Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 14 July 2019
(Deuteronomy 30:9-14 Psalm 25 Colossians 1:1-14 Luke 10:25-37)
“When Hearts go into the Ditch!”
The biblical story of The Good Samaritan, or The Merciful Samaritan, as we call this Gospel text in today’s bulletin, is one of the most well-known Bible parables we have. It is one of those stories even non-Christians are likely to have heard before. We very often find it included in Vacation Bible School curriculum, in Work Camp messages, and numerous Youth Group skits.
It has a powerful message of loving one’s neighbor; but because of our familiarity with this beloved story, there is the possibility for it to lose the authority of its message. So I will do my best not to allow that to happen here this morning.
Some things about the text I wish to point out here at the beginning.
When the lawyer asks Jesus “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds with two questions of his own, forcing the lawyer to think about who is his neighbor. The lawyer give a really good answer by quoting both Deuteronomy [6:5] and Leviticus [19:18], about loving one’s neighbor as oneself.
But here’s the thing: Since it appears that the lawyer already knew the answer, why did he ask the question? So here’s the thing I don’t want us to miss. Only four chapters earlier, [Lk. 6:20-26], when Jesus is teaching his sermon on the Plain-we call it Luke’s version of the Beatitudes—Jesus has eliminated all the lines that might be drawn between one’s “friends” and one’s “enemies.” It is a challenging text!
There Jesus has made it very clear that when it comes to love of neighbor, there is no distinction between “friend” and “enemy.”
So now, by asking the question, it seems as if this legal expert wishes to reintroduce a distinction between “friend” and “enemy.” It is as if he wants to calculate the identity of those to whom he needs or does not need to treat with neighborly love.
But before we become too judgmental of this lawyer, let’s bring it close to home!
Isn’t that what we so often do? We calculate! We calculate who is worthy of our time? And how much of it? Who is worthy of our money? And how much of it? We calculate who’s responsible enough to receive our help, or who’s best suited? We calculate when we are being too frivolous in helping another. When are we not being responsible enough? The lawyer wants Jesus to help him calculate some distinctions about neighborliness, but Jesus will have none of it!
That’s when Jesus tells the story!
For me, the power of this story comes from the verbs Jesus uses. Let’s listen!
In the Greek (as well as Hebrew and English) the meaning of “neighbor” has the basic meaning “to go and be near.” The Samaritan “sees” and “has compassion” on the needy man in the ditch. Verse 33 in The Message says: “His heart goes out to him!” The Samaritan “cares” for the man. The Samaritan asks the innkeeper to “care.” The Samaritan is described by the lawyer as the one “doing mercy.”
All these verbs used in the parable are worth emulating because they really tell the story: to have compassion for others; to come near to others; to care for others; for our heart to go out to those in need; to do mercy to others. It is not enough just to know what the Law says, one must also do it. To put it another way, it is not enough just to talk about “what one believes,” but “what difference does it make because I do believe.”
So here we are—a room full of believers. What difference does it make?
In the church today, this parable challenges us to be talking about the “real stuff” happening in the world today. It is for us to keep our eyes open wide enough so we can see who might be in the ditch by the side of the road, without calculating if that person is worthy of our help. I think that was the initial challenge by Jesus to the lawyer.
For us today, this may not be as easy as we initially think it might be. How do we become neighbor (“get near”) those in prison, those who eat at the Soup Kitchen, those in Adams County who live in fear of being picked up by Immigration officers , those who struggle with loneliness, those who sleep in the dugouts at the Rec Park? How can we truly “become neighbor” to any of these individuals?
We are a congregation known in this community for the social outreach we do both locally and throughout the world. What a beautiful reputation to have!
The deeper part of this message today may be for us not to become complacent in our vision and in our caring for our neighbor; as well as being open to new possibilities and opportunities.
The kind of faith life we are trying to live here in this congregation represents the belief we have that God created all of us equally in God’s image; that Jesus came to live and die and be raised again to show us true human dignity; and that we are to live together in harmony in the way the whole universe was designed to be harmonious. This kind of faith life is the Good News we offer to the world!
Sometimes I think about an image of the Last Judgment. I think about standing together before God on Judgment Day, and God says, “So what was it like being a part of that congregation of St. James?”
(I don’t know if this will really take place). But this is what I hope can be our answer: In a world of too much judging and calculating, I want it to be said that this congregation did not make small talk when we needed prophetic voices; and, at a time when today’s world needs unwavering faith and dedicated courage, I want it to be said that we were not afraid to act.
That’s who I want us to be!
We are called to be neighbor to each other; and for the sake of the world, for the sake of the Gospel, I pray that we are never be too distracted to see that person by the side of the road in a ditch.
Let’s never be too busy “to live and love like Jesus!” Amen.