Jun 4th, Welcoming the Stranger, with Rev. Tyler McQuilkin
A Part of the Series:
Our Scripture today comes from the Gospel of Luke chapter 10, verses 25 through 37. An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus, teacher, he said, What must I do to inherit eternal life? He said to him, what is written in the law? What do you read there? He answered, 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 he said to him, you have given the right answer, do this and you will live. But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, and who is my neighbor? Jesus replied, a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and took off, leaving him half dead. Now, by chance, a priest was going down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
So likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him passed by on the other side, but a Samaritan, while traveling came upon him. And when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, treating them with oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took out two denarii, I gave them to the innkeeper, and said, Take care of him. And when I come back, I will repay you, whatever more you spend. Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? The man said, the one who showed him mercy. And Jesus said, Go and do likewise.
The Hebrew Scriptures have been around for 1000s of years. And along with the New Testament, they eventually became part of the Christian scriptures. Now, the theme throughout the Bible is welcoming the stranger. Or we might also call it offering hospitality to others. Now, even though this is such a common theme in Scripture, we probably don’t have to look too far to see ways that we have not been hospitable to strangers in our own lives. And we absolutely don’t have to look too far to see how the church has failed to be a welcoming place to the stranger.
So if God cares so deeply about showing hospitality to the stranger, a helpful question for each of us is to ask ourselves, who is the stranger? In a book titled An epidemic among my people, social scientists, religious leaders and political scientists observe how the pandemic affected our society and the church. They cover how the pandemic affected issues like racial inequality, polarization in politics, our religious practices, and our worship patterns and just so much more.
One chapter is titled, who is allowed in your lifeboat, and focuses on how religious identities affect how certain religious groups see others, and how they care for others? The chapter itself, I think, is a helpful question for us to ask when thinking about being hospitable to strangers in our own lives. Who do we allow into our life boats? And that also asked the question, Who do we exclude. For so many people and groups, we tend to build walls and draw lines for who we include and who we exclude. These walls are often determined by sticking with people who look like us.
Maybe they think like us or vote like us, or at least have similar beliefs and values to us. The authors of this chapter write negative information about the outgroup is more easily accepted than positive information. So when there’s a group or a person we disagree with, we easily accept the bad things we hear about them, while often ignoring or questioning or even rejecting the positive things we hear about them. When we fall into this pattern, we easily become more biased against the other group or the stranger and turn toward toward our own group for safety. We easily become afraid of either being confused or associated with the stranger that has different Use or lifestyles than we do. So it’s easier to just exclude them rather than show them hospitality and embrace them as they are. So again, we have to ask ourselves, who is the stranger to us.
In today’s scripture from the Gospel of Luke, three men are said to be on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Now, this stretch of road between these two cities is about 18 miles long, and the travelers would likely be tired and wanting to get to their destination as quickly as possible. Commentators also add that the way they were traveling is largely downhill, meaning that they could likely see this bruised and beaten man from a long distance away, before they actually walked past him. Now, the priest and the Levite, who both made the effort to walk to the other side of the road, would have had plenty of time to consider helping this man.
So I wonder what went on in their heads as they made that long walk down the road, seeing the man suffering on the side of the road that whole time. Maybe they thought to themselves, I just finished my duties as a religious leader. Now, I just want to get home and spend some time alone before another day of work tomorrow. Or they thought, Ah, I’ve already done my service today for God’s people. So I’m going to let this one go. Or they thought, This man could be a trap of trap for robbers to come after me and take my money. Or maybe they just thought that helping the man would compromise their own ability to do their jobs as religious leaders. And I say that because one scholar notes that this might have actually been a difficult decision for them, because they would risk becoming unclean if they were helping, if they were helping the man and he died, and they touched him. Because if they touched a dead body, they would become unclean themselves, and then they wouldn’t be able to perform their duties as religious leaders if they themselves were unclean.
Now, for us, this wouldn’t be nearly as big of an issue. But for the priest and the Levite, walking down the road that chose not to help, there was a clear tension between their duty with their religious position, and then their duty to help the stranger this man on the side of the road. Now, the text doesn’t tell us whether they why they crossed the road and avoided the man. So whether they had this inner conflict of duties, or who it was simply because they didn’t want to help the man out of their own personal reasons, or whether they had assumptions about the man that rationalized and justified their decision not to help him. Although the text isn’t clear why they crossed the road, what is clear in the story is that they made the clear effort to not to cross the road, and not to help the stranger. But then, coming down the road is the Samaritan walking down and he sees the man. The text says that right when he saw the man, he was moved with compassion. And then he bandaged his wounds, and brought the man to an end where he promised to pay the innkeeper for the man’s expenses.
So unlike the priest and the Levite, the Samaritan does not cross the road, he didn’t find a reason to justify letting this man suffer. Instead, he quickly moved forward to help the man suffering the stranger, because that was the right thing to do in that moment. Now, Jesus’s use of the Samaritan isn’t just to have another group represented represented in the story. But it’s actually an intentional part of the story. That adds even more importance. As you may know, from the Jewish point of view at the time, Samaritans were considered to be heretics who didn’t serve and obey God properly. So the Samaritan being the one to show hospitality to the stranger on the road, while the religious leaders, the priest and the Levite failed to do so would have actually shocked Jesus’s audience here.
So while we all hope that we would probably be the Samaritan if we had a similar encounter or experience, I’m guessing a lot of us can think of time times when we have behaved more like the priest and the Levite, where we crossed the road to avoid helping someone that might be a need. Just like the first two, it is so easy for us to move away from what we ought to do. For the sake of what we want to do. It is often difficult to see a need, and consider the cost of serving that need or welcoming the stranger into our lives. It might cost us our time or our money. And so we crossed the street to save ourselves time and money. Probably hoping that someone else might come around who’s got the time and the resources to help.
The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his book discipleship about what he calls costly grace. Costly grace means that the Christian life calls people to do things that cost them something that cost could be our time, our safety, or our comfort. And Christ calls us out of ourselves and into something deeper and greater. Christ calls us into costly grace, where we turn from a life of selfishness to a life of selflessness. Christ calls us to break down the walls that we have created that divide ourselves with in groups and out groups, and instead, turn toward each other so that we see all people as our neighbor who we are called to love. Bonhoeffer writes, every moment and every situation challenges us to action, and to obedience, we have literally no time to sit down and ask ourselves whether so and so is our neighbor or not, we must get into action and obey, we must behave like a neighbor to them. The Samaritan did not have time to ask if the man beaten and bruised on the side of the road was his neighbor, he knew he was. He also knew that the man was a stranger. And instead of finding reasons to sit idle and show and avoid showing hospitality to this man, he instead jumped up to action and quickly helped the stranger who was in need. So, again, who is the stranger to us? And why should we welcome them?
We all have a list of who the stranger is for us. And it probably differs from person to person. But the stranger is the person that does not necessarily fit into your own box of comfort. They’re the people you might not want to be seen sharing a meal with. They’re the people in the world that think things completely different than you do. The stranger are the people you might not want to be in the same room with because of your different values. They might look different than you do or talk different than you and the people you usually spend time with. They’re the ones you don’t want to get to know or interact with, because of your differences, or because it might just cost you too much of your time. So whoever the stranger is for us, what matters is that we show welcome and hospitality to them.
Rather than building walls to have people that keep strangers out, we should listen to Jesus’s final command to the lawyer when he says, Go and do likewise. This go and do likewise does not simply mean go and act in love to your neighbor, but rather go and become a neighbor to those in need, no matter how much of a stranger they might be. It is not just a matter of loving and serving those who are near to us and similar to us, but also of drawing nearer to those who, for whatever reason, whether it be racial or ethnic, theological or political, may seem to be a stranger to us. When we welcome the stranger into our lives, we are becoming their neighbor in the process so that walls are being broken down.