Note: This is admittedly a bit of an unusual post here, so before I proceed with it, I think I should provide a bit of an explanation. About a week and a half ago, I was asked to give a talk in Sacrament meeting at church. As you may know if you’ve been reading this Blog for long enough, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In lieu of the professional clergy that is common in many churches, the church at a stake and ward level is operated by members of the congregation on a volunteer basis. This also means that on an almost weekly basis, the talks in Sacrament meeting are provided by members of the congregation who have been asked to speak by the ward’s Bishopric. In this case, my turn to speak in Sacrament meeting came up a couple of Sundays ago, and this was the talk I gave. I realize that this will not be of interest to some of you (or most of you, for that matter) but one of the purposes of this Blog is to act as something of a personal archive for things I would like to preserve in the hopes that they may be useful to whatever future members of my family may follow me, and it is in this spirit that this is posted here. Where applicable, I have posted links to the various sources I used in creating this talk. If you aren’t interested in this, I should have another post coming later this week that should hopefully be of more interest. If you are interested in this, the talk will be found after the jump.
I was wondering when they were going to manage to get me up here to speak in Sacrament Meeting. Apparently you can only lurk in the back of the chapel for so long before somebody in the Bishopric notices that you’re there and calls you up to speak. Then again, if you haven’t ever spoken in Sacrament meeting in this ward, you just might be missing out. Out of all the Ward buildings and Stake Centers that I’ve been in over the years, this particular chapel is definitely one of the more interesting looking ones. At one point or another you’ve probably noticed the various stained glass windows at the sides of the chapel which are a bit of a rarity in our church, but if like me you’ve spent most of your time in this ward lurking in the back of the chapel, you might not have noticed that up near the ceiling in the back there’s some particularly nice stained glass that you might not ever see if you don’t come up to the stand. If you’d like to come up and see it sometime, well… I hear the Ward Choir is always looking for people.
Anyway, I will refrain from giving too much of an introduction since I don’t have all that much to introduce just yet, but if you don’t know me, my name is Brian Lutz. I’ve been in this ward now for about 2 1/2 years. I was born and originally grew up in New Mexico, but I have lived most of my life in this area, mostly in Redmond. I am currently single, but I am also currently in the process of trying to do something about that.
The topic that I have been asked to speak on today is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This particular parable, which was recorded in Luke Chapter 10, is one of the best known of the Lord’s parables, and I am reasonably certain that most people here will already be familiar with it. Given the relatively short length of time that I have for this talk I am not going to attempt to interpret the parable, but In the course of researching it, I have found that over the years a lot of people have read it and come up with several different interpretations for it, even within the church. Some people take the story at face value, treating it as a contemporary example of how a disciple of Christ might be expected to tend to one in dire need. Another common theory interprets the parable as an allegory of the fall and subsequent redemption of Adam through Jesus Christ. Since I doubt that I could do justice to this interpretation, I would like to approach this by looking at the perspective of the circumstances that led Christ to deliver this parable.
From Luke Chapter 10, we see a conversation that resulted from a question that Christ was asked by one of the many learned men who sought to question and try him throughout his ministry:
25 ¶And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
As was the case with much of what was recorded of the Savior’s ministry in the Gospels, this parable came from Jesus as the result of a question that was asked of Him by a learned individual, in this case a lawyer. Based on the information we have in the scriptures, it is impossible to discern the true intent of this particular question, although oftentimes in similar situations documented in scripture questions like this were asked with the intent to either try to catch Jesus in a contradiction of some sort and thus discredit him, or to try to make the questioner appear intelligent to the throngs of people who often followed Jesus in His travels. The fact that the scripture speaks of the lawyer “trying to justify himself” seems to suggest the latter was more likely in this instance.
The lawyer’s question was a fairly basic one: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer to this question is something that someone who was learned in the teachings of the scriptures (as this lawyer was presumed to be) could be expected to know the answer to already. Sure enough, the Lord quickly turned the question back to the questioner, asking him “What is written in the law?”, prompting the lawyer to respond that one should “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” This was indeed an accurate statement, and is in fact an answer that Lord Himself would later give in response to questioning by another lawyer about which commandment was the greatest in the law, saying that “On these two commandments hang all the law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:40) On this occasion, the Savior informed the lawyer that this answer was correct, saying, “This do, and thou shalt live.”
Even though his original question had now been answered, the lawyer wasn’t done just yet. His question to the master he had unwittingly answered himself, and as a result he had failed thus far to accomplish his intended purpose, whatever that might be. So, in an attempt to “justify himself,” as it is written in the scripture, he asked Jesus a second question: “And who is my neighbor?” It is from this question that we get the now-famous Parable of the Good Samaritan, which reads as follows:
30 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.
31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
It is not entirely clear exactly what the lawyer had been expecting for an answer to this question, but somehow I suspect that wasn’t it. In Jesus the Christ, James E. Talmage suggests that perhaps this lawyer was seeking to place a finite limit on exactly who could, or perhaps in the spirit in which the question was asked who must be, considered a neighbor. Indeed the teachings of the Rabbis of Jesus’ time had placed such limitations upon the definition of a neighbor among the many superfluous hedges they had placed about the law of Moses. In a talk given in the April 1987 General Conference, Elder David B. Haight elaborated on this, citing an earlier Bible commentary:
“To the Jews in Jesus’ day this unconcern for the victim in the parable was considered appropriate religious behavior. Their rabbinical teaching declared, “We are not to contrive the death of the Gentiles, but if they are in any danger of death we are not bound to deliver them, … for such a one is not thy neighbour” (in A Commentary on the Holy Bible, ed. J. R. Dummelow, New York: The Macmillan Co., 1936, p. 751).”
(Quoted from “My Neighbor – My Brother!“, David B. Haight, April 1987 General Conference)
Indeed, to the Jews, none but Jews were considered to be neighbors. We do not know for sure the intended identity of the stricken traveler in this parable, but within the context in which the parable was given it was almost certainly a Jew. Even under the reduced definition of a neighbor under the Jewish law of the time, he should have qualified as a neighbor to the priest and the Levite, but nonetheless both found excuse to leave the dying victim to his fate. To the Jews of the time, the Samaritans were particularly despised, to the point that Jewish travelers would go several days out of their way to avoid passing through Samaria in their travels. The Samaritans, for their part, generally made this hatred mutual, and most would have no dealings with the Jews whatsoever.
The Samaritan in this parable, on the other hand, had compassion on the stricken traveler, and made whatever efforts he could to perform first aid and tend to the victim’s immediate needs, and then took him to a nearby inn where he could receive further assistance in his recovery. In doing this, the hated Samaritan proved to be a far greater example of a neighbor to this unfortunate traveler than the priest and the Levite who ought to have been his neighbors. And it was the example of the Samaritan, who the questioning lawyer would have most likely considered an enemy, that the he was instructed to emulate by the Savior. In his discussion of this parable James E. Talmage concludes:
“To a Jew, none but Jews were neighbors. We are not justified in regarding priest, Levite, or Samaritan as the type of his class; doubtless there were many kind and charitable Jews, and many heartless Samaritans; but the Master’s lesson was admirably illustrated by the characters in this parable; and the words of His application were pungent in their simplicity and appropriateness.”
(Quoted from Jesus the Christ, James E. Talmage, Page 432)
From this parable we learn who our neighbors are supposed to be, but another question that we might ask ourselves is this: Do we know who our neighbors are? In my case, I have to admit that sometimes I’m not so sure. I live in one of the high-rise buildings Downtown, and although it’s a nice place to live, it does also tend to be a bit isolated at times. Often the only times when I will even meet any of the other residents in the building is while riding in the elevator between the floor my apartment is on and the parking garage, or on an occasional trip to the mailbox. And to be perfectly honest, the only other resident of my building whose name I actually know right now just happens to be a Welsh Corgi. And yet, the Parable of the Good Samaritan instructs us that we should not limit ourselves to an arbitrary set of people that we consider to be our neighbors. Although it’s rare that we will be called on to serve as a neighbor to someone in such distress as the victim in this parable was, we still need to be prepared to help where and how we can, because we never know when our help is going to be needed.
A couple of years ago, I worked in Downtown Bellevue, and was fortunate to be able to walk to and from work each day. On one particular evening I was walking home from work when I reached a crosswalk at the corner of NE 8th and 110th Avenue, over by the Bravern. Occasionally the walk signal on this crosswalk can be just a little bit unpredictable, and as I waited for the signal to appear after the green light, one of the cars making a right turn stopped for me even though I didn’t have the signal yet. Another car close behind didn’t stop in time for this, and clipped the corner of the first car’s bumper. At this point the two cars turned the corner and appeared to pull off to the side of the road to exchange information. A couple of seconds later I got my walk signal, and crossed the street, continuing toward home. After I crossed the other crosswalk at this intersection I somehow felt like I should go back, even though I hadn’t been directly involved in the accident.
I crossed back to the other side of the street and searched for the two cars involved in the fender bender, but they were nowhere to be found. At this point, I continued toward home, but had now been diverted to a slightly different walking route than I normally take. When I got to the next intersection, it was there that I happened to run into someone who I had known in my previous Singles ward as he was walking in the other direction. It turned out that his car had broken down in the middle of 405 about an hour previous to this, and had been towed to a nearby auto dealership for repairs. As I met him, he was walking to the Transit Center to try to find a bus to get back to his apartment. To make a long story short, I was able to offer him a ride and save him what would have likely been a considerable amount of time trying to find his way home that evening. I would like to think that if my help is ever needed that it shouldn’t take anything as drastic as a car crash to get my attention, but if that hadn’t happened, it’s likely that I wouldn’t have been in the right place at the right time to help someone in need of rescue.
(Editor’s note: I spoke of this particular incident in more detail in this Blog post, written back when it happened about two years ago.)
We also shouldn’t suppose that it is just those in immediate distress that we will be called to bring aid to as we journey through mortality. Oftentimes it can also be those who are lost , wandering or overwhelmed who are in need of our fellowship and kindness. In a talk given in the April 2008 General Conference, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin spoke of this:
“True disciples of Jesus Christ have always been concerned for the one. Jesus Christ is our greatest example. He was surrounded by multitudes and spoke to thousands, yet He always had concern for the one. “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost,” He said. “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?”
This instruction applies to all who follow Him. We are commanded to seek out those who are lost. We are to be our brother’s keeper. We cannot neglect this commission given by our Savior. We must be concerned for the one.”
(Quoted from “Concern for the One“, Joseph B. Wirthlin, April 2008 General Conference)
We may not be called to do great works or to perform great miracles in the course of our service to the Lord and to our neighbors, but very rarely are such things required. Far more often, it is ordinary things that our neighbors stand most in need of, and it is ordinary things that we are best equipped to provide for them. In particular, we are fortunate that we have the power and authority of the Priesthood within our church. Although the Priesthood can be used to act in God’s name, and can provide blessings of healing and comfort, the ordinances of salvation, and indeed can bring to pass great miracles in the rare circumstances when they are needed, we are also fortunate that the Priesthood is in fact an ordinary thing for us within the Church, and that we have the ability to partake in its blessings through the administration of the Sacrament on a weekly basis.
And yet, that power to act in God’s name also brings the responsibility to act in God’s name, and in particular to be responsible for individuals and families that may be placed under your stewardship through the Home Teaching program. Similarly, the women of the church also have stewardship for their fellow Sisters through the Visiting Teaching program. It is through these programs that we tend to the needs of those among us who may be suffering, as well as to make sure those who are safely within the flock have their needs tended to. It is through the Missionary program of the church that we seek out those who are lost or wandering, and through the work of genealogy and the Temples that we seek to find even those who have come before us and bring them into the fold.
Indeed, we have responsibility to not only be a neighbor to those within our stewardships, but also to all who are in need of our aid. Ultimately, the question we should ask is not “And who is my neighbor?” but “And who can I be a neighbor to?” To love thy neighbor as thyself is one of the two great commandments of the law, and on those two commandments hang all the law and the Prophets.