Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
I want to think that more often than not, I am the good person that Jesus affirms in our gospel lesson this morning. I want to think that I am extravagant in love and generosity, thoughtful and kind most of the time and that I am patient, forgiving, and graceful. I want to think that when opportunities present themselves, I am willing to go overboard, to do exceedingly and abundantly more than is asked or expected. I want to believe that about myself – that I am a good person. How about you? And perhaps it’s true. Perhaps there are times when we are that girl, that guy but surely not always, right?
This old familiar parable that Jesus tells is so well-known that it is like a precious jewel to be discovered over and over again: held close, treasured and grappled with. I suspect that some of us can identify the characters and their movements throughout. If you typically align yourself with the Good Samaritan, I want to encourage you for the sake of growth and going a bit deeper to try to imagine yourself as one of the other characters.
There is the lawyer who asks Jesus the question to “test” him, as Luke describes it: “A lawyer stood up to test Jesus, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” He is called a lawyer but he is really a scribe, an expert biblical scholar, a writer; one steep in interpretation of the Mosaic Law. He knows the answer already or at least he thinks he does. He carefully examines the rules, commandments, and ordinances and makes it his business to challenge any other authority on every level. “Who is my neighbor?” he asks when Jesus answers that love of God and love of neighbor is the way to life eternal.
How many times have you either been questioned or you have asked the question yourself just to “see” how someone might respond – not really wanting the answer or clarification nor trying to get at the truth; certainly not wanting to learn or grow from the exchange or become a better person by it – but to “test” them.
Perhaps you wanted to display your own wealth of knowledge or show-up someone else’s inadequacy. The lawyer thinks he knows the answer but is surprised by Jesus’ response. He thinks the neighbor is one of your own “kind,” someone living in close proximity, perhaps sharing the same bloodline, faith and traditions but certainly not all people. Certainly not certain types.
Jesus goes on to say there was a man – a poor man – robbed, beaten half to death, and left for dead. Perhaps you are that person this morning: the person most vulnerable, beaten by life half out of your wits physically, spiritually, or emotionally in need of someone to come along and help.
Jesus describes the priest and the Levite who come along and see the wounded but pass on by on the other side of the road, doing nothing. The priest could have been on his way to the temple or something like that, but God forbid if he should have arrived late or not showed up at all. I mean, can you imagine how much slack he would have been given for such a thing? Tradition also held that the priest could be defiled by touching the body of a dead person and since he could not really be sure if the man was actually dead or not, it was probably better to not take the risk.
Like the priest, the Levite is also a religious type, a Jew steeped in tradition, and well acquainted with the Jerusalem temple. He represents the person who might be tempted to get involved but is bound by certain rules and customs that prohibit him from doing much. We have to stick with the way things are or have been, isn’t that right? Better to follow what we know then to take the risk of being out of line – even if life or death is hanging in the balance.
We see people being beaten up all the time, don’t we? It might be easy to ignore or watch from afar, especially if we have a “them versus us” mindset. We might think that we don’t have time or the wherewithal to get involved and that we have enough of our own stuff to deal with. This is a dangerous mindset if we are going to be followers of Jesus.
Even as we sit here this morning, there are people in our city and throughout this nation beaten up by fear and anxiety under threat of ICE agents knocking at their door, paralyzed by what might happen. Whether we believe all the news or not, there are some truths that cannot be ignored. The wounded, the broken, the scandalized, those in need are our neighbors too.
The question before us is whether or not our religiosity allows us to cross to the other side of the road. Are our good deeds, our words, and actions courageous enough in the face of today’s problems to be counted as “good?”
Jesus calls the one who helps the broken a “good” Samaritan. That phrase “good Samaritan” is within itself is an oxymoron because no Samaritans would ever be considered “good” by virtue of anything.
While the priest and the Levite pass by on the other side, it is the Samaritan who is moved with compassion. He is the one who goes over to the bleeding, pours oil and wine on his wounds, wraps them up in bandages. He places the man on his own animal and brings him to an inn to further his care. He spends the night and the next morning he takes out two denarii, which would have likely been a lot for him at that time.
He gives it to the innkeeper and says, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” This would have been the equivalent of leaving one’s American Express Centurion or Amex Black Card open ended and saying, “Do whatever is necessary, I got it!” (I googled the type of card – it’s certainly not that I know about them personally).
No one would have expected such behavior from the Samaritan. The expectation was that he would have beaten up the man himself; certainly not to have bothered to stop and offer such extravagant care.
He is the “outsider,” an enemy, low breed, the “other.” To say that the Samaritans and Jews held a strained relationship is to put it mildly. There was vitriol and contempt all around. He is the one expected to be hardhearted and callous, especially to a vulnerable Jewish person, yet his behavior is extraordinary.
In last week’s sermon and again today, we see how our help often comes from the most unlikely places and from people we did not expect. It is not always the ones we think. We just don’t know, do we?
We don’t know anything else about this Samaritan except his race and gender. Isn’t that something? How even today, we base so much on a person’s race and gender without knowing anything more or giving them a fair chance?
We don’t know what he does for a living, whether he went to school or how much money he makes. We don’t know how he treats his wife or children or what kind of employee he might have been.
The truth is he could have been a real shyster on another day; a crook no more noble than the priest or the Levite. On another day and in other circumstances he might have been altogether different – just as the priest and the Levite might have responded altogether different with another set of circumstances. But on this day in this context, the Samaritan is the hero because he identifies with the one in trouble – the one in need – and he brings himself to do the bigger thing.
Sometimes when we haven’t walked in somebody else’s shoes it’s hard to imagine, but when we have been on that same road in the same circumstance or very similar, we have a different sensibility. We understand what it feels like to be stretched high and wide or to be empty and alone.
I think he is called good because in that moment, on that day, he was able to rewrite the narrative and create a new story about who he really was in the world and how he sees others in it. This is what we are also called to do. We are called to rewrite the world’s narrative about our ourselves and our brothers and sisters.
Would it be a stretch to say that in a way, we are all victims on the side of the road in need of someone or something one way or the other? That in a way we are all in need of a Savior to come along and save us? Regardless of color, race, gender, wealth, power or position, status or creed, sooner or later we are all “victims” on the side of the road, impoverished or misunderstood or guilty in need of a Rescuer to love us back to health.
That old notion of picking one’s self up by his or her own bootstraps is a farce. We are people who help but we are also people in need of help – all of us. We just can’t do it all by ourselves all the time.
We live as needy people among needy people. For we are all on the same journey, all traveling the dangerous roads of life – some perhaps less so in various ways, but it is the human way.
Perhaps this morning, you are that Samaritan. Take courage. Maybe you are the outsider that no one expects to be willing or able to help. People think they already know who you are, how you will respond, what you are capable of. But they have underestimated your capacity and they surely have underestimated God’s way in you. Be of good cheer.
May we forever be called good not because of what’s on the outside, but due to our life’s work every day. May we be called good because we really want to lighten the load. Because of our character and the way of Jesus in our heart.
Love your neighbor, even your enemies if you can. Try. Show mercy. Stand in the gap, be fair. Be kind and honest, courageous. Be extravagant over and above. Take the risk.