Pentecost 5

Parable of the good Samaritan is well known, but it’s interesting to hear the whole passage though b/c the story is so striking that we often forget the context in which it was told: A lawyer comes to Jesus and asks: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. It’s not the first time Jesus is asked this question – You may remember the rich young man in Matthew…in Luke it’s actually a lawyer like today, in Chap 18, who asks the same question:  A certain ruler asked him: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. So I was wondering, maybe Luke made two stories out of one, as it happens, he found a way to integrate one of Jesus’s parables into a wider context. Yet my guess is that Jesus was probably asked the same question often: How to “Inherit eternal life”…We often think about: living for ever / living beyond our physical death – yet the hope of Resurrection wasn’t a belief well spread among the Jews: Some of them believed in R (Pharisees), but some didn’t (Sadducees). The question is more about: What is it to live the life God intended for us to live, to live a godly life? What is the meaning of life? All these things you teach about, Jesus, what does it come down to, in the end?

And Jesus, as always, recenters on the love of God and love of the neighbor. It all comes down to love. “Love and do what you want” (Augustine). Jesus, as a good teacher, says it again and again many times…each time, there is something more to learn though. Story of the rich young man: How wealth can get in the way. So the question for us today: What does the parable of the good Samaritan have to say to clarify the great rule of loving God and neighbor?

Centered on “who is the neighbor?” It adds a certain tension / a certain delay to the dialogue. The lawyer gets it that he has to love God and neighbor but yet…He is not really ready to do so. He wants some specifics. When we read the passage of the Gospel we have today, we may overlook it because we know the story of the Samaritan so well…But it is interesting that, instead of just listening to the words of the text, we also have a look at the structure of the text: its rhythm (like a poem: sometimes the rhythm says more than the word themselves) and the way it is structured is:

Q/A (the rule) + “Do this, and you will live”
Q/A (a story to illustrate the rule) + “Go and do likewise”

There is a parallelism. Jesus is urging the man to act…“Just do it”. Love the foreigner / love the one who is wounded / love the one you find on the road. Love everyone / Love anyone.

And Jesus tells a very simple story / apparently simple / almost a joke. A priest, a Levite, a Samaritan…(Joke inside the joke, since the third person you would expect would have been a lawyer, or an Israelite instead of a hated foreigner like the Samaritan) and then Jesus asks…Who has been a neighbor? when the response is obvious, of course. Does Jesus want to say that religious people are all hypocrites? Not sure. Nothing tells us that situation is tense between Jesus and this man (“Test” was common between rabbis, they argued about the law all the time), but there is maybe this consideration that simple people get it better, they just know what to do when a situation shows up. They don’t ask that kind of questions / they don’t ask too many questions. They get it. Not so focused on doing the right thing / they just do it. That’s why the story is so simple, the response so obvious. You just have to help the man.

And it should probably speaks to us as well – As Christians, we often wonder what God expects of us…what is God’s plan for us…What is the best we can do with our lives…And maybe at some point, we start to take ourselves a little too seriously. Jesus reminds us to do the good that is right in front of us, to have the obvious response to the obvious problem. The neighbor is the one in front of me, the one who need helps. Even more – since actually Jesus says that the one being the neighbor is the Samaritan, the one who helps not the one being helped – I can choose to become a neighbor / I can be proactive: come close, help out, comfort, heal. To the question: Who is my neighbor? Who deserves my attention, my love, my help? The answer is: “Be a neighbor”, love the one who’s right here. Take your eyes off the sky, or even stop looking right in front of you “eyes on the prize”, but look at those who are in the ditch and pick them up. This parable should speak to us very strongly when we know how immigrants are treated right now at the border. The question is not about what’s right or wrong, we may have very different ideas about immigration, but what God asks of us it’s just behaving like decent human beings towards these people: feed them, give them to drink, give them a place to sleep and some soap and a toothbrush, and you let them hug their children. You don’t blame it on them: They knew the risks, they knew the road (between Mexico and Texas)was dangerous (as was the road from Jerusalem and Jericho).This is really a no brainer for Jesus: We have to act as decent human beings, and we cannot try to find a way around that – a loophole, as did the lawyer, asking: Surely, not everybody is my neighbor? Well yes…

Brings us back to the question of knowing what is right and what is wrong: How should I know what God expects from me? Simple response: Have mercy – Eleos / gut feeling. Word in this text is also used by Luke when he speaks of God: God has mercy. We already know deep down what to do. We may try to rationalize, but most of the time, we know what is the right thing to do. If it feels wrong, it’s probably wrong. If it feels right, it’s probably right. It’s not only in our heads, it’s in our hearts, in our bodies, with our guts, with all we are. It’s our humanity. We recognize the other one, our neighbor “as ourselves”: we connect on the level of our humanity. (We already mentioned that in other sermons, to be godly, we have to be humane / to inherit eternal life we have to live this mortal life). I find it interesting that the Samaritan let the man touch him (in his heart) before he touches him (physically) by pouring wine and oil on his wounds (to disinfect and to soothe). He let himself be touched and that’s so important. Barbara Brown Taylor once said that at some point, she realized she had become a good priest and it scared her. Scared her b/c yes she did everything “right” but she didn’t “let anyone near her heart”, she realized she was acting out of duty but she didn’t let herself be touched anymore to avoid being hurt by the pain she encountered in her ministry: people leaving the church, suffering, dying…It’s not only what can happen to ministers, it’s true for all Christians, for all those who strive to love: we may get hurt. Yet we have to take the risk. And I think this is what the Samaritan is willing to do. To be touched and to take a risk: The risk of feeling for this man, the risk of stopping on this dangerous road, the risk of going down in the ditch, the risk of being mugged, the risk of touching somebody unclean, the risk of carrying him on his back, the risk of giving his money, the risk of being a fool…

And so in the end, I think the specific Jesus adds in this parable to his bottom line “Love God and neighbor” as the key to everything in life, is that love takes chances and love takes risks. Love is brave. You cannot love if you don’t take a chance, you cannot love if you don’t risk losing something, getting hurt or being taken advantage of. If you want to love, you can’t always walk on the safe side. You know, the attitude of the priest and the Levite was very reasonable, it was indeed a dangerous road, a road on which you didn’t want to stop. But you cannot love if you’re always afraid to do something stupid. It does not mean you have to be stupid all the time, but if you really have to make a choice, well, I think Jesus tells us that maybe it’s better to be stupid by taking chances for the sake of others. Famous lines by Paul we hear at each weddings: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. It’s a beautiful summary of Jesus’s teachings, but there is maybe even more, because love is brave.

Love is brave. Powerful parable but we made something so dull with it: The good Samaritan, we call it. The nice one. Some translations go “the one who showed kindness” instead of “mercy”. It’s great to be kind. It’s great to be a good Samaritan, to be a good Christian. But it takes more than that, to love truly, to live the godly life, to inherit the kingdom: you have to be brave, to have mercy, to go with your guts sometimes not really knowing what you’re doing…

So maybe we need to think about that today, this week…What is the brave thing to do in our own lives to be more loving, to be closer to the godly life, to whom do we have to come closer to? Where do we need to stop on our journey to meet the unexpected?

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