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  • Writer's pictureRev. Sarina Odden Meyer

Love Neighbours, Self, and God - The Good Samaritan, Mary & Martha

Luke 10:25-42, Psalm 15

This is the first Sunday of Lent. We went into the first pandemic lockdown during Lent last year. I have been remembering parts of that. As March approaches and the 1-year anniversary of the pandemic starting here approaches, we are all going to remember. I encourage you to be gentle with yourselves. This is a life-changing event that is ongoing and affecting the entire world.

Lent is a time of self-reflection and penitience. Often we give up something during Lent in order to deepen our relationship with Jesus and become more faithful disciples. For many of us, we feel that we have been giving up something for the pandemic for a year and Lent feels too heavy. There’s a meme going around TikTok saying, “For Lent, I’m giving up.”

God meets us where we are. If you are in that space, I encourage you to approach Lent with a hopeful intention. Perhaps your spiritual discipline during Lent could be writing down at least one sign of hope everyday or one thing that you are grateful for that day. And then, on Easter, you will have a list of hope and gratitude to look back on when the road gets rough.

Those of you who read our Tuesday emails know I am going to be working on giving up self-criticism for Lent. And I will also be adding to my life. I want to learn more about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. I feel very passionate about that injustice and I want to know how I can make a difference. That Lenten discipline of adding that knowledge to my life for the sake of Christ is partly inspired by our text for today: the parable of the Good Samaritan. Let’s look at what Luke wrote in chapter 10:25-42.

We have both the parable of the Good Samaritan and then the story of Mary and Martha. These are linked. At the beginning of our passage we hear the greatest commandment: to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. In the parable of the Good Samaritan we learn how to love our neighbor, and in the story of Mary and Martha we learn how to love ourselves and God.

The parable of the Good Samaritan challenges our assumptions about who our neighbors are. We often assume that our neighbors are people we have something in common with. We tend to choose to live near people who are like us. Whether they can afford the same house or apartment that we can, whether they look like us, whether they are the same age that we are, whether we speak the same language, practice the same religion. We tend to choose to live in neighborhoods with people who are like us in some way. When we use the word neighbor, implied in that word is connection with the other person.

In Jesus’ day, it was very common for people to tell stories about a priest, a Levite, and the people of Israel. This is what Jesus’ audience was expecting to hear: a priest came by, a Levite came by, and then an ordinary Israelite came by. But that is not what Jesus said. Jesus said that the third person to come across the man who was robbed was a Samaritan. It’s important to know that Jesus’ audience considered Samaritans to be enemies and rivals. Samaritans also read the Torah, but Jesus’ audience thought they read it wrong. Samaritans were enemies and rivals. That the Samaritan was the good neighbor was surprising and pushed Jesus’ audience out of their comfort zones. It pushed boundaries.

The other part of the parable that is also designed to push them out of their comfort zone was the man who was robbed. He was stripped naked. There was no way to know who he was. What class, what status. Whether helping him would be beneficial or bring disgrace.

Let’s talk first about the Samaritan. Jesus says that the correct interpretation is that the Samaritan was a good neighbor to the man who was robbed. That means that we are to learn from what he did. For Jesus’ audience, that was a challenge—Jesus was calling them to learn from someone who they thought was wrong. Someone they would dismiss as having nothing to contribute to the conversation about how to love God and neighbor.

This is a challenge for us. It is right in our face. Too often, we dismiss people who are different from us in some way. How they look, how they think, how they talk, how much money they have.

I know it’s Black history month, but I really have Indigenous people on my mind right now. I think it’s partly because in Canada, the Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Lives Matter movements overlap in so many ways. They are not the same, but they overlap.

I think about how when Europeans first came here, they were like the robbed man, dying on the side of the road. And Indigenous people helped them. Jesus is saying, we can learn from them, not only back then, but also today. We can learn from Indigenous people how to be a good neighbor to people, animals, the earth.

The fact that Jesus chose a Samaritan to be the good neighbor in the parable challenges his followers throughout history to look outside of their people group to learn how to be a good neighbor from those who are different from us.

Let’s talk about the man who was robbed. It is significant that the man was stripped of his clothing because it means we know nothing about him. He could be anyone. In the early church, they interpreted the robbed man in this parable to be all of humanity. That means that what Jesus is saying is exactly what he said in Luke 4, in his first sermon in this Gospel, and what Mary said in Luke 1. “Lift up the lowly, fill the hungry with good things.” “Bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, let the oppressed go free.” Jesus is saying that we should be like the Samaritan, to anyone who is brought low, poor, hungry, captive, oppressed. We should care when people, animals, the earth are wounded and we are called to act to bring healing and new life. That is loving our neighbor. Our neighbor is anyone.

The pandemic has brought to light things that are wrong with our society—just like WWI and the flu pandemic of 1918 did, too. Indigenous people in Canada are saying, “We need clean drinking water.” Asians in Canada are saying, “We are being targeted with hate crimes at alarming rates because of the pandemic.” Black folk in Canada are saying, “Police brutalize us here, too.” Who do you hear crying out for help? What are they saying? In this parable, Jesus is calling us to care, and to act. At the very least to examine ourselves so that we stop contributing to these problems, and at best to act to bring healing and new life, and to pay for it. That’s what the Samaritan did—he paid for the unknown man to get well.

Jesus challenges us deeply in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are called to be like this Samaritan in the world to all.

But I realize that that is exhausting and we cannot do it all the time. And so did Jesus. So did Luke. And that’s why Luke followed this parable with the story of Mary and Martha.

In order to love our neighbors, we have to learn to love ourselves and to love God. In this story with Mary and Martha, Martha is practicing hospitality. That’s what the parable of the Good Samaritan is all about—a radical hospitality. And at the beginning of the chapter, when Jesus sends out the 72, he says that households who show them hospitality will be blessed. Here is Martha, showing hospitality to Jesus. Martha is often criticized when we read this passage, but she is not wrong for showing hospitality.

What we see in Martha is someone who is out of balance. She is giving too much of herself and it’s making her angry and critical of other people. In this case of her sister, Mary.

Notice that it’s not until Martha criticizes Mary and asks Jesus to criticize Mary that Jesus rebukes her. The text says she was distracted by many things. I’m sure that we can all relate to becoming distracted by many things, overextending ourselves and becoming so stressed out that we become angry and critical of other people. That’s what happened to Martha. It’s not that she shouldn’t have been showing hospitality. It’s just that she needed to take more time for herself and her relationship with God.

That’s what Mary was doing—taking some time to care for herself and nurturing her relationship with Jesus. When I read Jesus’ words, that Mary chose the better part, it makes me wonder if Mary was just as stressed out and overwhelmed as Martha. In the Gospel of John, we learn that Mary and Martha had a brother named Lazarus who was so sick that he died (then Jesus raised him from the dead). They had a lot on their plate, with caring for him and grief. In that context, Martha was busy and distracted with many things and became angry with the people that she loved most. Whereas Mary, took time to rest and feed her soul in the presence of Jesus. Given the two options, Mary did choose the better part.

What we learn is that it is very important to rest and feed our souls in the presence of God. In fact, we cannot love our neighbors well if we don’t do this. The ability to love our neighbors—whether they are our loved ones, or complete strangers, or our enemies—the ability to love our neighbors is directly related to our ability to love and care for ourselves and to love God and to nurture our relationship with Jesus. We cannot love our neighbors when we are running on empty.

Jesus is calling us to care and to act to help those in need. Jesus is also calling us to care for ourselves and to nurture our souls in God’s own presence. The greatest commandment, which is what kicks off this whole passage in the Gospel of Luke is about balance and living well. Each part of it is a challenge for us.

I encourage you, as you think about Lent, to consider what part of the greatest commandment you need to nurture this year? Do you need to nurture your ability to love your neighbor, whether that’s learning how to learn from those who are different from you, or learning how to open your heart to see all who are wounded as your neighbor and learn how to act to act to help them? Do you need to nurture your ability to care for yourself? Are you run down and feeling like Martha? Do you need to rest and nurture your soul in the presence of Jesus, like Mary?

Lent this year is different from all the other Lents I’ve ever experienced, and I imagine the same is true for you. I invite you to be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Your Lenten spiritual discipline might be different this year than it’s ever been in the past. Lent is a spiritual journey of self-reflection that leads us to new life on Easter and beyond through the love of Jesus. I encourage you to connect with God, draw on the love of Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit lead you on a Lenten journey that will give you hope and draw you closer to our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Parts of the sermon were inspired by:

Adele Reinhartz, "From Narrative to History: The Resurrection of Mary and Martha in Women Like This, ed. Amy-Jill Levine (1991: pg. 161-184).

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