Sunday morning we will learn why this little statement is the most important in the story of the Good Samaritan. It is fitting that we focus on this story as a model for who the church should become on the weekend celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. In his book, Strength to Love, is a sermon King preached on this parable. He dealt with the story from the perspective of altruism, which he defines as “regard for, and devotion to, the interest of others.” You can read the full sermon here
King dealt deftly with the divisive issues of race in his day. You feel the power of spiritual truth speaking to worldly reality summoning us to respond. Of course, division is not just historical reality. We continue to deal with a multitude of ways people separate into “us” and “them.” Let me share the closing of King’s sermon here as we reflect on what it means to be a good neighbor and the importance of doing so here and now.
Desegregation will break down the legal barriers and bring (people) together physically, but something must touch the hearts and souls of (people) so that they will come together spiritually because it is natural and right. A vigorous enforcement of civil rights laws will bring an end to segregated public facilities which are barriers to truly desegregated society, but it cannot bring an end to fears, prejudice, pride, and irrationality, which are the barriers to a truly integrated society. These dark and demonic responses will be removed only as (people) are possessed by the invisible, inner wall which etches on their hearts the conviction that all men are brothers and that love is (humankind’s) most potent weapon for personal and social transformation. True integration will be achieved by true neighbors who are willingly obedient to unenforceable obligations.
More than ever before, my friends, (people) of all races and nations are today challenged to be neighborly. The call for a worldwide good-neighbor policy is more than an ephemeral shibboleth; it is a call to a way of life that will transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment. No longer can we afford the luxury of passing on the other side. Such folly was once called moral failure; today it will lead to universal suicide. We cannot long survive spiritually separated in a world that is geographically together. In the final analysis I must not ignore the wounded man on life’s Jericho road, because he is a part of me and I am a part of him. His agony diminishes me and his salvation enlarges me.
In our quest to make neighborly love a reality, we have in addition to the inspiring example of the Good Samaritan the magnanimous life of our Christ to guide us. His altruism was universal, for he thought of all people, even publicans and sinners, as brothers. His altruism was dangerous for he willingly traveled hazardous roads in a cause he knew was right. His altruism was excessive for he chose to die on Calvary, history’s most magnificent expression of obedience to the unenforceable.