The film Schindler’s List, from the novel by Thomas Kenneally, is a difficult movie to watch, to put it mildly. It is based on the truth of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who was an utter failure at living. With the exception of his wartime ownership of Deutsche Email Fabrik, which manufactured sturdy enamel cookware and mess kits – and he poured his fortune into it to keep it going – he failed at marriage, he failed at relationships, and he failed especially at business. After the war, his DEF enamelware factory failed.
The tag line from the movie is: The list is life. Government officials had confined to ghettoes people who were Jewish. If your papers showed that you were employed in work that was essential to the war effort, you were allowed out of the ghetto to go to that job each day. Oskar Schindler was putting six-year-olds on the list, arguing that he needed their tiny fingers to polish the insides of bullet casings. He employed a man with one arm to dip the metal into its enamel-coating bath. To be on Schindler’s list was to live in the midst of genocide.
Oskar Schindler, the failure, has had a tree planted in Israel on the Avenue of the Righteous. People, especially people who are Jewish, continue to this day to visit his grave and leave a stone, as is the tradition. May his memory be a blessing, is a traditional Jewish response to learning of a person’s death.
Maybe that’s living in the Kingdom of God right here, right now, and also after. Maybe: “Go and do likewise” can mean, Live so that your memory is a blessing as well as: Live in the kingdom of God here in this place and in this time, and live in the kingdom of God in the world to come.
It’s almost reflexive for you and for me to see ourselves as the Good Samaritan in this parable. The laws in most states allowing a degree of immunity for someone who stops to help a person in distress are called “Good Samaritan” laws. The key provision in these laws is that the person provides aid without any expectation of reward. The parable of the Good Samaritan is the parable of stopping to help simply because the man lying in the ditch was the Samaritan’s neighbor. Go and do likewise. What does this mean?
No doubt you and I have heard sermons proposing that sometimes we who hear this parable are the Samaritan, sometimes the priest or Levite, sometimes Jesus, sometimes the lawyer – and sometimes the guy in the ditch. I will confess to having preached that a time or two myself.
Because this is a parable in the Gospel of Luke, the clues are thick on the ground. This is not subtle. Who is my neighbor? Go and do likewise.
Our first clue, says Velma from Scooby-Doo, is found in the portion of Deuteronomy that we hear. The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soul. … The word is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart.
Obedience to God is life. The list is life.
The psalm for today, a portion of Psalm 25, gives us another clue. Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths. And also: All your paths, O Lord, are steadfast love and faithfulness to those who keep your covenant and your testimonies.
Keeping your covenant is life. Obedience to God’s commandments is life. The list is life.
And Paul, who always seems to have something to say that points toward Jesus, tells the Colossians that he prays that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.
The knowledge of God’s will – is life. Abiding among my neighbors in a way that is fully pleasing to the Lord is life. The list is life.
A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “You have given the right answer. Do this, and you shall live,” Jesus said. But wanting to justify himself, he asked: “Who is my neighbor?”
And Jesus told the parable. Parable, from para- meaning around the general area of, and -bola, from bolein, meaning to toss. A parable, especially in the hands of Jesus, especially in the Gospel of Luke, is an illustration casting light around a way of living that is fully pleasing to the Lord.
Taking all these clues together, maybe the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor,” could be translated as, “What do you mean, ‘Do this, and live’?”
Oskar Schindler has been described as a German industrialist. A businessman. As it turns out, he was spectacularly bad at it. He ran through his savings, finally selling his gold watch, his good suits, liquidating his belongings as the war drew to a close. He spent large amounts of the money that the factory generated in bribes to government officials to protect his workers against being transported to the labor camps and the death camps.
And once the announcement came that the war had ended, Oskar Schindler knew two things: that he would have to flee Germany immediately – and that his tireless efforts, his unceasing abundance out of his own stores to save his factory family, were so very small.
“I could have done more,” he says in the movie. “If I’d made more money – I threw away so much money.”
And his bookkeeper reminds him of wisdom from the Talmud, from Jewish wisdom: “He who saves a life saves the world entire.”
Between eleven hundred and twelve hundred people survived the genocide because of Oskar Schindler, one of many acts of courage during that war. The list is life.
Do this, and live, Jesus says. And wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked: Who is my neighbor? The word is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart. The law is life. Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths. The paths are life. But who is my neighbor? Do this, and live.