The 8th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 10C (7/14/2013)

Lessons:Deuteronomy 30:9-14 Psalm 25:1-10 (4) Colossians 1:1-14 St. Luke 10:25-37

Semicontinuous Series: Amos 7:7-17 Psalm 82 (8) Colossians 1:1-14 St. Luke 10:25-37

Prayer of the Day: O Lord God, your mercy delights us, and the world longs for your loving care.  Hear the cries of everyone in need, and turn our hearts to love our neighbors with the love of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

10:25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He 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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 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. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 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. 35 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.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

St. Luke 10:25-37. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The Good Samaritan

I searched for “Good Samaritan” on Google this morning and received “about 12,700,000 results” in 0.27 seconds. (Once this devotional is posted, I suppose it will be 12,700,001…) The image of the Good Samaritan has become part of the landscape in our country, and a myriad of organizations have identified with it: hospitals (mostly), health clinics, homeless shelters, senior services, food banks, news stories about kindness shown to strangers, RV associations… the list seems nearly endless. I suppose that is good. If this image of someone who provides care to a stranger is one that inspires people in our day to do the same, it can’t but help make this a better world.

The problem is, The Parable of the Good Samaritan is not simply a story about someone who does something kind for a stranger. It is a much more powerful story than that. It is a much more subversive story than that.

Of course it is a story about providing care to a stranger. It is even a story about providing care to someone when there doesn’t seem to be anything to gain from providing that care. But it is also a story about our human tendency towards self-justification. It is also a story about the difference between a legalistic system of purity and a gracious, universal extension of love. It is also a story that carries a stern warning to anyone who is bold enough to imagine that they belong to God’s inside group (and, by implication, that others don’t).

At the heart of this story is the hatred that exists between first century Judeans and Samaritans. Jesus’ Judean audience looks scornfully on these northern neighbors. For generations the Samaritans have intermarried with the locals (unlike the Judean practice of only marrying within the Jewish religion), contaminating both their blood lines and their beliefs. It is extraordinary that a Jewish rabbi from Nazareth might tell a story in which a Priest and a Levite (good, faithful, respected religious leaders from Judea) cross to the other side of the road to avoid an injured traveler, while a Samaritan (unfaithful, heretical, syncretist) offers him first aid, transports him to a nearby inn, and provides financial support to continue his care. Far from being inspired, Jesus’ first century listeners are more likely to become enraged at the suggestion that This Samaritan, rather than One of Our Honorable, Respected Religious Professionals, should serve as an example of what faithfulness looks like.

The lawyer’s question has to do with how someone might inherit eternal life. Jesus makes the case that eternal life has nothing to do with blood lines, and everything to do with one’s heart. Love transcends borders. Neighborliness transcends nationality. Compassion has eternal implications.

In a day when many of our brothers and sisters in this land look across international borders with anger, fear and suspicion, these are challenging words for us. When migrant farmers bear the noonday sun to harvest our crops, what does it mean to be a neighbor? When sweat shop laborers work long hours to sew our clothes together, what does it mean to be a neighbor? When factory workers endure dangerous work conditions to assemble our computers, what does it mean to be a neighbor?

These are questions of love and compassion and eternity. These are questions about what it means to live like a neighbor; questions that Jesus invites us to take quite seriously.

How will we answer them?

David J. Risendal, Pastor