Last Sunday, our church celebrated first responders in our community with a free breakfast. For my sermon, I preached on the most famous “first responder” in scripture: the Good Samaritan. What’s the “moral” of this parable? To do what the Good Samaritan does? To love our enemies as much as we love our friends? As I explain in this sermon, I hope not! The parable isn’t mostly about doing something; it’s about being something—which can only happen once we’ve been rescued by our real-life Good Samaritan, Jesus Christ.
Sermon Text: Luke 10:25-37
What is your policy on giving money to panhandlers? Do you give money to them and under what circumstances?
Earlier this month, in an interview with an Italian magazine, Pope Francis gave some advice to his flock about how to deal with panhandlers. It’s very simple: When a panhandler approaches you and asks for a handout, he said, “Give them the money, and don’t worry about it.”
If you’re like me, you probably hear these words and want to say, “Yes, but…” You can think of perfectly good reasons for not giving money to just any panhandler that approaches you. “What if this person plans on taking the money and buying drugs or booze?” The pope says, Just give and don’t worry about it. “What if they’re lying about being homeless or in need?” The pope says, Just give the money and don’t worry about it. “What if they’re running a scam, and they’re making more money panhandling than an average person makes by earning an honest wage?” The pope says, Just give the money and don’t worry about it.
Whether we agree with the pope’s words or not, let’s give him credit: his policy on giving to panhandlers is likely more in keeping with the spirit of Jesus’ words in today’s scripture than our policy of not giving. Why? Because his policy says, “I will give you this gift, whether you deserve it or not.” Our policy says, “I will give you this gift, but only if I think you deserve it; only if I think you’re worthy of it.”
If the Good Samaritan had a policy like ours, he never would have stopped to help this injured victim on the side of the road. Keep in mind: People in the first century were not individualistic like we are today. People thought in terms of groups. They stereotyped people based on the tribe, or the family, or the nation they belonged to. If you’ve ever heard a sermon on this parable, you’ve probably heard it said that, from an ancient Jewish perspective, there was no such thing as a “good” Samaritan. To refer to someone as a good Samaritan was an oxymoron—like saying “jumbo shrimp,” “open secret,” or “deafening silence.” Ancient Jews and Samaritans were hated enemies. They caused a lot of harm to one another. No ancient Jew would have said, “In general, Samaritans are horrible people, but this one individual Samaritan is all right.” Or vice versa. They didn’t make exceptions for individuals. Read the rest of this entry »