It’s true. Give blood if you can.
[The lawyer] answered Jesus, “You shall 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.”
And Jesus said to [the man], “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, [the lawyer] asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
One of many things you all have gotten me into is giving blood. I’d never donated blood before I was called here, but in my first year I couldn’t help but notice that the RedCross BloodMobile would regularly pull up between my house and my workplace. That made it pretty hard for me to find a good excuse not to give blood. That was solidified when, a couple of weeks after my first donation, I was visiting a beloved parishioner in the hospital and noticed he was getting a blood transfusion and that he was the same blood type as me. I learned that it’s better to help when you can, because you could be helping someone you know. Or not. And it really doesn’t matter.
“And who is my neighbor?”
There’s a poem out there that gets at that. It’s written by Carol Lynn Pearson, a poet from Idaho. She writes:
“I love giving blood.
Sometimes I walk in
Off the Street
When no one has even asked
And roll up my sleeve
I love lying on the table
Watching my blood flow
Through the scarlet tube
To fill the little bag
That bears no Address
I love the mystery
Of its destination.
It runs as easily
To child or woman or man
Black or white
Californian or Asian [or Asian Californian]
Muslim or Jew.”
There is more, but I’ll get to the rest later.
“And who is my neighbor?”
Needless to say, rolling up my sleeve on Monday with this text on my docket to wrestle with — well, the two interacted. If you’ve ever given blood, you know: you have a lot of time laying on the table to think. By the time I got to the raisins at the end, I pretty much had a sermon in mind.
Don’t get me wrong, here. I don’t always think about my sermon while I’m giving blood. I think about pretty much the same things you do: what groceries I have to get or who I’m mad at or the size of the ceiling tiles or basically anything except the needle sticking out of my arm.
But sometimes the connection to what I’m doing and what I’m preaching on is just a little too obvious.
If you want a classic, well-known short story by Jesus, the Good Samaritan is an excellent choice. Jesus tells this little story in response to a lawyer, already mentioned here, who asks Jesus how he can live forever. Jesus gives him a stock answer: follow the biggies in the law: love God and love your neighbor, he says, and you will live.
The lawyer’s response echoes in my head every time I hear church people argue about who’s worthy of love and respect: “… and who is my neighbor?” My dears, with this lawyer, we have never stopped asking Jesus this question. Luke says the lawyer was trying to justify himself, and with it, so are we. It’s basically all of us, together, whining through the ages, “I can’t love everyone as myself! That’s unrealistic! Who, specifically, are we supposed to love, Jesus? We need names. Addresses would be great, too.”
“[The blood I give] runs as easily
To child or woman or man
Black or white
Californian or Asian
Muslim or Jew.”
The Good Samaritan story is designed to offend the lawyer, and it’s designed to offend us. You’re going to miss it if you settle into how familiar this story, but this is Jesus popping off. We just don’t get it anymore. You see, American Christians living in the 21st century don’t have much of an issue with Samaritans. If anything, we associate the word with the story and think of a “Good Samaritan” as someone who randomly acts with kindness or compassion. If anything, “Samaritan” means something positive to us.
That lawyer had an issue with Samaritans, though. Samaritans were the ones the people of Israel were quite convinced had it all wrong. They lived wrong, worshiped wrong, thought wrong.
Now, I’m sure you have the imagination to hear this story the right way.
What group of people are you convinced live wrong, worship wrong, and/or think wrong? Take a minute. I’m sure it won’t take you long: Republicans, Democrats, Trump supporters, Hillary voters, Chuck Schumer. If politics don’t work, think religion. You’re sure to find some group of people in that rolodex of your mind who, if you’re honest with yourself, totally offends you with their very existence. I know, you want to be kind and say you love everyone, but sometimes it’s better to be honest. We all have someone. Got it?
Those are your Samaritans.
Now listen to the story again and fill in your blank.
A man whose car had broken down was walking from Granby to South Hadley when he was mugged by two guys. They beat him and took everything he had, and left him half dead by the side of the road. Now, by chance a Lutheran pastor was walking her dog by the side of the road, and when she saw him, she thought about helping, but she was in a hurry and was he really hurt or just another hitchhiker taking a rest? She crossed the street, just in case he was dangerous.
Likewise, later on, a member of Our Savior’s church council also passed by, and a similar thing happened: the man wasn’t obviously hurt, was he? And he might be dangerous. The council member passed by on the other side, too, just to be safe.
But a Samaritan [who’s your Samaritan?], saw him and came near, and his heart went out to the man. He immediately called for help, and stayed with the man until the EMTs arrived. When the man still wasn’t conscious and the EMTs couldn’t identify him, the Samaritan [who’s your Samaritan?] drove to the hospital where they were taking the man, saying “I didn’t want him to be alone.” He stayed by his bedside for hours until he regained consciousness, then he called the man’s family.
Then Jesus finishes telling us this story and turns to us, and we’re seething. Not only did the people like us act like jerks, the hero of the story was kind of a detestable person and he had acted like a hero. Jesus smiles and says, “So which one of these was a neighbor to the man?”
We know already: the one who showed him mercy. The one we can’t stand.
“Go and do likewise.”
In my humble opinion, if Christian faith can offer any tangible, being-a-good-human advice to the world, it is simply this: everyone is your neighbor. Even the ones you can’t stand.
If you’ve interacted with any number of different types of humans, you know this already: people will surprise you, and we need to watch how we label others and what we think that means they’re capable of. Everyone is a neighbor. You may not like all of them. Some of them may even question your very personhood. They may hate people like you. Some of them may even need to be loved from a distance. But you are not allowed to label and dismiss people as not beloved of God and incapable of good. Giving love to our neighbors must be like giving blood: we don’t know where it’s going.
It’s really all about learning to love like Jesus, whose grace flows to us regardless of who we are or what we’ve done. The Gospel is a story about God, not about us, so it’s no wonder we’re bad at loving our neighbors in this way.
It’s God’s grace that flows to us every time we approach the table together, not anything that any of us has produced or mustered. It doesn’t matter if you’ve failed a thousand ways a thousand times to Sunday. The bread and wine and the Good News of grace flow to you just the same. Then, we’re sent out to go and do likewise. We’re sent out to love, so that we can live.
God’s love, unlike ours, flows just as easily to the well-behaved and the terrible. So whichever one you feel like today, or if you’re where most of us live, in between the two, between saint and sinner — love flows to you, too. That’s the point of the Good Samaritan story, I think. If a Samaritan can show love, and if a Samaritan can be the beloved hero in Jesus’ story, so can you, my friend.
So give blood, if you can. If you can’t, let love flow out of you some other way. Most of all, let love flow to you today — from family and friends and loved ones and God. We’re all neighbors here.
The end of Carol Lynn Pearson’s poem is this, after she talks about how blood runs just as easily to anyone:
“Rain does too.
I think God does.
We Do Not.
Our suspicious egos clot
On the journey from ‘Us’ to ‘Them’
So I give blood
To practice Flowing
where it’s Going
Jesus asked the lawyer what’s in the law, and the lawyer answered Jesus: “You shall 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.”
And Jesus said to the man, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
Life, real life, is in loving your neighbors, whoever they are, not because you are perfect or good or worthy, and not because they are perfect or good or worthy, but because you know that you’re both already loved. God’s love flows freely, always.
Beloved to whom God’s love always flows: Word of God, word of life. [Thanks be to God.]