A scholar of the religious law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He 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.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Pastor Danny Givens, who knew Philando Castile well, said that his friend’s “eyes spoke life to you.” He said, “He saw you, and he saw you, and you felt seen by him. He acknowledged you, and you felt like you mattered and you meant something to him.”
Others have commented on how well Philando knew and cared about the kids at J. J. Hill school where he worked. He called them by name. He saw them. He noticed when they were having a bad day and could use an extra Graham cracker thrown in their lunch bag. He conveyed to them that they mattered, that they meant something.
Alton Sterling also knew and was known by his family and close friends in Baton Rouge. The same is true of five police officers who lived and served their neighbors in Dallas. And it is the loss of those precious lives and the loving relationships they had that has caused so much grief and pain this week. Lives have been cut short, and it is senseless. And what’s worse is we know, sadly, that it won’t be the last time that we are witness to such horrific violence.
Here in our worship this morning, it is a time for us to grieve and give voice to our lament, “How long, O God?” How long will such violence persist? We grieve because when one suffers we all suffer. All of our lives have been changed this week. And we also grieve because we are growing in our awareness that there is at the root of so much violence a systemic racism that pervades our nation. Now, people of color in the room today and in communities everywhere did not need their eyes opened to the threat of violence against them by police officers, but many of us who are white did. The experience I hear again and again from people of color in their interactions with police is not my personal experience solely because of my race. I do not suffer the effects of racism on a daily basis in that way, though it is all around me—not just other places in the country but here in my community, too. We’ve been shown that very clearly now. Many of us, though, have too often been blind to the experience of our neighbors. Worse, we have sometimes willfully turned away from it, and it’s long past time to confess our complicity.
I expect that like me a lot of you watched the video recorded by Philando Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds. At first, I wrestled with the question of whether or not to watch it. Was it respectful to watch that man’s suffering? Was I helping anything by watching it? Finally, I decided I had to watch it because I could not turn away from the truths of the world that it represents, the very real threat of police violence against people of color. While in my privilege I could choose not to watch and then go about my life as usual, to do so would be to continue to live a lie. It would be to pretend that I live in a different world than my black and brown neighbors. No, if we’re going to be what God created us to be, we need to really see one another.
It seems to me that it’s precisely that kind of seeing that this Gospel parable is all about. A man lay in the ditch, left half dead by robbers. A priest saw him, but just well enough to decide to step across to the other side of the road and pass along the way. Same for a Levite, another upright, religious person. A Samaritan came near that man, and he did more than just notice him. He really saw him for his unique experience of suffering. He saw him, and he saw him. He saw him in a way that transformed his very heart and moved him to compassion. He saw him, I imagine, with eyes that spoke life. Unlike the scholar who prompted the parable in the first place, he wasn’t concerned about what was required of him in that moment; he was concerned for what he saw, for the human being before him in a time of need. It wasn’t the law that moved him to act; it was having his eyes opened.
Seeing and being moved to action is a theme in the Gospel. Jesus saw a woman grieving the death of her son and had compassion for her. He looked at a boy suffering from a demon. He got down on his knee and saw a woman who was unable to stand up straight. In each case he saw and was moved to take action for the sake of healing. And when he was in the home of Simon the Pharisee, he said to him, “Do you see this woman who is washing my feet? Do you see what she has been living with?”
It’s clear to me that this kind of seeing reveals something very central about who Christ is for us. Christ will always notice—really see—the suffering we experience, no matter what it is that we are going through. And as his followers, he calls us to see one another, too, as beloved children of God.
Of course seeing in itself is not enough; there needs to be action, too, that is both compassionate and sustained. But seeing is a necessary step, and it isn’t always very easy. Doing do means dismantling the bias, suspicion, and fear through which we often look at others. It means understanding ourselves enough to know what gets in our way.
There are opportunities for us as a congregation to do this work together for the sake of racial justice. Tonight there will be a service of Prayer, Repentance, and Recommitment at 5:30 at St. Paul-Reformation Church in St. Paul, which will be a good place to start. Many of you have participated in racial justice discussion groups here at Holy Trinity, and those will continue in the coming year. We are planning to host a large weekend conference in October called, “Journeying toward Justice: Privilege and Race in Our Church.” Our symposium in November will help open our eyes to issues of race and difference, too. And also, we’ll keep learning from the Black Lives Matter movement, which is a movement that is helping us to see the effects of systemic racism in our country, especially in policing and the criminal justice system. It’s a movement that itself came under attack in Dallas Thursday night during what had been a peaceful protest because it is a movement committed to bringing pain and anger into the open and dealing with it nonviolently. Just think of the grief that could be avoided if we could all acknowledge and discuss our heavy feelings in that way. I have learned a lot from leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement, and I have a lot more to learn.
It’s when our eyes are opened enough to see that the suffering of our neighbors—beloved children of God whoever they might be—is our suffering, too, then change will start to come. Healing will start to come. New life will emerge for all of us. This is the promise of our God of resurrection. It is the promise of our God who sees us and loves us with unimaginable compassion and will never leave us. We may be tired. We may at times start to lose hope. But the promise is certain: God’s steadfast love endures forever.