July 10, 2022
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
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.”
Once upon a time
A man fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out.
Many people came by:
- A subjective person came along and said, “I feel for you down there.”
- An objective person came along and said, “It’s logical that someone would fall down there.”
- A Pharisee said, “Only bad people fall into a pit.”
- A mathematician calculated how he fell into the pit.
- A news reporter wanted an exclusive story on his pit.
- A fundamentalist said, “You deserve your pit.”
- An IRS man asked if he was paying taxes on the pit.
- A self-pitying person said, “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen my pit.”
- A charismatic said, “Just confess that you’re not in a pit.”
- An optimist said, “Things could be worse.”
- A pessimist said, “Things will get worse.”
- A Methodist preacher ran home to look up how many times the word “pit” is found in the bible.
- A doctor told the man to make an appointment with his office next week so he could take a look at his wounds.
- A lawyer offered his services to make the responsible parties pay.
- His children asked him if this meant that their trip to the mall was canceled.
- His father told him, “You’ve made your bed, now sleep in it.”
- Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the pit!
(taken from Homiletics, ne David Gibbs, ex Barbara Johnson in Ecunet)
We have been taught over the centuries
that the Parable of the Good Samaritan
is a story about a Samaritan who does a good deed for a hapless victim,
disciples of Jesus should go and do likewise.
I mean, isn’t this the final word of Jesus?
“Go and do likewise”
‘See this, do that.’
That’s a little too predictable and one dimensional, in my opinion.
What if this story had been given a different title, such as,
the Parable of a Man Beat to a Pulp and Tossed in a Ditch?
What if there’s more here than meets the eye?
The Gospel today challenges us
To dig deeper than the moral outer crust of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
A closer look at this exchange between the lawyer and Jesus may reveal
more grace than works,
more love than obligation,
more God and less me.
Let’s consider the possibilities …
Every good script needs a cast of characters.
Jesus gives us some good ones.
First, there is a lawyer who seeks Jesus out to ask him the question:
“what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
On its face this may appear to be an innocent question.
Hidden behind the curtain, however,
is the possible motive that the un-named lawyer wants to trap Jesus
by eliciting a self-incriminating confession
that Jesus was breaking one or more of the 613 laws of Judaism.
Trap Jesus into confessing.
Then kill him before he reaches Jerusalem and the Passover crowds.
This was a simple trap,
because the question of eternal life
was hotly debated between competing Rabbinical schools of the day.
Regardless of how Jesus answers,
he’d be wrong and held for contempt
by either the scribes and lawyers, on the one hand,
or the priests and Sadducees, on the other.
Conservatives vs Liberals, so to speak.
The wisdom of Jesus is apparent
when he avoids a direct answer
and follows with a safe question:
“What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
Rabbinical tradition is to learn by asking questions and listening for the response.
The lawyer is all too eager to show off his knowledge
– who knew? a lawyer with an ego! –
He combines two separate passages of law
to love God
and love neighbor.
“Do this and you will live,” Jesus responds.
Great answer for the lawman,
“Follow the law, and you will live.”
Sheriff Baxter would shout out with an “Amen”!
The frustrated lawyer won’t give up.
“Wanting to justify himself,” he begins.
In other words, he wants Jesus to hang himself no matter what.
“And who is my neighbor?”
Which leads us to the
Second lens through which we can view this fictional parable,
Created and told by Jesus himself: A review of the cast of characters.
We start with the victim.
He is silent.
He took a risk and it didn’t turn out well.
He travels a dangerous road.
He is beat to a pulp and discarded like trash, kicked to the curb.
This man hangs on a thread between the here, and the hereafter.
Next are the robbers.
Martin Luther King, Jr described their philosophy of life:
“What’s yours is mine.”
They are thieves, felons, predators
in the worst sense of the word.
They devised schemes to boost their profits
and improve their efficiency.
They remind me of carjackers and gang bangers today.
Then, there is the Priest and Levite.
MLK’s philosophy of life:
“What’s mine is mine.”
These are the elite, the pampered;
contemporaries of the lawyer.
The Priest was preoccupied on his rotation at the Temple.
The Levite was preoccupied on keeping himself clean according to Jewish cleanliness law.
God forbid he touch a corpse.
Both were foolish to travel alone,
perhaps inflated with the false sense of security,
“it could never happen to me.”
The innkeeper, though interesting, is not central to the parable,
other than to say he extends credit to his best and most frequent customers.
Which brings us to the Samaritan.
MLK described his philosophy as
“What’s mine is yours.”
He came prepared
– a first aid kit stocked with oil, wine, and bandages.
He was willing to place himself in danger to help another
– even at personal risk –
– even if the other person was a different race, color, or belief –
– even if the likelihood of being repaid was zero.
He was a frequent traveler with good credit.
He was a mixed-race Samaritan
who would have been despised
by the blue-blood Jewish lawyer.
Jesus knows how to weave a good tale.
On the surface
Jesus responds to the question of
“What must I DO to inherit eternal life?”
One cannot DO discipleship.
We are called to BE disciples.
The distinction is important.
Discipleship isn’t a cookbook approach to life.
Despite popular belief
following Jesus isn’t about perfectly following the law,
or perfectly following the example of Jesus, for that matter.
Being a disciple of Christ isn’t about obtaining merit badges through life
of good deeds, trophies for the mantle, or plaques for good citizenship.
There is no book of list or general ledger for each person that details
“Naughty” and “Nice”
where the Lord, completes a final tally in the great beyond
to determine each person’s eternal destination.
Such lists might be known to Santa Claus but they are entirely outside the grace of the Gospel and
out of character for Jesus.
Salvation by works alone does not square itself with God’s revealed salvation history.
Individuals whose spiritual journey never leads them past the moral crust
are absolutely crushed and devastated when they can’t
live up to their own expectations.
After all, we all have feet of clay.
On the top level of this multi-level parable,
Jesus makes the point
that to be people of God
– to be his disciples –
is to be person who LOVES:
One doesn’t do love.
One can be, however, in love with God and neighbor.
Martin Luther got this right:
He knew that no works can avail for salvation.
Only Christ’s righteousness,
as described by the Apostle Paul throughout his Epistles,
– grace through faith –
Only by the grace of Jesus Christ are we saved into eternal life.
We can do nothing to earn it.
As a result of God’s grace
We are called to LOVE God
and LOVE our neighbors as ourselves.
LOVE isn’t a passive spectator sport.
Being disciples of Christ means
we become immersed in the LOVE of God and LOVE of neighbor.
Our hearts are warmed with the love of God when we gather for praise and worship.
We become the love of God when we reach out in compassion to our neighbors in need,
especially, the last, the least, the lost, the beat up and left-for-dead.
If we become the love of God,
It is impossible to pass by the other side.
We can’t leave someone on the road left for dead.
God’s love propels us to act instinctively;
to patch up and take the helpless victim to the hospital,
to tend to his care and make certain all bills are paid.
(That’s how you spell UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE)
“Go and do likewise,” Jesus tells the Lawyer.
“Go and do likewise,” Jesus tells you and me today.
I teased earlier that there is more here than meets the eye.
Indeed, Jesus has embedded a jewel prime for our picking
for those who will stop and search a third step further.
being the good Christians we like to think we are,
have for centuries listened to this Parable of the Good Samaritan
and identified ourselves with the Samaritan.
we would be the virtuous one
who goes out of our way
to act compassionately
to assist this hapless victim,
thus demonstrating the pure love of God,
Before we break our arms giving ourselves a self-congratulatory pat on the back, consider this:
What if we get off the road and get into the ditch?
what if we identify ourselves
with the broken, bloodied victim in today’s parable?
The victim beat to a pulp didn’t say a word; neither did Jesus.
He was led down the Via Dolorosa, much like the beat-up man traveled the road to Jericho.
Jesus was beaten, bloodied, and crucified on a cross.
He gave his life completely for our behalf.
Jesus more than teetered between life and death in the ICU,
Jesus became dead.
The man headed for Jericho was left for dead.
Likewise, let’s reconsider the Samaritan.
He empties himself,
puts in play everything,
– chips all in –
– even life itself –
on behalf of this unknown victim in a ditch.
the Samaritan dies to self
that others might live.
If we get off the road and into the ditch this morning
it means that we are prepared to make ourselves dead.
Don’t be so startled.
Despite the futility of attempting to delay it for as long as possible,
each of us end up dead to this world,
sooner, or later.
To die to this world is to hang on the cross with Jesus.
As in baptism,
So too in death,
Does our path converge with Jesus.
To die to this world is to expend all our riches
give up all our status, hubris, and ego.
To die to the self
that others might live?
That, my beloved, is where love truly begins.
When we get off the road and get into the ditch
we can begin to see that this isn’t only a parable about a moral imperative
or a command to love God and neighbor;
this is also a parable about the grace of God.
When you’re on life support laying in the ditch of life,
there is not one thing you can do to inherit eternal life.
What needed done,
has already been done
on the cross of Calvary.
God so loves you and this world
that He sent His only Son,
not to condemn the world for our multiple moral shipwrecks and repeated failures,
but to save the world,
you and me,
into everlasting life.
An ocean of grace awaits us
when we get ourselves off the road
and into the ditch.
So, today, three things,
from simplest to most difficult:
1. Take the right and moral road when confronted with those in need.
Christians: if you see need,
meet it; and do so, in the name of Jesus Christ.
2. Love; love God and love your neighbors.
Be the love of God in this world.
God’s love provides all the passion any of us need.
3. Lastly, claim the grace already given you,
paid for by the cross on which Jesus died.
God loves you,
and so do I.