Luke 10:25-37 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus 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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He 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. The 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.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
This is a very familiar parable to most of us. It is always tricky to try to preach something new with something so well known. It is always a challenge to try to hear some of these stories with new ears – new understanding – new awarenesses.
There is also the reality that some of us present may not have heard this story at all and there is also the reality that some of us present may have heard this story every three years for the past 30 or 40 or 50 or more years we’ve be alive and gone to church. The reality, however, is that this is still a very important passage and every time we hear it, we have also been changed in that in-between time of hearing. And often our culture, in time, has also changed. Yet human nature often remains the same.
In a 2013 commentary on this text, Dan Clendenin asks us to consider the following: “The kingdom of God is like a gay woman who transgendered into a man, and who then stayed with his lesbian partner. He attends church most Sundays with his adult daughter. They always sit in the front row, and if you take their seats, they’ll tell you about it. This isn’t a feeble attempt at a modern parable. It’s a true story.” Then he asks: Would you welcome these people? Could you invite them to your church?”
Knowing this congregation, I would say, “Of course.”
I guess the question we would need to ask ourselves is: who would we not welcome coming through our doors? Who would we not invite to church? An interesting twist, don’t you think?
Clendenin reminds us that “the kingdom of God shocks our sensibilities and bursts our understanding of who is in and who is out. The kingdom of God subverts our sense of what matters most. In the kingdom of God, says Jesus, sometimes the right are wrong. Sometimes the bad are good. In the story of the good Samaritan, told only in Luke, Jesus outs the insider and exalts the outsider.
It’s important to realize that by the time of Jesus, Jews and Samaritans had hated each other for a thousand years. “When king Solomon died in 931 BCE, the united monarchy split into two factions. Jereboam led a revolt of the northern tribes and established a new capital in Samaria. The two remaining tribes of the southern kingdom of Judah maintained a capital at Jerusalem. The legacy of this split was a millennium of political rivalry, ethnic hostility, and religious bigotry.” Yeah, sounds familiar.
Jews and Samaritans despised each other, avoided each other, did not trust each other. For this reason the Samaritan woman at the well was shocked that a Jewish rabbi would even speak to her. To Jesus she said: ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’
Jesus actually did two remarkable things at that well – he spoke to someone who was not only a Samaritan – but also a woman. This was shocking behavior on all accounts as is the story of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told.
Two religious professionals, a priest and a Levite, neglect a fellow Jew who was almost beaten to death, while a Samaritan (a despised one) was ‘moved to mercy’ to help him. Jesus shocks us with this bold story by shattering stereotypes of “the other”.
Clendenin writes: “This shock factor reminds me of that Flannery O’Connor said about the gratuitous violence and grotesque characters in her stories: ‘If your audience construes abnormal things as normal and vice versa,’ said O’Connor, ‘the writer must take extreme measures. You have to make your vision apparent by shock; to the hard of hearing you shout and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.’ She admitted that her stories were hard, ‘but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism.’ That is a hard truth.
So Jesus shocks us with the oxymoronic ‘Good Samaritan.’ He does the same thing when he makes the Samaritan leper the hero in Luke 17 that concludes with this statement: ‘Was no one found to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?’
But that’s not all Jesus intends. He doesn’t merely shock us. There’s no purpose in that. He wants to show us what living the life of God is like.
Then Luke writes that the religious expert ‘stood up to test Jesus’ with a question. What must he do to inherit eternal life? This wasn’t an honest inquiry, he wanted to trap Jesus.
Clendenin notes: “When Jesus asks him what the Scriptures say, the expert in the law quotes the two ‘greatest commands’ – Deuteronomy 6:5 about the love of God and Leviticus 19:18 about love of neighbor.
His answer was spot on. ‘You have answered correctly,’ said Jesus. Which is a scary reminder that being religiously right is a far cry from showing mercy. Knowing the good isn’t good enough without doing the good. If you want to truly live, if you want to inherit eternal life, said Jesus, show mercy to your neighbor.
The expert deflects Jesus’ response. Luke says that ‘he wanted to justify himself.’ He tries to limit his responsibility by defining who is or is not his neighbor. In that context, Jews and Samaritans would have treated each other as enemies and not neighbors.” Clendenin is correct when he writes: “This effort at self-justification is a close cousin to self-righteousness; they’re a recipe for spiritual death.
In telling the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus flips the man’s question. The right question is not, ‘who is my neighbor?’ Rather, the right question is, ‘who acted like a neighbor? Once again, the expert knows the right answer: ‘the one who had mercy.’” But the story ends here and we never learn if he moved from being right to showing mercy.
In his speech ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,’ Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way. ‘The priest and the Levite ask, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’
Jesus concludes: ‘Go and do likewise.’ Show mercy.”
I came across an interesting Facebook posting this week from a group I have stereotyped, so I found the saying ironic in light of today’s sermon. From the Nazarenes United for Peace came this posting: “Make Loving Your Neighbor Great Again”
As Jesus said: “Go and do likewise.”
Source: Dan Clendenin, June 24, 2013; Journey with Jesus.
Copyright: DMC, 2019