5th Sunday after Pentecost
[God, grant us the grace to live out our lives like a good neighbor. Amen.] Our Gospel reading this morning offers us a story within a story. The inside story is one so well known that, in most translations it has become the title of the whole story. And over the ages, the main character of the inside story has been an example for Christians to follow as they live out their lives of faith. This main character is one we have described as the Good Samaritan – and if not for this part of scripture, you would never hear that phrase – Good Samaritan. The title given to the whole story is: “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” The outside story is Luke’s account of an event that led Jesus to tell the inside story.
An expert in the Law, that is, a recognized authority on the Old Testament, decides to take on Jesus in a theological discussion. Luke tells us “he stood up to test Jesus” – that is, it was not a question for which he wanted an answer – but it was a way for him to bait Jesus. His question would always have been good for a long discussion among his fellow teachers. He would be a hero among them when he took Jesus’ answer back for further discussion. So he asks the question, “What must I do to receive eternal life?” Notice several things about the man’s theological background: 1. He knew that there was an eternal life. 2. He thought it was his job to attain eternal life; “If it is to be, it’s up to me!” 3. This was personal–about himself. He didn’t seem too concerned about how others would attain eternal life.
Jesus recognized that the man did not ask the question to learn anything new. He wanted to show what he, himself, already knew. So Jesus gave him a chance to be the teacher; and He asked the man how he thought the Scriptures addressed the eternal life question. “What is written in the Law?” Jesus asked. ...“How do you read it?” The expert in the Law knew his subject. Rather than a long explanation of the Old Covenant, he gave the condensed version from Deuteronomy and Leviticus: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ...‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” That’s what the expert had been taught, and now he taught others that if we loved God with our entire lives and our neighbors as ourselves, we would have ...eternal life.
Jesus agreed with the expert: “You have answered correctly. [so] Do this and you will live.” He had no conflict with the teacher of the Law. The discussion was over. Now, if the expert had asked Jesus, “What will you do so I may have eternal life?” – they would have had a lot more to talk about. However the expert had asked what he, himself, had to do, and so, Jesus told him.
But, because he got no argument from Jesus, the expert knew something was wrong. His bait had not been taken. Jesus did not challenge him, as expected so, he asked a second question. We read: “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus,`And who is my neighbor?’” This is a fair question. Like a good lawyer, he wanted to know precisely how many people was it necessary to love in the same way that he loved himself. Did it mean only those who live next door? Would it include extended family, the people at work, the people that were part of his social circle, since none of these people were exactly strangers? The word neighbor was too vague. After all, his eternal life depended on this. He wanted to get it right. Jesus told him what he must do, so he wanted details. He needed to put these people on his “contact list.”
That’s when Jesus tells the story inside the story A man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was mugged. The bad guys took everything he had, beat him up, and left him naked and half dead. If you are into the glass-is-half-full positive thinking mode, you could say the guy was half-alive. But either way, his prognosis was not good.
A priest came down the same road, saw the man in the ditch, and Luke tells us: “When he waw the man , he passed by on the other side.” Rumor has it that ~> he was on the way to a political meeting to discuss the social needs of people in Jericho, but it’s not in the text.<~ A Levite also came by and looked at the man. The Levite may have thought, ~> “Gee, I wish I had taken CPR training. There’s nothing I can do for this guy. I’ll pray for him tonight.” <~ Again we may have stretched the text just a little bit, but not the attitude.
But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the mas was. (Just a note about Samaritans. They were people who lived in Samaria. Earlier on this same trip Jesus went through Samaria. He expected the people there to invite him to dinner and to spend the night, but they wouldn’t because they knew he was going to Jerusalem. This reflected an old attitude that still exists in the Middle East today: The friend of my enemy is my enemy.) But, as we will see, it’s not the attitude of Jesus, nor should it be the attitude of a follower of Jesus.
The Samaritan saw the man “and when he saw him he took pity on him.” ...He could feel his pain. Had the Samaritan been beaten up and robbed before? Had his father or brother been killed in a mugging? We don’t know. But we know the Samaritan could feel for the stranger in the ditch. [word = splangidzomai] A feeling that somewhat qualifies for loving your neighbor as yourself. But that’s only first on the list of ways in which the Samaritan responded to the plight of the stranger. 2. He treated and bandaged the wounds. 3. He put the man on his animal and took him to the nearest inn. (Does that mean the Samaritan walked?) 4. He gave him nursing care for the night. 5. He paid for the night’s lodging. 6. He knew the man needed to rest, so he left him at the inn and told the owner to put the bill on his tab. By now, you get the picture–This Samaritan was truly an angel!
...Now, watch what Jesus does next. He changes the teacher of the Law’s question. The man had asked, “Who is my neighbor?’ He wanted a list. But the story was so interesting that he didn’t notice the switch. Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robber?” The issue has changed from “Who is my neighbor”– Who do I have to love in the same way that I love myself to: How can I be:
Like A Good Neighbor
That is the message of “Love your neighbor as yourself.” You don’t need to count neighbors like liabilities and assets–you need to love them! Amen? ...See, the expert on the law knew the right answer. But, he didn’t want to say “Samaritan”–that would have been too hard to spit out; so he said: “The one who had mercy on him.” The one who was kind to him, the one who treated him in exactly the same way he would have wanted to be treated. The one who put the good of this stranger above his own good. Hey, you know this was a bad neighborhood, the Samaritan could have gotten mugged himself, ...or even killed!
Jesus responded to the answer of the expert on the law in the affirmative. Right Answer! So all you have to do is: “Go and do likewise!” End of story. ...Wait a minute, we might like to know what happened to the expert on the Law. Did he get it? Did he change from a legalist to a lover? But you see, that’s not the point of the story. The fact that the story ends here is the reason we keep telling it over and over, and listening to it again and again. The original question: What must I do to receive eternal life was basically flawed. The fact is: “If it’s up to me to do something that earns me eternal life, I am I big trouble.
So, the parable of the good Samaritan was not merely an explanation of exactly how the expert on the law could love his neighbor as himself – how he could be ...Like a Good Neighbor –what it really did was to clarify just how difficult,..even impossible it is to love some one in that way! Especially when you understand the context in which Jesus told the parable. Today, if the story was told, the man who was robbed might be an Israeli and the one coming to his aid a Palestinian. Or the victim might be a conservative republican and the rescuer a liberal democrat. ...Today, the victim could be an opponent of this President’s policies, while the rescuer is an ardent supporter of his every proposal. You choose which type of people that you find most distasteful, if that kind of person was mugged and left for dead on the side of the road, would you help him?
Is there anyone in the world that you would have a problem with helping, ...with being like a good neighbor? If we are truthful, we would have to answer, “Yes!” So, what’s the real point of the story? Simply this: On our own, we are not capable, in every situation of Going and Doing likewise. Not that it wouldn’t be the Christian thing to do; but because of our inherent concern for ourselves above anyone else, we are not capable of loving our neighbor–whoever he/she is, ...in the way that we ...love ourselves.
The solution, the answer to our dilemma is not a legal one at all. It rests in receiving the care, the mercy and love of the One who rescues us! You see, we are no more capable of “going and doing likewise’ than the victim in the parable. We are constantly in need of healing; we are constantly being beaten up by the sin of the world. We are constantly in need of being picked up from the ground and being comforted by some One who has set the standard for being like a good neighbor. If you think the Samaritan was passionate and merciful, look to the cross and see how our wounds were healed; our sin was taken away by the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus.
...Thank God He didn’t avoid us, walk over the other side of the road, when He saw our need. Thank God that He didn’t point his finger and tell us how awful we are. Thank God that He picks us up; each time that we’re hurting and carries us. And, thank God that He affords us a place to recover from our suffering a place to heal – in His church; as we await that final deliverance into His arms, because we did not trust in our own ability to be like a good neighbor, but we trusted only in Him and the one good work that he performed on the Cross as a demonstration of the love that God so had for the world. IJN AMEN