Sermon: The Other Side

July 10, 2022

Psalm 25:1-10
Luke 10:25-37

by Eric Anderson

“Which side are you on? Which side are you on?”

In 1931, the Harlan County Coal Operators’ Association in Harlan County, Kentucky, cut workers’ wages by 10%, from almost making ends meet to how will we keep the family fed. The miners began to organize with the assistance of the United Mine Workers. Some of them were fired – and because they lived in company housing, they also lost their homes.

The local sheriff enthusiastically supported the mine owners. One night he led a group of armed men to the home of Sam and Florence Reece. If they’d found Sam and they arrested him, it would have been an arrest without grounds, but he wasn’t home. Florence Reece wrote, “I was home alone with our seven children. They ransacked the whole house and then kept watch outside, waiting to shoot Sam down when he came back. But he didn’t come home that night.”

When the sheriff and his thugs left, Florence Reece wrote a song on a piece of paper from the wall calendar. The song was “Which Side Are You On?”, one of the best known songs of the labor movement.

“Which side are you on? Which side are you on?”

Jesus told a story about being on one side or the other – but it wasn’t the sides of a conflict. It wasn’t the sides of an argument. It wasn’t, despite being prompted by a legal scholar, the sides of a legal proceeding. It was the sides of a road.

“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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”

The other side of a road.

I’m pretty sure that the lawyer hadn’t anticipated the story we call “The Good Samaritan” when he asked his question about eternal life. It is a quick departure from the subject at hand, isn’t it? One moment they’re fellow theologians, agreeing on the central message of Scripture. The next moment, one was off on a storyteller’s journey from Jerusalem to Jericho, and the clean and simple conversation between scholars had been fouled with violence and blood and suffering. There was no indication of neighborliness here.

Until – ah, ha! A priest came along. What better example than a religious leader, a minister, a pastor? My neighbor is the sufferer. All right. And my goal is to emulate the priest.

Except that the pastor passed by on the other side.

So did the Levite. The Levite was a less senior religious leader. Still plenty holy. Very holy.

And very much on the other side.

Then a new character appeared, and this one was from a different kind of other side. A Samaritan came from the other side of a centuries-old feud. Each side considered themselves to be firmly in the right. Each side considered the other to be firmly in the wrong. The only imaginable place for this Samaritan was the other side of the road.

Which is not where he stayed – at least, not when Jesus told the story.

Pity the poor lawyer. As Debie Thomas writes at, “I wonder if what the lawyer really means is, ‘Who is not my neighbor?’  As in: how much love are we talking here, Jesus?  Can you be specific?  Where should I draw the line?  Outside my front door?  At the edges of my neighborhood?  Along the religious and cultural boundaries I was raised with to keep me pure and holy?  I mean, there are lines, aren’t there?  There must be lines.  We can’t be neighbors with everyone!”

Jesus’ response was basically, “No, there aren’t lines. You’re neighbor to everyone – as long as you act like it.”

That would have been the sheriff of Harlan County coming to protect Sam Reece rather than coming to beat him, imprison him, even kill him. That would have been the Committee of Public Safety of 1893 supporting a new constitution for the Kingdom of Hawai’i re-enfranchising the citizens who lost the right to vote in 1887. That would have been the Crusaders coming to visit Jerusalem with gifts of support and of peace rather than bearing weapons of war.

It has to be said: Christians all too frequently choose the other side of the road, don’t we, the side to pass by? We even take on the role of the robbers.

Jesus weeps.

Christianity comes down to this, doesn’t it? At its root, at its heart, at its center, is this question: Am I living as a neighbor? Does our neighborhood support those who live in it? Does our neighborhood support those who visit it, or who pass through it, or move into it? Does our neighborhood heal? Does our neighborhood accept healing when someone from outside brings it?

Have we organized our society to be good neighbors?

Like the myna, and the cat, and the saffron finch, we find ourselves at different points in the neighbor spectrum at different times in our lives. Sometimes we are the ones who need help. Sometimes we are the ones who can offer help. Sometimes – and this is important – we are the ones who have the power to do harm to others. Sometimes we are the ones who have been harmed. The question, “Who is my neighbor?” is less about “who am I obligated to care for?” and more about “shall we treat one another with love and justice… or not?”

Do not forget that someone has come to tell the story of the Good Samaritan, and also to be the great example of a neighbor. We are all of us in some way in that roadside ditch, watching the ones who are supposed to help – people like me – pass by on the other side. And we are all of us cared for deeply and thoroughly by the author of that story, by Jesus Christ. Joy J. Moore writes at Working Preacher, “The one despised and rejected and condemned and publicly lynched is the one who raises us up from the pit, binds up our wounds, takes us to a place of safety and provides a place for us where we belong, promising to return to ensure all debts have been paid. Jesus does not just speak a good word, or point us in the right direction, Jesus takes us to the place where we can be cared for and returns to confirm that all is in order. If we are to be Christlike (Christian), this is who we must imitate. As we grow in knowledge of him, we lead lives worthy of the him, bearing fruit in every good work (Colossians 1:10). This is not a promise of heaven to come, but the presence of God’s reign experienced here and now.”

The presence of God’s reign experienced here and now – in the simple act of being a neighbor. In Jesus we find the full expression of that neighbor’s care. In Jesus we find the challenge to be, ourselves, the best neighbors we can be.


Unfortunately, the service of July 10, 2022, was not recorded due to a technical error.

The image is Der barmherzige Samariter (The Good Samaritan) by Paula Modersohn-Becker (1907) – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on July 10, 2022

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