Several bystanders kept on walking as Hugo Yax, a homeless man age 31, lay dying on a sidewalk in one of our nation’s largest cities. He had been attacked and left for dead. There was no denying that he was in need of help because he had collapsed and was lying in a pool of blood. Some people stopped to look, most simply side stepped him completely, one took a picture. Clinical psychologists have now labeled this as the “bystander effect” where we are too busy, too detached from the real world, too concerned about getting entangled, or just expecting someone else to come and help.
Psychologists have even named a syndrome for it, but Jesus would stop with the first syllable, not syndrome, but sin. You can see the priest and the Levite, and you and me, walking right by Hugo Yax… Why? Very simply we see this homeless man and he’s not my neighbor. He smells, he’s dirty, he’s a con artist, he’s an addict, he’s crazy, the world might say less than human… one thing he’s not, he’s not my neighbor.
Isn’t it amazing how we suddenly become like Harvard Law School graduates, when we need to justify our innocence, when we want to know, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Since I am so righteous, surely I can earn my inheritance: the only question, “who is my neighbor?” Because when Jesus says love your neighbor, according to the Law you must do this to live. It makes you squirm a little doesn’t it; if you want to live you must love God and love your neighbor perfectly or stand condemned of the death penalty.
And so how quickly we become our own defense attorneys along with the lawyer, trying to justify ourselves in who we must love: who is my neighbor? I mean surely my neighbor is someone who treats me like a neighbor should… helps out when needed, puts up with my impatience, and turns a blind eye to my faults – that’s a neighbor. But surely it’s not the neighbor who snubs me, who outdoes my yard work, who took my parking spot that I was clearly going towards, who cuts me off entering the highway… that can’t be my neighbor that I am to love as myself, right? What does God expect? Or what about the geeks, the dweebs, the people who annoy me, the losers: my neighbor?
Who made your most wanted list from watching the news this past week for the most horrible person? Was it the rioting murderous thug, the racist blood thirsty cop, the corrupt politician, someone involved with abortion or homosexuality, the judge that persecutes Christians? Does the law of love dictate that even they are my neighbor? There’s gotta be a loophole in the law somewhere! Or for a good legalistic Pharisee, a neighbor certainly wouldn’t be some scum of the earth sinner who doesn’t even belong in the same room with a pillar of the church like them… certainly not a low down heretic of a Samaritan… I mean Good Samaritan, it’s like saying a good case of athlete’s foot… or a good fire ant. But to humble us, Jesus will put things on their heads, not answering who is our neighbor, but showing us what a good neighbor looks like, in the last person expected. So what hope is there in keeping the Law to earn our inheritance, if even a Samaritan can out do us?
Or a homeless hero. Yes, this man Hugo Yax, written off by the world, was a hero. He was the only one who came to the aid of a woman being threatened at knifepoint – and it would cost him his life to save her. And when we think of how we would have looked down upon him, maybe side stepped him as he died… when we realize that this man of seemingly no worth, he is the good neighbor, the neighbor who had compassion where we would not… then the law has done it’s work. We can’t do it, we haven’t loved our neighbor as we should, or loved God. You see, denying our neighbor mercy, is much more than not keeping the Law, it is a denial of God… because God doesn’t just “do” mercy, He is mercy by His very nature. All of our division and hate and strife that we try to justify comes down to this, “Who is my neighbor?” … which lays bare our sins.
And so the Law that we turn to for salvation, is the robber that strips us of our robes of self righteousness … and when we fall into sin like falling among robbers, we are beat down with guilt and shame and left for dead. We are unable to save ourselves, and have no currency to stay in the inn where we will be cared for. Who will save us, who will make payment for us, who will be our Good Samaritan? Yes, when Jesus journeys among us, comes to where we are and sees us… He doesn’t pass by, as we deserve only justice on the most wanted list… but instead He has compassion upon us. A mercy that literally pours out from the very depths of his inmost being.
Yes, Jesus, written off by the world, a humble homeless hero called heretic, and yet the very Son of God will lay down his life to save ours. In this least expected way, seeming more like the wounded man left for dead – He is the true Good Samaritan. By his being pierced, He binds our wounds. Covered in our sins… covers us with His righteousness. By the water and the blood flowing from His side, He pours the healing oil and wine on our wounds through font and chalice. By His carrying the cross, He lifts us up and carries us to the place where we will be healed, paying not with a denarii to the innkeeper but with his precious holy blood and innocent suffering and death.
He came to die and rise again: for the geek, the dweeb, the loser, the outcast, the worst of the worst… he came to die for sinners… he came to die for you and for me. This is the picture of mercy: doing all that we have left undone through His perfect love. This is the picture of mercy… love and kindness in action. And so for all who are bound to Christ through baptism and communion, His mercy is still in action through us.
Because in Christ we will journey as far as it takes to go to the place where people are hurting and we will have compassion. We will bind up the broken hearted and bring them comfort. We will pour out God’s mercy upon them like healing oil and wine. Whatever it takes to care for our neighbor we will gladly pay.
Who was the neighbor Jesus asks… “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus says to us, “You go, and do likewise.” Not to earn our inheritance of eternal life, or to justify our prideful selves, but simply because ours is a life of mercy… we breathe in Christ’s love and mercy through His Word and Sacraments and we exhale his love and mercy to our neighbors all around us.
“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,” in Christ we can do no other… throughout our journey wherever we may see a neighbor in need of mercy… like Christ we will be a neighbor to all… showing compassion to all who are in need.
And not just physical need, but those who are stripped, beaten and left for dead spiritually also. As we will bind them up and comfort them with the Gospel. The Good News that while we can never do enough to inherit eternal life, we have our Good Samaritan who has done all and given all that we might inherit the very Kingdom of God. And the Good News that we have an eternal peace because on the day of judgment we will have no need for a defense attorney because we have been saved by grace through faith… faith in a Savior who has loved us with all his heart, mind, strength and soul… that we might know His perfect love forever… in His eternal neighborhood. And as the good late reverend Mr Rogers always said… “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood… won’t you be my neighbor?”