Updated: Jul 12, 2022
Proper 10 (15) - July 10, 2022
- Deuteronomy 30:9-14
- Psalm 25:1-10
- Colossians 1:1-14
- Luke 10:25-37
Mercy Ain't Cheap
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When we were in Pittsburgh a few weeks for our 10 year anniversary, we spent a day at the John Heinz Museum. The entire Museum was dedicated on the history of Pittsburgh. And of course there was an exhibit on Fred Rogers. Actually, there were a few, but the exhibit that stands out to me was his set. The actual set that he used to film his series week in and out was there. And they had a few of the key episodes playing on a tv. Hearing Mr. Rogers talk, seeing the closets that held his sweaters, hearing some of the lessons he taught…it brought back some good memories. And week after week, as he started his show, Mr. Rogers always sang the same song, “Won’t you be neighbor.”
So let's make the most of this beautiful day
Since we're together, we might as well say
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?
I kept thinking about our time in the Heinz Museum this past week as I prepared for today’s message. Especially Mr. Roger’s iconic words, “won’t you be my neighbor” as I thought about this parable which was was meant to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” The story of the Good Samaritan is probably one of the most popular of all the parables. Yet, it is only found in Luke. This popular parable is simply constructed: two religious people (a priest and a levite who are both servants in the temple) walk past a man who has been beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the side of road, yet a Samaritan is the only one of the three that stopped to care for this man. It sounds like a simple text, but it is the world behind the text that makes this parable very subversive.
The parable starts with a lawyer asking a question “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Which is a good question to ask another religious person like Jesus. It is similar to question, “What is the greatest of all the laws?” Most Rabbis of the day had a particular law that they believed was the most important and they would debate the merits of their favorite laws with other rabbis. This question is not out of the norm and in my opinion, it is not trap being set for Jesus. Yet, Jesus doesn’t just give his answer, he makes the man think. He asks in return, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer responds by saying “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.” He quotes part of the Shema, which at least for the Modern Day Jewish people, is “the centerpiece of the daily morning and evening prayer services and is considered by some the most essential prayer in all of Judaism.” The lawyer either believes this to be the correct answer or he trust that the Shema holds enough importance among religious people that his answer will not get him chastised by Jesus.
Even though Jesus says he is correct, that answer is not good enough for the man. His own answer doesn’t suffice, so Luke says the lawyer wants to dik-ah-yo’-o himself. Here, most translations use the English word Justify to translate the Greek word. The NET bible suggests that it can either be justify or vindicate himself. The actual Greek word itself involves righteousness which has caused some scholars to wonder if “The expert in religious law picked up on the remark about the neighbor and sought to limit his responsibility for loving. Some believed this obligation would only be required toward the righteous (Sirach 12:1-4 Do good to the devout, and you will be repaid—…Give to the devout, but do not help the sinner.). The lawyer was trying to see if that was right and thus confidently establish his righteousness.” Essentially, the lawyer is asking, “Do I have to help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves?” How do I help only those people I actually like?
And Jesus’s reply to the man’s question is this parable. The first two characters who pass by the man who had been beaten would have most likely been going to the temple, on behalf of their community, to offer a sacrifice on behalf of the entire community they represent. They would have had to go through a ritual cleansing to be made pure in order to do their work in the temple. Touching someone who has been beaten would have made them unclean and unable to preform their sacred work. There would have been an entire community of people needing them to go to Jerusalem on their behalf and this one man would have derailed everything for them. It appears that the needs of the many out weigh the needs of the one. It would appear that if Jesus had stopped the parable here, that the Lawyer would be just in only serving those who already righteous. But Jesus doesn’t stop there and notice, Jesus takes this from level 1 to level 10. The next character is a Samaritan, a heathen from up north who didn't think it was necessary to have a temple, who dressed weird, talked funny, and who could never be trusted, stopped and helped this man. The Samaritan bandaged the man’s wounds, poured oil and wine on wounds, put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him even more. And if that wasn’t enough, the next day he gave the innkeeper two denarii (the equivalent of 240 dollars) and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ The Samaritan, that heathen from up north who didn't think it was necessary to have a temple, who dressed weird, talked funny, and whatever other stereotype we create for people we simply don’t like, cared for this man when nobody else would. I know those two religious men might be justified in not helping. They have an entire community depending on them, but how do their actions match up to that of scripture. Such as the prophet Micah:
‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
The lawyer in this passage wants Jesus to identify what makes a neighbor a neighbor. The lawyer is wanting to find a loophole in God’s law in order to justify turning away when someone who is in need. “By being so concerned about who qualified as his neighbor, this Torah expert neglected to consider whether he himself was acting like a “neighbor.” You know, you can make all kinds of excuses as to why you are not going to help someone in need: It is for religious reasons that I can’t, or my few dollars won’t make much of a difference, I can’t trust you to be responsible or they will just blow it on alcohol or junk food. You can make excuses, but that doesn’t mean you will be considered a follower of Christ. Remember what Jesus says at the end, “Go and do likewise.” Those who follow Jesus are to take on the role of neighbor to others, especially those in need and in desperate circumstances.”
But Jesus just doesn’t call out our self-justification for not wanting to help someone in need, which we all still have today. Jesus also calls out the consistent boundaries we place around ourselves. For years, the people in Jesus’ audience and crowd, thought they were superior and better than their Samaritan brothers and sisters. Laws at the time demanded they take longer routes around Samaria in order to avoid the Samaritans. Yet Jesus, through the words of Luke, subverts these beliefs around Samaritans first and foremost by declaring that Samaritans are not Gentiles, but they are a part of wider Israel. “We see this in Acts 1:8 where Jesus says “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Judea and Samaria are joined closely together in the scope of the church’s mission and are separate from “to the ends of the earth.” Samaritans in the eyes of Luke-acts…represent the contested boundaries of the people of Israel…Yet they are simultaneously an integral part of the people of God, and their inclusion in Luke’s story of Jesus indicates that God’s restoration of Israel has begun in earnest.”
Imagine a world were we all treated one another like this Samaritan treated this man left on the side of the road? Imagine how different the world would be if, when we saw someone in need, we gave two days worth of wages to them like the Samaritan gave to the innkeeper. Imagine if we took the prophets words to heart and do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.
It is hard to imagine our world ever being like this. As war continues to loom in Ukraine, Syria, and in countless other unnamed places in the world—it is hard to imagine a place like this, but the parables of Jesus are meant to show a glimpse/ a glimmer of what the coming kingdom of God will look like. And from this parable, I think the Kingdom of God is going to be filled with a lot of people wondering how so many “Samaritans”got in. The world is full of Samaritans, they just have different names today. Heaven is going to be filled with a lot “Samaritans,” who we threw out, but who were found by God. God’s intent is to unite the world through his Son and I firmly believe this will fully come to fruition on the last day when Christ returns. But until then, we can continue to place barriers and separate ourselves from others, but that is not the Christian way. Christians should act like Jesus and tear down barriers that divide us, whether they be physical or stereotypical. Because whenever we draw a line to say who is in the kingdom of God and who is outside the kingdom, Jesus is always on the other side of that line. Jesus spent 33 years on the margins. Why would he change his focus now? Jesus is always with the outcast. ,So if we want to be with Jesus and bring people to Jesus, then we should probably go to the places that have been declared off-limits, those Samaria like places filled with the people we just don’t like, Because that is where we can be sure to find Jesus and encounter people who are asking, “Won’t you be my neighbor.”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.