Special guest post by my good friend and one of our Stake High Councimen, Matt Mosman. I've posted some of his writing here before, and like earlier talks, this one doesn't disappoint.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Good morning, brothers and sisters. Always a pleasure to see so many of my friends here in the El Camino Ward.
A few months ago one of our other high councilmen, Rob Hansen, cornered me after a meeting and said, “I’ve got your talks figured out.” He proceeded to tell me that his observation is that I always take the assigned topic and draw the slimmest analogy to whatever it is I wanted to talk about, but in the end I always talk about whatever I feel like.
Rob is exactly right. I’ve been doing that for years, I’m afraid, and he caught me. So today I’m going to do this differently: I’m going to dispense with the analogy, I’m going to beg forgiveness of the stake presidency, and I’m going to talk about what I want to talk about. I have something that’s been on my mind.
A couple of months ago I was in a ward in another state and overheard a conversation going on in the hallway of the church. Some men and women were discussing what they thought should be done about a gay man who had started coming back to church.
The conversation was all about rules: what he could do, what he couldn’t. It then turned for a while into the members’ own interactions with him: what if one of them was assigned to home teach him? What if he invited them over to dinner? What if he has a partner? What then?
This particular issue is one I’ve been thinking about for years. When I was called to the high council, I was called to serve in the Bay Ward up in the city. That ward’s rolls are full to the brim with mostly inactive gay men and women, and it was my specific job to work on how we could minister to them.
If we want to talk about that hallway conversation, we could definitely take this talk in the direction of “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.” For sure we could talk about that, and we all know that every one of us had better drop the rocks in our hands if we’re going to talk about that. But that’s not where I’m going. I want to take this in a different direction, just a little bit. I want to talk about rules. I want to talk about the Good Samaritan.
I think that those people in that church hallway were asking the same question that the lawyer asked Jesus in Luke Chapter 10: “Who is my neighbor?”
Happily, this means that Jesus gave them a fairly direct answer. Here is what is says:
And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
The priest and Levite both know better. They work in the temple; they would know that Leviticus 19:34 says that if you see a stranger in need, you do whatever it takes to meet his need. Exodus chapter 23:4-5 says if you find even your enemy's donkey astray, you make sure you rescue the man's donkey, let alone the man. The priest would have taught this; the Levite surely would have known it. They would surely have known the sayings of the prophet Micah, who said on behalf of God, "He has told you, O man, what is good. What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?" Both the priest and the Levite would have known all of that.
But they also knew some rules. The stranger might have been dead, and it is forbidden for someone who serves in the temple to touch a dead body. If either of them did, he would have to undergo a lengthy purification ritual. The man sure looked dead -- Jesus said that the thieves had left him half-dead, and it could have been hours since then. The priest and Levite knew the rules, and they kept the rules. And in this instance, the rules meant more to them than compassion did. They did not see the injured man as their neighbor; they saw him as a problem.
And now the story has its twist. In verse 33:
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was:
If we know anything of Jewish/Samaritan relations, this is likely to be the worst possible thing toWe assume the injured man is a Jew because this is Israel and a certain man in Israel would be a Jew -- so there lies this Jewish man. And now into the story comes a Samaritan. The assumption is that the Samaritan is not going to be any help at all, because the Samaritans and the Jews held each other in the most bitter contempt.
Samaritans were of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, and some claimed to be Levites. After the Northern Kingdom was taken captive in the Babylonian Exile, Samaritans remained in the land, which was then taken over by Gentiles. These Ephraimites and Manassehites who remained in the land intermarried with the Gentiles, for which they were despised and hated by their cousins because they had “sold their birthright” and (in the eyes of the Jews) polluted the pure strain of God's chosen people.
How much were they despised? When Israel, led by Nehemiah, came back from Babylonian captivity, they wanted to rebuild the wall. The Samaritans showed up. In Ezra Chapter 4, the Samaritans who showed up were referred to as “the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin,” but they still offered to help. They went to Zerubbabel, and said, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God, as you do.” They want to reconnect with their Jewish roots, and rejoin the family.
But Zerubbabel and Jeshua said, “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves will build.” The bitterness was that deep. So the Samaritans then turned to be their enemies, all the time the Jews are trying to build the wall, Samaritans try to prevent them from doing it, led by a man named Sanballat.
Eventually the Samaritans built their own temple, on Mount Gerizim. And in 128 B.C., a hundred and twenty-eight years before Jesus' birth, Jews from Jerusalem went and destroyed the Mount Gerizim temple and killed some of the Samaritans.
The animosity was profound. Whenever a Jew traveled from north to south, or south to north, by far the easiest way would be to go through Samaria. They never did -- they went around Samaria. Nobody went through Samaria. They wouldn't put the dirt of Samaria on their shoes, the hatred ran so deep.
And it cut both ways: a Samaritan was no more eager to interact with a Jew than a Jew was with a Samaritan. This is important: the Samaritan has his own rules. He’s not supposed to do what we all know he’s about to do.
and when he saw him, he had compassion on him...
This is where the Samaritan takes center stage in the story. And here comes the main point: he puts aside all the rules and regulations and thinks of the big picture. Samaritans are religious: the Samaritan religion claims to be the true Judaism. So he must experience some of the same issues that the priest and Levite did: He’s asking himself what the rules are, but he takes it just a little farther and asks himself, “Ultimately, what is the point of my religion? What is the goal? What is God trying to make of me?”
In my work we would say that he’s focused on the strategy and not the tactics. Strategy is what executives think about: what are we trying to do as a business? Who are we? Tactics are the day-to-day activities that ideally are supposed to support the strategy. But sometimes they don’t, and we have to watch that. That’s really been my job as an executive in various businesses: to make sure that I’m keeping an eye on the big picture, and to ensure that the things that people are doing every day are keeping us on that path.
I hope you understand what I mean here. I’m not saying that you don’t want to keep the rules, that you don’t want to follow the commandments. That’s absolutely not what I’m trying to say.
But I also think that if you think of the scriptures as a rulebook, you are missing the entire point of religion. God is trying to make something of you and me, and it’s worth asking ourselves, all the time, what He is trying to do. It has something to do with kindness. It has a lot to do with losing the temptation to judge others. It is almost certainly about you and me learning to express love without putting conditions on that love.
Notice how the Samaritan loves. His lack of conditions on that love is breathtaking, and the more you think about it, the more breath it takes away.
First of all, he saw him, and he felt compassion. This is where it all begins, something in his heart just goes out to the man, the way our hearts should ache for those who suffer around us -- a sadness, a grief, a sympathy, a driving need to rescue and recover the man.
And so verse 34 says, "He came to him." He doesn’t call up to him, ask him how he’s doing. He goes to where the man is. He evaluates him and gives careful attention to what's going to be required for his rescue and recovery. He discovers that the man is alive, but has some wounds -- in Greek word is trauma.
And so it says that after he came to him he bandaged up his wounds, and there is a lot of information there. The scripture says that the man is naked, so whatever the Samaritan used for bandages came out of his own bag. He used his own clothing. You can picture that he starts tearing up his own clothes -- if not the ones he was wearing, then perhaps extras that he carried in his travel bag -- and he starts bandaging the man up.
The scripture tells us that in the process of binding the wounds the Samaritan also pours in oil and wine. Wine was used because of its fermentation as an antiseptic, and the oil would soothe and soften the damaged tissue. The Samaritan wasn’t wandering around with a medicine bag. He carried wine with him to drink on a long journey, and oil to cook with. The Samaritan is divesting himself of his own clothing, and he's divesting himself of his own provisions.
After doing his best to handle the man’s wounds, the Samaritan drapes the injured man over the back of his donkey and takes him to an inn, walking beside his living transportation, holding the man on to make sure he doesn't come off.
After a time -- we don’t know how long, but it couldn’t have been around the block --, the Samaritan gets him to an inn. This wasn’t Jerusalem; this was somewhere on a dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho. An inn in a place like that would have been a meager place at best. I wouldn’t suspect that the innkeeper was an honest man, though I guess he might have been. Most weren’t. But there was no choice here; the Samaritan needed to find a place to offer this man some rest and care, so he no doubt took whatever he could get.
And then the scripture says wonderfully, "And took care of him." Having negotiated the place to stay, the Samaritan took the man in, put him down to rest, continued to work with him with his bandages, continued working with his wounds, provided food, sleep, comfort, water, cleansing. And he did it all night.
How do we know that? Well, because it says so in verse 35, "And on the next day..." He stayed with him all night. He set his whole agenda aside. He gave up his own clothes, his own supplies, his own time. This is amazing for a stranger who was his worst enemy. And he stayed all night by his bed, making sure he was cared for.
And that wasn't all: in verse 35 it says, "On the next day he took out two pence and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him.'" Wanting to go on his journey the Samaritan now puts him in the care of an innkeeper, and gives the innkeeper two pence. I spent a long time wondering, how much is two pence in those days? So I looked it up and did a little math. Sources from that day suggest that the cost of a night at a low-end inn in those days would have been about 1/32 of a pence. So he gave him enough for something like two months worth of room and board. Even if I’m wrong about it being meager and it’s a better place, the Samaritan left the innkeeper with somewhere between a month and two months worth of room and board for the injured man.
The story goes even further when the Samaritan says to the innkeeper in verse 35, "Take care of him and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you." Now he has exposed himself to serious extortion. Unbelievably, he's left an open account.
The whole story is remarkable -- even more than we thought at first, isn’t it? He stops. He tears up his own clothes to use for bandages. He uses his own provisions to speed healing, and then he pays for two months’ stay and leaves a blank check with the inn.
There are two points to this story, I think: First, that here is an example of boundary-less concern. There was no end to what he would do, and there was not a moment’s concern for who this poor stranger was. Didn’t matter that he was a Jew. He could have been rich, poor, a good guy, or a bad one. None of it mattered. There was no holding back of his desire to bless. It depended on nothing.
Second, and here is the point I’m trying to make: He let the principles, the big-picture things, rule over the little rules and regulations about how he was supposed to interact with Jews.
So now go back with me to that hallway conversation: what is the answer to those who wonder whether they should accept the dinner invitation? I’ve tried to figure out what their point is: are they trying to express their disapproval? Is the condemnation of our brothers and sisters a gospel principle? Is that what Jesus was trying to teach us? Is that part of God’s strategy for you and me: that we become really good at expressing our disapproval of others?
It’s worth noting a couple of things about Jesus: first, that the primary thing that people in his day criticized him for, is that he hung out with the wrong crowd. A prophet, they said, would find a better class of people for friends. But Jesus was never very concerned about how things looked to others: he saw goodness in fishermen and tax collectors.
Second, it’s worth noting that Jesus really reserved His criticism for people like the Pharisees and Saducees who all shared the same trait: they became so wrapped up in following all the rules that they forgot to pay attention to whether or not they were becoming good people.
Brothers and Sisters: I know that this is the kind of talk that can be taken all wrong. But you’re smart folks, and you’ll figure out how to take it correctly. God has a strategy, a big picture, for you and for me -- and we should keep that always in the forefront of our minds.
So, do you take that dinner invitation? Do you home teach without judgment and with real love? Of course you do. God’s strategy, His big picture for you and for me, asks us to open our arms wide to welcome, and our hearts all the way without reservation.
I leave these thoughts with you in the name of Jesus. Amen.