Encountering the Human on the Way
The story today seems so simple.
Pay attention to the human being in front of you.
Why is this so hard?
We run late, and we walk by everyone who is suffering.
We do not know someone, and then we do not care.
Why is it so hard for us to have empathy for all our human siblings?
There are just so many people in this world.
Too many people for us to wrap our arms around.
In our everyday life, there is more going on than our brains can process.
Our brains adjust by creating schemas.
A schema is a way to categorize or think of something.
Our brain finds ways to generalize things.
Even if you have not encountered a situation before,
your brain has a way of categorizing it for you.
Schemas allow us to take shortcuts in interpreting
the vast amount of information in our environment.
They simplify. They allow us to think quickly.
Yet, schemas tend to remain unchanged over time.
It is important to know this.
This is the human condition to which Jesus is preaching.
We encounter more people than we can comprehend.
Because of this, we make schemas or generalizations about them.
We make caricatures.
We say people are like this or like that.
Take the example of the Samaritan.
Judeans hated the Samaritans.
Samaria was a place where you did not go.
Judeans would go miles out of their way to avoid Samaria.
Their rivalry was violent. There were riots and killings.
Yet Jesus chooses a Samaritan traveler
as the one who saved the man robbed and beaten on the road to Jericho.
This was someone the beaten man may have thought of as
conniving or hateful.
Jesus’ parable pokes holes in our caricatures. It ruins our schemas.
But that may be just what it takes for us to become a neighbor.
Each person is a burning bush worthy of contemplation.
Each person is more than who they are when they are their worst selves.
More than who they are when they are their best selves.
Jesus comes to humanize us and the others we encounter.
How do we undergo the process of humanization?
We become willing to sit with another in their suffering.
We stop crossing the road to avoid helping people.
We practice empathy.
That stinks. I didn’t know that.
We engage in remorse. Humility. We do better.
I acknowledge that humans have been crossing
to the other side of the road for centuries, for millennia.
When this happens, Jesus teaches us to say I am sorry.
Perhaps we did not realize the impact of our actions.
Intention and impact are different.
You can have good intentions and still do harm to another.
We have been socialized to dehumanize others,
so that we can get around the world.
We have been socialized not to ask questions.
Like, where do my clothes come from?
Where does my food come from?
Why do young black boys keep getting killed by the police?
Why are young white boys shooting up schools?
Jesus comes to bring us back in touch with our humanity.
Jesus brings us life.
For something in us dies when we walk on by
a brother struggling to breathe in the streets.
Something in us dies when we walk on by
someone on the streets hungering for their next meal.
Oh, that person begging on the street,
they are just going to use money on drugs, society says,
so do not stop to greet them, or say hi, or give them food.
Maybe I have never met this person before in my life,
but I have a schema about them. I have already categorized them
and wiped away their humanity in my head.
The caricatures that I create justify me.
They tell me it is all right to walk on by.
I did not care about them, but I am still a good person. Right?
What if Jesus does not want to call us a “good person”?
Just a thought.
After all, the legal expert knew the beautiful law of God very well.
He knew he was to love God.
He knew he was to love his neighbor.
He knew he was to love himself.
Here he is. He is totally a good person!
And he is going to prove it!
Jesus is not interested in this.
Jesus is not interested in watching this man
live from a place of self-congratulation.
And so Jesus tells this scandalous story.
The priest and Levite should have been the model neighbors
for the lawyer. They pass by the beaten man.
The Samaritan stops.
Maybe the Samaritan had stereotypes of the Judean victim.
Everyone has told him what these people are like.
Yet, what if that is not the whole truth?
Empathy moves him beyond the schemas he has created.
Compassion churns in his bowels.
This robbed man is bleeding.
If no one does anything, he will die.
The Samaritan has been socialized to walk on by.
But something in him says, No, I will stop and help this person.
And so he does.
The Samaritan rejects the socializations he has grown up with:
the stories, the generalizations,
the myriad of reasons it is okay to walk by anyone who is suffering.
He rejects his societal myths.
As does the suffering man, who silently accepts the Samaritan’s mercy.
It saves their lives.
It could save the lawyer’s life.
He can become more than someone with power and influence in his town,
who can puff his chest and say, I am a good person.
No, God does not want the good ones.
God wants the merciful ones.
Ones whose heart goes out.
Ones who ache to be freed from the chains of imprisonment
with which society binds all of us.
Maybe we begin to be neighbors when we realize that we have been taught to cross over to the other side of the street for a long time.
We have been socialized not to pay attention to suffering.
Yet God pays attention to our suffering.
God is the one who gives up impassivity to come down
and be with us in our suffering.
In Jesus, God takes on the caricatures that people have of others.
God is unemployed. God is thirsty.
God is undocumented. God is the criminal on death row.
God is the one we are crossing the street to avoid.
Part of being a neighbor is realizing
how we unconsciously participate in systems of oppression.
Society places a straitjacket on us.
Jesus says, I want to free you from that.
I want to free you from the schemas and boxes
that have imprisoned all of you.
I want to free you from the way violence
against women is downplayed in the world.
A world where young white men are not prosecuted for their actions,
because they have a future.
I want to free you from the killing of young black boys,
murdered because the attending officer was afraid,
and used force he did not need to use.
I want to free you the shaming of bodies that make people starve themselves because society shows them unhealthy body images.
I want to free you from the numbing power of addiction
and give to you a life that is full with relationships, love, and purpose.
I want to free you from control
and be your higher power.
I want to free you from old ideas
that are keeping you from working for the human rights of all people.
I want to free you.
Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his last speech in Memphis, Tennessee.
There, he said, it is alright to talk about the new Jerusalem,
but we – the Christian people – must also talk about the New York,
the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the New Los Angeles,
and the new Memphis, Tennessee.
At that moment, King was inviting others to support
the humanity of sanitation workers who endured
deadly working conditions and dismally low wages.
Don’t walk on by, King says,
but support the sanitation workers in their strike
and begin to live in that new world now.
Be part of the New York, the New London,
and the new Hartford.
Powerful people vilify the poor and the working class,
because it is easier to control people when they are divided.
It is easy to control people when they believe in caricatures.
Jesus came to free us from caricatures.
Let us pray.
Help us not to pass by. Help us to humanize.
Help us to draw near to the suffering.
And so to draw near to you,
to our humanity, and
to your humanity, dear Jesus.
Help us to discover the burning bush
that is the other human being.
Burning brightly, hotly, beautifully.