29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus 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. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He 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. 35The 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.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
7 Pentecost, Lectionary 15
July 11, 2010
Luke 10: 25-37
“Who is my neighbor?”
If there is a more famous story from Jesus’ ministry, I don’t know it. This is the story which everyone knows. There are Good Samaritan laws which protect you from liability if you stop to help someone who is injured. And Good Samaritan Clubs which promise to stop to help people who have broken down or run into trouble on the road. The Good Samaritan has become the model of one who puts his or her life on hold for a time to be kind to someone who needs help.
But this story is much richer than that. It addresses the difference between law and gospel, and it unpacks the prejudices of even the most religious people around nationality and politics and religion.
As you can hear in the reading from Deuteronomy and from often from the Psalms, the Israelites understanding of their covenant with God was that if you did what was required of you, you would prosper.
It sounds kind of like a bargain: I promise to do this and then you will do that. I will keep your commandments, and then you will fill my life with everything that I want. The Law was always meant to keep people in right relationship with their God and with each other, not to be a sort of magic formula. And the law was always meant to teach us that God is merciful, because no one is really able to keep the law the perfectly. The law also teaches that it is God who is the source of all that is good, and that God blesses us with all that we need. Even if life disappoints, even if tragedy strikes, God walks with us into new life, over and over again. The law was never meant to save people who were able to keep it. Rather, people kept the law because, through God’s love and mercy, they are saved.
If we recast the story for today, we would claim that the compassionate one was a Muslim or a member of Al-Qaeda. Someone we wouldn’t want to touch us, would be the one who offers care, rather than the people who we would expect to stop and help. Ultimately the teacher of the law is put to the test himself.
You see, keeping the rules and counting on that to save you makes it possible to draw lines between us and them. Between who is good enough and who is not. Between who agrees with us and who does not. It’s a good thing that God doesn’t draw those kinds of lines. When we see that all our attempts to be good enough to be in Jesus’ company are failures from the very beginning, we see that we are only saved by God’s action – God’s gift of love through Jesus Christ.
When we see ourselves as welcomed though we do not ever deserve it, we are not able to see others as being less than we are. When we see that God came in person to be with us, purely out of love for us, we cannot look at another and not see that God loves them too. The power which raised Jesus from the grave is the power which turns our self-centered hearts to real compassion for all God’s people. It is the power which compels us to offer kindness when we could easily turn our backs. You see, it is not our actions which save us, it is God’s love which saves us and leads us to actions which mirror that love.
Our neighbor is anyone who needs to see God’s love in our actions. Our actions won’t get us eternal life. Eternal life is already ours. Through Jesus death and resurrection, everything that keeps us from abundant life is gone. We are already living the life of joy and peace which is promised to us. We don’t do anything to earn it, it is a gift. But we sure can do things which make us miserable and unloving. But, thank you, Jesus, we are free to live out of this abundant life and to extend God’s gift of love to all. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory in Jesus Christ our Lord,” says the Apostle Paul. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.