8th Sunday after Pentecost
July 14, 2013
Luke 10: 25-37
How many of you have heard this story before? Next to the story of the Prodigal Son and his Older Brother, this is the most famous of Jesus’ parables. Remember that Jesus’ stories always have a surprise at the end, something that turns a simple tale into a something shocking. So in this story, the biggest surprise is the Samaritan as the savior.
Maybe you’ve heard that Jews and the Samaritans had a long and deep enmity. It stems from the time of the return from the Exile in 539 BCE. Jewish temple leadership was all carried away into captivity in Babylon and Assyria. Many Biblical scholars believe that they were behind the creation of the earliest written collection of the Hebrew Scriptures in that foreign land as a way to keep the faith and teach the new generations the stories and traditions that shaped their life as God’s people.
When they came back, those who had remained behind had been worshipping the best they could on their own. They created sacred space on Mount Gerizim, and intermarried with non-Jews, including some local traditions in their worship. The returning exiles, those who had struggled so hard to keep the faith pure, treated them with contempt, called them dogs, and shunned them. The hatred was returned in equal measure.
So imagine that the story takes place in Mississippi in 1955. A white man is beat up and left for dead on a dangerous route, frequented by thugs both black and white. Two white men see him in the ditch and pass by on the other side, maybe one is a pastor, the other a church elder. They are not sure that he is still alive, but they are certain that it is not safe to stop and lend a hand. A black sharecropper is the one who stops and helps the dying man. Uses the last of his bottle of water to clean his wounds and tears his own shirt to bind them. He loads the man onto his old truck and takes him into town to a white motel and leaves the last of his dollars to see to it that he is cared for.
Or imagine that you are beat up and lying in a ditch and no one stops to help you until a dark-skinned man with a turban wound around his head stops to help you, soothes your wounds and brings you to a nearby clinic and pays the bill.
The lawyer who was so worried about being saved had all the facts right. He knew the law: love the lord your God with all your heart and soul and your neighbor as yourself. He’s been good, following those precepts, he says. But that’s not enough. “So who exactly is the neighbor I’m supposed to be helping?” Jesus doesn’t answer the question, he tells this story instead. And twists the question a bit. Who turns out to be the neighbor, is Jesus question back. And the answer is, “the one who proves to be the neighbor way beyond the expectation of taking care of the people you know, the people of your own tribe, the people who are like you.” And at the same time the question gets turned on it’s ear because the neighbor is the one who is outside the tribe, outside the clan, outside the people who are just like you. The question also becomes, “who would you accept help from?”
In the gracious world of God’s love, no one receives help or mercy because they deserve it. In God’s steadfast love, even those who are careless, mean, disobedient, unfaithful, self-serving, wasteful receive forgiveness and God’s loving care. Because of course, we are all there. No matter how hard we try to be our best, perfect, loving Christian selves, we all fall short. Even at our worst, and even at our best, it is God’s compassion saves us.
So what’s the point of the law – love God with all your heart and soul and mind and your neighbor as yourself? It is the right order of things in our world. When God’s love comes to us in Jesus Christ, whose life and death and resurrection show us how much God loves us and is willing to sacrifice to forgive us, our hearts are turned to live out of that love. We begin to see others with the eyes of God’s heart. We see suffering and want to ease it. We see hunger and want to alleviate it. We see hopelessness and despair and want to lift it with our own willingness to share in the burdens of those who need our care.
“Go and do likewise,” says Jesus. He means to be the one who shows mercy because you have received mercy. But I also think that he means that we are to not be afraid to let others be the help we need to bring our battered and burdened selves back to God’s love. Each of us has a story of how God’s love was offered to us in the person of someone who saved us from our ditch. Who would you be in this story, the wounded one, the one who passes by because you are scared or busy, or the one who stops to help?
Religion is about rules, it is about showing our love for God by loving people and living in harmony with each other and our world. But more than that, religion is about God’s deep and abiding love for all. It is about God’s promised presence that never leaves us abandoned or hopeless, and about our trust in being Jesus’ body here by our presence in this beloved community of care. This simple and complex story says it all. May it continue to inspire us to love and let ourselves be loved. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.