he had a wounded girl in his car. Dr. Shroukh took care of the girl while his brother, who spoke some Hebrew, comforted her. Together, the two brothers broke open a window of the car to extract the Rabbi’s wife.
Soon, an Israeli ambulance arrived to take care of the victims. A Palestinian medic urged the brothers to leave, saying that because Dr. Shroukh was not dressed as a doctor he could be arrested by Israeli soldiers. Although the brothers left, they did so, according to Dr. Shroukh, only after he was sure the family was being taken care of. “It doesn’t matter if somebody is a settler, a Jew or an Arab,” he said. “Thank God we helped them.”
The Jewish family then responded to the situation with grace and compassion. When some mourners shouted, “Revenge! Revenge!” during Rabbi Mark’s funeral, one of his sons asked them to leave. When others posted on Rabbi Mark’s daughter-in-law’s Facebook page, describing Arabs in unflattering ways, she responded by writing that the Palestinians “stayed with them in those difficult moments…I think you should write terrorist, and not Arabs.” Later, Rabbi Mark’s nephew asked about the Palestinian doctor who had helped his uncle’s family, then began weeping. “Tell them thank you, thank you, from all my heart.”
We all know the story of the “Good Samaritan”; we’ve heard it all our lives. But as biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine articulates, this is certainly not how Jesus’ Jewish audience would have considered the Samaritan. The story of the compassionate Samaritan cannot be fully comprehended unless we understand exactly what the relation between Jews and Samaritans at the time was. Their relationship was strained at best and antagonistic at worst. The precise reason is unclear, After all, they both worshiped the same God, just in different ways
Today, we often identify as the Samaritan, but what if we instead view ourselves as the man in the ditch, like the Jewish hearers of Jesus’ parable would have? Levine writes, “to understand the parable as did its original audience, we need to think of Samaritans less as oppressed but benevolent figures and more as the enemy, as those who do the oppressing. From the perspective of the man in the ditch, Jewish listeners might balk at the idea of receiving Samaritan aid. They might have thought, ‘I’d rather die than acknowledge that one from that group saved me’; ‘I do not want to acknowledge that a rapist has a human face’; or ‘I do not want to recognize that a murderer will be the one to rescue me.’”
The point that I’m trying to clarify—that Jesus was explaining to the lawyer—is not which group is in the right and which is in the wrong, but rather how you should treat any human being that you come across . Even someone who sees you as their enemy.
At a certain level, this passage is so easy and simple. Jesus’ message is clear: everyone (yes, everyone) is your neighbor. What do you do when a neighbor is in trouble? You help them. How, as in the example of the family of Rabbi Mark, do you respond when your neighbor helps you? You thank them. But living out these very simple instructions is complicated.
We all have our reasons: “It’s not safe to help.” “Someone else will help.” “I refuse to be seen with him.” “It’s her own fault she’s in this situation.” The internet is full of stories of experiments in which people of all ages, nationalities, races, and gender consistently fail at helping those in need. In one video, those running the experiment dressed a young twenty-something man in a business suit, brief case and crutches. When he fell three different times in three different places, those around him immediately helped him up. In part two of the experiment, the man was dressed as if he was homeless, and was sent down the street to do the exact same thing. Again, he would fall, dropping his crutches and his two bags. This time, however, no one stopped to help. They just walked past. It wasn’t until the actor fell in front of another homeless man that he was immediately helped to his feet.
In another video, a man is dressed in a business suit and falls to the ground coughing. Immediately, people run to him to help. When the man is dressed as if he was homeless, however, and again, has a coughing fit and collapses on the ground, he is completely ignored. He just lies there for an agonizingly long time, almost five minutes, with barely even a glance from those who pass him by. 
I have plenty of other examples that I could share with you, but that’s not necessary. At this point in my sermon writing I had to stop. I walked into the living room where I found my mother and said, “Mom, now I feel like I’m in the congregation and now I need the minister to make this better.” I am one of those idealistic college students who wants to save the world before breakfast (if anyone has tips on doing that, let me know). However, we don’t actually have to save the whole world before breakfast. We can just save one part, one person in our path.
When my brother once woke me up by pouring water on me, I considered it my personal gift to God that he survived to get to school. But actually, The fact that I did not become an only child that day did not make me a Good Samaritan. Rather, the Good Samaritan action would have been to get out of bed with a smile on my face and to give my brother a warm, genuine hug and thank him! It’s not enough to ‘do no harm.’ The priest and the Levite weren’t the ones who robbed the man, but they didn’t actually improve the situation when they walked past and took no action. Even 5th graders know: don’t be a bystander to bullying.
It’s not just that you have to tolerate those whom you would consider your enemy, but you also have to love them. Remember: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Maybe it’s the Muslims or the Mormons. I don’t know, maybe you just can’t stand those Methodists J. Maybe you’d never dream of insulting the LGBTQ community, but when it comes to defending them, you’d rather sit quietly in the back.
It’s hard, I know it is. And it all seems so overwhelming. But maybe we’re supposed to be uncomfortable.
As I got in the car one morning this past week, the song that came on when I switched on the radio was Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” Now I have a guess that many of you are much more familiar with this song than I am, but as I drove through Granville I listened to the words of the refrain for the first time.
“I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change”
After Jesus shared the parable, he asked, “‘Which of these three [the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan] do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Sometimes we will see someone in a ditch, and say to ourselves, “It doesn’t matter if somebody is my enemy,” “Thank God we helped them.”
And someday we may be in the ditch ourselves, and say of the one who was our enemy, “Tell them thank you, thank you, from all my heart.”
May it be so,
First Presbyterian Church, Granville, OH