**photo credit: Keshia Thomas, 18 years old, by Mark Brunner (1996)
Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 14, 2019
[sermon begins after the Bible reading]
Luke 10:25-37 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.”
Anthony Ray Hinton went to prison for a crime that he did not commit and sat on death row for 30 years. When he first went to prison, he was so angry and tired of not being believed that he stopped talking. He wrote down his answers to the guards’ questions. Going into his fourth year in prison, he heard a man crying in the cell next to his. Mr. Hinton says that his mother’s compassion moved him to speak. Before long he was joking with the man. After that night, Mr. Hinton spent the next 26 years trying to focus on other people’s problems. He said he realized that the other inmates had not had the unconditional love that his mother had given him. Family was created between the inmates. 54 people walked down the hallway by his cell on their way to be executed. Mr. Hinton started the ritual with the other inmates to bang on the bars 5 minutes before the execution, letting them know that love walked with them. Stories like Mr. Hinton’s are often lifted up as examples of the resiliency of the human spirit. Very few of us will ever be put in a situation as dire as his to know how we would respond. Regardless, his story has elements worth considering. He was in a place of despair, angry and alone. He was facing death. But, he found meaning in sharing love and compassion that he himself had received from his mother.
Mr. Hinton sharing compassion he himself received is why his story resonates with today’s Bible reading. Verse 33 tells us that the Samaritan saw the naked, beaten, half-dead man on the side of the road and was “moved with pity.” This word “pity” is from a Greek word that is also translated as compassion elsewhere in Luke. Luke uses this word only three times in the Gospel. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke it’s used 12 times and used specifically to either describe Jesus’ compassion or used by Jesus in parables to describe a major characters’ response. You may be asking why this translation gem gets a shout out. It’s because this kind of compassion as it shows up in the gospels is quite specific. More than a moral claim, one could say it’s almost holy. One could even say it’s divine. But if it’s divine, isn’t it out of reach for the common person? I’m going to say no, it’s not.
In our tradition, we understand ourselves to be created in the image of God. Imago dei. Our humanity imprinted by God. One of the reasons we worship weekly is to remind ourselves of what we are and to whom we belong. When we are reminded of what we are in the story of the Good Samaritan, we hear the parable in its rightful place. Not as a moral action for the to-do list, rather as a divine reaction inspiring us across the road like the Samaritan. Our bodies are created by divine compassion and also for divine compassion. When we act compassionately, endorphins are released in our brains making us feel good. When we act compassionately, the hormone oxytocin is released. Oxytocin has health benefits like reducing inflammation in our hearts and circulatory systems. Additionally, compassion is contagious. Social scientists have found that there’s a ripple effect. If you are kind and compassionate, your friends, your friends’ friends, and your friends’ friends’ friends have a greater inclination towards compassion. Our bodies’ systems are wired to react positively to compassion and our community systems are wired to react positively to compassion. This is one of those moments when faith and science come together like the thumb and index finger – between them we can grasp so much.
In the parable, Jesus reveals the compassion of the neighbor, the compassion that Jesus first and foremost reveals in himself as his own compassion is stirred by the people around him and ultimately his own compassion poured out at the cross. Jesus’ compassion that is highlighted by Luke in Jesus himself and in the parables about Jesus is compassion stirred by death. Compassion stirred by the death of the widow of Nain’s son in chapter 7, by the man left half-dead at the side of the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and by the prodigal son showing up after he was assumed dead. In each of these instances, the compassion of Jesus transforms the ones who are dead, half-dead, or assumed dead. We could say that the compassion of Jesus, the deathless one, draws him toward death because there is nothing left to fear.
I had a seminary professor who tapped his clergy collar during class and said that the collar would take us boldly into situations where no one else would dare to go. It was a daunting thing to hear. In hindsight, that seems toplofty to me. Instead, I would say that it is our baptism that takes us boldly into situations where no one else dares to go. Our baptism that brings us alive together with Christ, aligning us with the image of God in ourselves and in other people.
Mr. Hinton was released from prison in 2015 after his case was picked up by the Equal Justice Initiative and it was discovered that the evidence against him did not match the crime scene evidence. His 30 years in prison transformed the experience for himself and the people around him. First, his mother’s unconditional love and compassion touched his mind and then he was able share it with those around him. The lawyer questioning Jesus gives the right answer about the law, the Torah – love God and love neighbor as self. These are the main things, and Jesus agrees with him. The parable of the Good Samaritan highlights the main things in a way that speaks to us because we’ve see the hesitation of the priest and the Levite rear up in ourselves when confronted by difference and need. Perhaps the hesitation to cross the road has good logic. On the other hand, perhaps it’s flawed logic that is primarily fear settling in for an extended stay.
Experiencing compassion ourselves might make us more inclined to cross the road in compassion. Even witnessing acts of compassion makes us more inclined to cross the road in compassion – especially across difference as the Samaritan did. There’s an image that often comes to mind as an example. Keshia Thomas was a young black teenage woman protecting a white supremacist middle-aged man from being beaten at a protest. She’s kneeling on the ground next to him, arms thrown out over him, ready to take the blows herself. Turns out she’d be on the receiving end of violence in her young life and wishes someone had stood up for her. She says her faith also played a part in protecting him. The man’s son approached her a few months later and thanked her. The man remains anonymous. Both the photographer, Mark Brunner, and another woman, Teri Gunderson, report that Keshia’s action affects them even today. Ms. Gunderson keeps the picture of Keisha on her wall.
Keshia Thomas and Anthony Ray Hinton are compelling modern examples of compassion. I would argue that they are contagious examples of compassion inspiring us to cross that road of difference and stare death in the eye like the Samaritan did. Inspiring us to the compassion that is also in us as the image of God empowered by our baptism into the death and life of Jesus. Remember that the compassion extended by Jesus includes you too. Because we’re linear creatures it can be difficult to see love of God, neighbor, and self as all three of those things happening at once. We’re tempted to say that we have to love ourselves before we can love our neighbor. Or we have to love God before we can rightly understand love of self. The actual experience is messier – more like football than baseball if you’ll allow the sports analogy. A lot is happening at once. Here’s one suggestion to begin breaking it down. Take your worship bulletin home this week. Fold it open to this Bible reading. Take a couple minutes to read it as you start your day. Wonder about it. Ask questions of it. Pray over it. Let it remind you.
Crossing the road in compassion breaks the cycle of shame and judgment that we inflict on ourselves and other people. However compassion comes to you and through you, for today, know that the savior who claims us crosses the road into whatever ditch you currently find yourself in, pulls you out, tends your wounds, and reminds you who you are and to whom you belong. Alleluia and amen.
 Anthony Ray Hinton’s story can easily be found on any web search. I encountered his story in the following:
Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. (New York: Avery, 2016), 261-262. Mr. Hinton tells his own story in The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row (2018). It’s now on my list of books to read.
 Luke 7:13 – Jesus was moved with compassion for the widow of Nain and her dead son; Luke 15:20 – the prodigal son’s father is moved with compassion when he see that his son has returned.
 Girardian Lectionary (Proper 10, Year C, Ordinary 15) on Luke 10:25-37, Exegetical Note #5 re Luke 10:33 (2013).
 Genesis 1:26-27
 The Book of Joy, 258.
 EJI. “Anthony Ray Hinton Exonerated After 30 Years on Death Row.” https://eji.org/anthony-ray-hinton-exonerated-from-alabama-death-row