Rev. Mark Schaefer
Center Brunswick United Methodist Church, August 12, 2012
Metropolitan Memorial UMC, August 26, 2012
Joshua 6:22-27; Luke 10:25-37

Joshua 6:22–27 • Joshua spoke to the two men who had scouted out the land. “Go to the prostitute’s house. Bring out the woman from there, along with everyone related to her, exactly as you pledged to her.” So the young men who had been spies went and brought Rahab out, along with her father, her mother, her brothers, and everyone related to her. They brought her whole clan out and let them stay outside Israel’s camp. They burned the city and everything in it. But they put the silver and gold, along with the bronze and iron equipment, into the treasury of the LORD’s house. Joshua let Rahab the prostitute live, her family, and everyone related to her. So her family still lives among Israel today, because she hid the spies whom Joshua had sent to scout out Jericho.

At that time Joshua made this decree: “Anyone who starts to rebuild this city of Jericho will be cursed before the LORD. Laying its foundations will cost them their oldest child. Setting up its gates will cost them their youngest child.” The LORD was with Joshua. News about him spread throughout the land.

Luke 10:25–37 • A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?” He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

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Image courtesy

Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?” Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”


Here we are in Washington, D.C., which, among its many achievements and features, currently possesses the best team in baseball.  Yes, the Washington Nationals have the best record in the major leagues.  A shocking thing to the sports establishment and perhaps even more shocking to those of us who live there.

Of course, for years, there was no team in Washington and those who grew up in the city or in the suburbs would usually root for the Baltimore Orioles.  I went to a Nationals game with a friend of mine who’d grown up in Maryland.  It was an interleague game and the Nats were playing the Orioles.  As the innings went on, my friend grew increasingly despondent at the Orioles fans who were present.  As they continued to cheer for the O’s, my friend began to seethe: “These people need to leave!” she said. I agreed; but it was perplexing.  She’d grown up in Maryland.  When we’d gone to see the Red Sox play the Orioles, she rooted for the Orioles.  And now those same Orioles and their fans had gone from being an “us” to a “them”.

I suppose that’s not too surprising.  We human beings have a long history of doing exactly that.

There comes a moment when as a baby, we realize that the universe is not us.  A moment when we realize that we are bounded, finite.  When we sense that we are an individual, a discreet entity.  This is an important stage in developmental psychology; the dawning of self.  It’s important, but not without its consequences.

First, in the recognition that we and our parents are not the same entity, there is a sense of alienation and loss.  Where once we had only perceived a universal self, now we perceive that we are separate from our parents and there is a sense of loss.  It is, of course, only apparent loss since nothing has changed; you were always distinct from your parents, but you only now perceive it and you sense that something has changed.  And there is loss.  One writer describes this sudden shift in perception as being akin to Original Sin: we are alienated from God, though God is not alienated from us.

But there’s another change that happens as well.  It’s when we first develop a sense of The Other.  Them.  The not me or the not us.

If our sense of alienation and loss is akin to our Original Sin, then also behind this development is the root of our greatest ongoing sin: our treatment of The Other.


It is about The Other that our two Bible texts speak.  One is perhaps a little more familiar than the others.

In the first story from Joshua, we hear the story of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites.  Joshua had sent some spies into Jericho to spy out the land.  The spies are helped out in their espionage by Rahab the prostitute who hides them while the people of Jericho are looking for them.  As a reward, as Jericho is about to be destroyed, Joshua tells the spies to take Rahab and her family out of the city.  Then we are told: “They brought her whole clan out and let them stay outside Israel’s camp.”  She’s been a great ally, but when the attack comes, she still has to stay outside Israel’s camp. After the city is destroyed we read that “her family still lives among Israel today, because she hid the spies whom Joshua had sent to scout out Jericho.”  Commentators sometimes point out that the narrator is not exactly thrilled about this.  That is, on account of this, we still have to put up with the Rahabites to this day.  Even after a decisive victory aided with the help of this woman, she and her family still remain “Other”.

The second story is more familiar and many of us have heard it since childhood. In response to the question “Who is my neighbor?”, Jesus tells a story of a man who is robbed, beaten, and left for dead alongside the Jericho Road.  A priest comes by but walks crosses to the other side.  He is followed by a Levite, who does the same.  Finally, a Samaritan comes by, takes the man, treats him, brings him to an inn, and leaves money to treat him, promising to pay the balance on any expense when he returns.  Jesus then asks: “Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?” The lawyer responds, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”  To which Jesus replies: “Go and do likewise.”

Now, what it is Jesus is telling us to do, depends on understanding what this parable is really about.

For, “Good Samaritan” has become something of a cliché in our language.  It means something like “a really helpful person in a time of need.” In fact, for the last 30 or so years, CVS has offered a free emergency highway service entitled the “CVS Samaritan”.  Laws that compel passersby to assist those in need (many of which were enacted in the wake of Princess Diana’s death) are known as “Good Samaritan Laws.”  A Good Samaritan is a helpful person in a time of trouble.  We all know what it means.

Except that we don’t get just how shocking the story is supposed to be.  The Samaritans were (and are—there are still about 500 of them left) a people who were descended from the former inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (the “Lost Tribes”) and the populations that were imported into that Kingdom after the Assyrians destroyed it in 721 BC.  The inhabitants of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, never saw this mixed population as authentically Israelite.  And over the centuries a fair amount of hostility developed between the Jews of Judah and the Samaritans of Samaria.  A level of hostility that was keenly felt in Jesus’ day.  As a Rabbi friend of mine jokes: “The only good Samaritan is a dead Samaritan.”

Against this backdrop Jesus tells his parable.  It’s jarring.  Some have argued that to understand the significance of this story, you have to imagine a modern context and substitute the word “Palestinian” for “Samaritan.” But Jesus does more than simply provide a twist.  He violates an established pattern.  See, the traditional division of the Jewish people is “priest, Levite, and Israelite.”  So, Jesus tells this story only it has a surprise ending: priest, Levite, Samaritan.  It’d be like telling a story about a Fourth of July party and saying that you’ll have “baseball, hot dogs, and borscht.”  The violation of the pattern is jarring.  The hero of the story isn’t an Israelite.  It’s a Samaritan.  The Other.


Lest you think this is a problem only the ancient Israelites had, let’s ask ourselves how we’re doing at relating to The Other.

There’s a lot of us-and-them abroad in our land. We the citizens versus them the immigrants.  We the members of this political party versus them the members of the other.  We right-minded people and them the whackjobs and lunatics.  We people of faith and them the secularists.  We the people of the one true faith and them the believers in all the rest.   It’s everywhere.

Let me know if you noticed this, too.  Did you notice last week during the tragedy of the shooting in Wisconsin, how often the media felt constrained to point out that Sikhs are not Muslims?  I’m sure you figured out what they were trying to do.  They were trying to explain why someone would have targeted the Sikhs by noting that they must have thought they were Muslims.  That is, the killer confused this group we know little about with that group we all know isn’t like us.  The killer mistook one “them” for another.

Recently, I saw a business that had a large spray-painted sign on it reading: “Foreigners go home.”  I wondered two things when I saw that.  First, whether this person wasn’t particularly fond of fresh fruits and vegetables, most of which are picked by foreigners.  And second, whether the Indians on whose land this business now stood should have had the same signs.

We are not good about our response to the Other.  The Statue of Liberty invites them all in but God help us if they actually show up.


Theologian and writer Peter Rollins has noted that there are basically three responses to how we engage with the other.  And he uses a metaphor of eating do describe them.

A.   Consume

First, we “devour” or “consume” the other.  That is, we seek to make them exactly like us.  We can co-exist, we say, but in order for that to happen, you have to give up being you and become one of us.  You need to think like us, dress like us, pray like us, talk like us.  Conform.  Then we can get along.

B.    Spit Out

The second response is the spit them out.  To reject—just as the body does when it receives something distasteful or alien—to spit out that which is different.  When we encounter someone who is too different, we just reject them altogether.  There’s no question of them being consumed or made into us.  Just get rid of them.  “Foreigners go home.”

That’s an idea with a long pedigree in our country.  Downtown is a monument to our first president, called, appropriately enough the Washington Monument.  When it was being built, the Vatican donated a stone for its construction. A group known as the Know-Nothings stole and destroyed the stone rather than see a papist stone in the Monument.  The Germans and the Irish were The Other and needed to be spit out.

C.   Eat With

The third option is becoming more popular.  It is to “eat with”—to share a table.  We usually refer to this as dialogue and there’s interfaith dialogue, political dialogue, international dialogue.  All kinds of dialogues where we sit down around a common table and talk about all the things we have in common.

The only problem with this, is that it still doesn’t engage The Other as other. We just engage each other on a lowest-common-denominator basis.  We dialogue with each other and attempt to find out all the things we share and not dwell on the things that we don’t.  So, we’re not really engaging The Other, we’re just watering ourselves and the Other down to something more palatable to both.


Because there is something beyond this paradigm of consuming, spitting out, and eating with.  There is something transformative that can be done: seeing ourselves through the eyes of the other. There’s probably a reason that we choose one of the other options rather than this one: it’s hard to do and not always pleasant. In fact, Rollins notes that to do so is to “confront one’s own monstrosity”—to really see ourselves not as the familiar, but as The Other.

Perhaps you’ve already had that experience.  I know I have.  Where you say something offhand, something you don’t think anything of that disparages or separates you from an Other.  And the person you say it to turns out to be The Other.  Like calling something you disapprove of as “retarded” or “gay” only to be faced with someone who suffers a mental disability or who is gay and tells you how it feels for them to hear their identity used as a derogatory term.  And they tell you how that feels.  In that moment, you see your own monstrosity.  You see how you must appear to The Other.

How would the world look if we made a point to see ourselves through the eyes of The Other?  For a liberal to see themselves through the eyes of a conservative and vice versa?  For an Evangelical to see themselves through the eyes of an atheist?  For Christian to see themselves through the eyes of a Muslim? A Muslim to see themselves through the eyes of a Jew? For Americans to see themselves through the eyes of an Iraqi or an Afghan? For all manner of “us” and “them” to see themselves in this light?

We might discover that far from seeing ourselves as fundamentally different from one another, we would see ourselves as equal in need of grace and mercy.  We might discover after all that that the very one we thought of as The Other turned out to be our Neighbor after all.


At the end of his parable of the Good Samaritan,  Jesus commands us to “go and do likewise.” That’s not about being nice to people.  It’s to see those we are inclined to see as Other as Neighbor instead.

It is a function of our human psychology that we will continue to be inclined to see the world as made up of “us” and “them”.  A world inhabited by us and The Other.

But Christ calls us beyond our simple categorizations.  Christ calls us away from trying to consume or reject or simply dialogue with those whom we perceive as different from us.  Christ calls us to see ourselves through the eyes of The Other in order that we might see ourselves more clearly; as ones who are someone else’s Other.  And in so doing, we might come to see The Other as Neighbor and as a fellow child of God.

One thought on “In the Midst of the Other

  1. Mark, I believe that empathy is vital to humanity.
    Recently I’ve been seeing myself through the eyes of factory farmed animals which has led me to give up red meat and hopefully go veg in the near future. Humans are monsters in the eyes of pigs and cows, no doubt. (sorry, tangent)
    Interesting thoughts!

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