Down in the Dirt

Down in the Dirt

By Bethany Benz-Whittington, MDiv ‘15

Luke 10:25-37 25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”27 He 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.”28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus 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. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He 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. 35 The 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.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

This week was another bad week. Another week of violence in our country, and around the world. Black, white, and brown bodies strewn, lifeless, on the streets of Baton Rouge, of the Twin Cities, of Dallas, of Bangladesh and Baghdad and Istanbul.

A range of motives, one outcome.

The tragedy is overwhelming. It stopped me dead in my tracks on Friday morning.

But it’s also a week of hope. Yesterday morning, I read report after report after report of vigils and protests in major cities all across the country.

One of particular significance for me was a photo from a vigil held in Memphis yesterday. It’s not only significant because my husband is from Memphis, but because it’s a city with some of the worst race relations in the country, and the vigil was held outside the National Civil Rights Museum, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

The protest rally in Dallas was held just two blocks from where John F. Kennedy Jr. was assassinated.

These two cities, Memphis and Dallas, cities with great historical significance, remind us that out of chaos comes hope.

We know, from our own history, and from the biblical narrative, that it’s been bad before. The man lying on the side of the road in our text for today probably wasn’t real. He was a metaphor for pain and suffering.

He was a metaphor for Israel in captivity in Egypt, or Israel in exile during the Babylonian empire. He was a metaphor for the disciples’ confusion and grief after Jesus’ death. He was a metaphor for Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. He was a metaphor for Philando Castille in St. Paul. He was a metaphor for Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa and Michael Krol and Michael Smith and Lorne Ahrens, peace officers in Dallas. He was a metaphor for all those hurt and killed in the multiple ISIS attacks that marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

He was a metaphor for the pain and suffering, the oppression and subjugation, the forgottenness and dismissal of God’s people.

He was a metaphor for us.

And then here comes this Good Samaritan. This stranger who brushes aside customs and standards of cleanliness, he doesn’t consider the race or ethnicity or religion of the hurt man, he doesn’t care what his job is or how much money he does or doesn’t have. He sees a human, a neighbor, broken and bleeding. He sees us in all our humanity, in all our pain, in all our potential.

He is the Dallas Police Department, marching alongside protesters, protecting them, loving them, snapping selfies with them.

He is the president, both presidential candidates, and many elected officials, saying enough!

He is Black Lives Matter, demanding accountability and change in the names of those who cannot speak for themselves.

Because it’s not enough to simply acknowledge that there’s a problem. It’s not enough for the priest to walk by on the other side and say a prayer for the beaten man. It’s not enough for the Levite to pass by and wish the guy well. No, it’s our job, as people who worship the guy who told the story, to get down in the dirt with the beaten and broken man and do whatever we can to save him.

It’s not enough to simply make a Facebook post about how tragic the whole thing is.

It’s not enough to send our thoughts and prayers to the grieving.

It’s not enough to pass by on the other side.

It’s our job, as followers of Jesus Christ, our executed, brown-skinned Lord, to be beaten and broken.

Only then will we see and feel the disaster, the tragedy, the pain of all those suffering under the weight of oppression and fear.

And only then, will we begin to see the way out.

There’s an episode of The West Wing with Chief of Staff Leo McGarry telling a story. He says: “This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.

“A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

“Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on

“Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’”

There’s hope of getting out of the hole. But first we have to experience the hole.

I haven’t grieved black and brown lives as intensely as I did this week. I haven’t grieved the lives of strangers really at all before a few weeks ago. I’ve had a distant, moral objection to tragedies like this in the past. I’ve understood intellectually that they’re sad, and we should definitely do something to stop them.

But after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, a massacre at the intersection of race, sexual identity and ethnicity, I feel deeply broken.

Then came the massacres of many, many Muslims preparing for the end of Ramadan.

And then the massacres of black men being black.

And then, peace officers picked off by a sniper.

Sisters and brothers, my heart is broken. My soul is beaten. And I’m new to this. I already have compassion fatigue, and I haven’t been living with this my whole life.

It’s barely a taste of what it’s like to be in the hole, but the more of us who experience it, the better able we are to help each other out.

Jesus is down in that hole. Jesus knows the pain and brutality of being publicly executed.

And Jesus knows the glory of redemption.

I’m not there yet though. Our society isn’t there yet. Our world isn’t there yet.

We know redemption is coming. Because history tells us so. Because the Bible tells us so. Because Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, tells us so. I hope and pray and work towards that day. Will you join me?

In the name of God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer…Amen.

Bethany Benz-Whittington is a 2015 graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary. She is currently serving as the Stated Supply for Peace Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, FL, where she is passionate about maintaining and growing the church’s commitment to local mission through its food pantry and clothes closet. Bethany is married to Matthew Benz-Whittington, who serves as a chaplain resident at Baptist Health in Jacksonville.

This is a sermon Bethany preached on Sunday, July 10, 2016. The original can be found on her blog You Don’t Seem Like a Church Person.

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