Membership comes at a cost
Proper 10, Year C, Track 1 Luke 10:25-37:
This parable that Jesus tells us almost sounds like a bad joke in which there is a priest, a lawyer, and a Levite. But this parable is no joke. Our religion requires different things of us. Some requirements like faith are intangible. Others like helping the needy may or may not require something more physical in which it is necessary to use our resources. Then there are times when we cannot do the work ourselves. We may be physically unable to do it, we may not have the time to do it, such as the Samaritan nursing a man back to health. For us, this may be the most common scenario in which we find ourselves. We may see a stranded vehicle on the side of the road, a homeless person in need of food, clothing, or shelter. We all have seen people in these circumstances. And I’m sure, if you are like me, you have driven or walked by them countless times in part due to our busy schedules.
I remember the first time I went to Mexico. I was in college and a friend of mine was a Mexican exchange student. Early into the two week adventure it seemed everywhere we went there were people who wanted a hand out; begging for money. Each time my friend encouraged me to give a few pesos. I was really reluctant to do this and after a few times I asked him why do we keep giving out money like this. In essence he said to me that there is no social security, food stamps, or other safety nets for the poor and marginalized people in Mexico. If we give a few pesos it will help them greatly and we won’t miss the money at all.
I don’t think at the time I fully grasped how such a small amount of money could help people; especially when the need seemed so great. I wondered if giving this money was solving the problem or causing the problem to proliferate; does it somehow prevent the person from helping themselves. If we put this experience into context with our parable, I think I was asking the wrong question. In our story the Samaritan didn’t solve the problem; preventing people from getting beaten and robbed on this road. Nor do I think in helping the injured person did he encourage the problem either. The Samaritan is acting in love and kindness, helping a person in need. Who the person being helped is or what kind of person they are is irrelevant. We know nothing about the person he helped. We don’t know his religion, his nationality, or if he was wealthy or poor. All we know is that he is another human being in need.
I imagine that we tend to judge the people we pass by on the roads and sidewalks. We are hesitant to give them money because we don’t know what they are going to do with it. Maybe they will buy alcohol or drugs? Maybe we think they are just too lazy to work and panhandling is somehow easier? The Samaritan didn’t ask questions about the man he helped. He didn’t judge the man to see if he was somehow worthy of his help. He sees a person in need and helps him.
Being a Christian, a member of the body of Christ, comes at a price. Through Baptism we get our life long membership card, so to speak; and this is free. Most everything else will come at a price in the form of time, talent, and treasure. It doesn’t really matter if you were a baby when you were baptized, for somewhere along the way you probably have reaffirmed the Baptismal Covenant yourself; either in conformation or at less formal times within the church service. In this covenant, we pledge to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. We promise to serve Christ in all persons, loving them as ourselves. And we vow to strive for justice, and respect the dignity of every human being. We say that we will do this with God’s help, but we cannot expect God to do this for us. Our faith, Christianity, is an active faith. We have to put effort into this work ourselves. We cannot just stand by and hope others will do it for us. Just as the Samaritan took time out of his schedule to stop and help, we are called to do the same. He used his talents to care for the man while he took him to the inn. The Samaritan used his treasure to pay the inn keeper for the continued care of the injured man while he was away.
The people of Eagle Lake continue to impress me. At the 4th of July fireworks I witnessed great hospitality. I was talking to a person and then a stranger comes up and hands me a margarita. Wow that was that a wonderful surprise on a hot evening. Just a few minutes before, I was offered food by another. Though I am not the poor or marginalized, this is exactly how we are to behave with all people we meet, not only on the 4th of July, but every day. Not only in Eagle Lake but everywhere we are, even in downtown Houston. This is one of the costs of our faith, or the cost of membership if you will. Bishop Doyle says, “We are to be neighbors, not counting the cost, but risking everything.”