Colossians 1:1-14 and Luke 10:25-37
The “Parable of the Good Samaritan” is one of the most well known, beloved, and influential stories in the New Testament.
So much so, it’s taken on in our western culture a life of its own, quite independent of the specific religious tradition that it springs from.
A striking narrative about care and compassion for others, the story captured in Luke’s Gospel has reverberated throughout the centuries as a clear and profound call to public love through personal action. And the radical hospitality of the Samaritan has inspired individuals and birthed organizations that care for others.
But its implications are often underestimated and its scope unduly narrowed when its taken too literally.
My first idea for this sermon came from Brian Konkol, the pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Madison, WI. Last night, when the news of the outcome in the trial of George Zimmerman was announced, I thought of scrapping it and starting over.
I was so angry, I thought about just retelling Jesus Parable:
“Wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked, ‘Who is my neighbor?’
Jesus replied, ‘A certain child went to the store for skittles…'”
But then I decided that the original sermon — reworked — still works…
In light of that “not guilty” verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, can hearing the Good Samaritan this morning do anything less for those of us who say we are Christians…
…can it do any less than remind us — borrowing from Rich Rose, the pastor at First Baptist in Ithaca, NY — that Jesus means, with his radical insistence on love, “to destroy any parochial understandings of God that presumed God’s interest was limited to ‘me and my family.'”
Jesus wanted his followers to be willing to step out in a compassionate response when they encounter another’s need. Disciples willing to cross the road to help someone, even if that person in need is perceived as “other” or “the enemy.” The parable of the Good Samaritan has promoted that type of individual largesse.
But this morning, I cannot help but argue
— I don’t like that word in a sermon, but I use it very deliberately —
I can’t help but argue that the meaning of the parable,
like the supposed justice of law in this country,
has often been horribly, even unrecognizably perverted…
It’s almost akin to the refusal to connect the dots for a bigger picture
that happens when we insist Jesus’ Lordship and salvation are purely personal,
and therefore, only individual and existential,
instead of also social and political.
Beloved, can you hear me when I challenge you that the Parable of the Good Samaritan is not only about the individual interaction between a needy person and a passerby who can offer a personal assistance?
Did Jesus mean to limit his teaching’s application to a case of single incidence,
rather than broader social situations?
What I’m saying, this morning
— after last night a court of supposed justice letting off as “not guilty” a man with a gun who hunted down and killed a teenager armed only with a can of iced tea —
…is that failing to recognize larger contexts of injury and injustice are misinterpretations of Jesus and his teaching.
Jesus never limited his concern to one on one interactions or the charitable responses of individuals.
Church, a Christian hasn’t really grappled with Jesus or what Christian faith asks until we extrapolate his example to include the social structures that leave people dead by the side of the road.
In other words, we’re misusing Jesus if we hear him letting us off some proverbial hook,
preferring our short-term aid in response to the injuries our world so callously inflicts,
rather than the more godly demand of the prophets for long-term justice.
Isn’t that what Jesus meant when he spoke about the Reign of God
— wherein people need not be villified, afraid, endangered, and hunted.
Let me try it this way:
Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question about inheriting eternal life is about loving without boundaries or exceptions — God and neighbor and self.
“Who must I love?”
But the lawyer wanted an out.
He wanted something as expansive as eternal life, for himself and his own.
But he wasn’t willing to go that second mile and offer as much to others.
Or maybe he knew his own limits and simply worried that his love couldn’t extend that far…
So he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” in hopes of getting a “not guilty” verdict.
And Jesus offers the Parable.
Essentially a picture story for people in a non-literate society to remember
in order to make a point or point to a lesson.
Not a full sermon.
Or any complex social theory about how to promote justice or create a world with equality for all.
He left us with an image.
Left it with us.
Now its ours, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to figure out what it means.
Not just in our heads.
Or even just in our hearts.
But in our lives and in this horribly broken and breaking world we live in.
The Good Samaritan isn’t a children’s lesson for church,
it’s our calling to live out as Christians.
Our vocation to realize in our time and place —
It is, beloved, a way of thinking about
the time that God gives us, and
the faith into which we baptize this child today.
So, let me ask you this?
What if the Samaritan traveled that road between Jerusalem and Jericho day after day,
and each time he passed this spot, there was another victim beaten and stripped and left half-dead by the side of the road?
Did Jesus mean that the limit of a Samaritan’s good obligation
would be each time to attend to the victim?
Or would Jesus,
who wasn’t afraid to name names
and point his finger at injustices
and turn over tables in the most sacrosanct courtyards
in order to take on the limitedness and injustices
of the political-religious legalisms of his day…
WOULD JESUS EXPECT MORE?
That in faithfulness,
if he wants to be good,
the Samaritan would have to grapple with a bigger picture.
Ask some harder, uncomfortable questions.
And take up some unexpected new work,
heavy work that might be far away from the spot on the Jericho road,
work that might lead him far out of his way and to places he never expected to go.
Because, church, personal aid to the injured would not have been enough to stop the attacks.
And therefore not all that Jesus intended or expected.
Don’t WE know Jesus well enough to feel the push…
that love’s demands go further,
because holiness as sure as humanity demand justice?
Doesn’t love sentence us–
not just to asking about so many victims by the side of the road,
but to stop the violence
and the disregard or hatred for human life that begets it?
Church, do we have any choice
if we mean to be faithful,
but to tackle inhumane conditions —
~ the racism and its demonization of black men,
~ the love of guns and the right to bear arms,
~ these “self-defense” laws…
that cause so many dreadful acts of violence
and are killing our children?
Let us begin here, in this holy space,
by at least asking ourselves about what Jesus expects of us.
And then, begin with the soul-searching questions,
“Is there some reason that certain strangers are the ones who 9 out of 10 are victimized?”
Doesn’t Jesus show us that not even love (or hate) happen in a vacuum.
Didn’t he come into “the world” because everything —
good and evil,
blessing and bane,
happen in context?
In communities. And social structures. And histories.
Certainly Jesus came to heal the sick and raise the dead,
as I will say in a moment in Angelo’s baptism.
But didn’t he also come to minister to the outcast and the alone?
And to preach good news of God the Father and of a Kingdom coming?
Is Jesus a Physician who only deals with the sickness in individual’s hearts?
Or is Jesus big enough to call us also to those deeper societal illnesses that injure and rob and leave people dead by the side of the road?
In the time with the children, I told the kids,
and by implications the rest of us,
that we can’t let ourselves off too easy.
It’s not enough to just imagine ourselves as the Good Samaritan.
Now I’m challenging us who are older,
if we walk on past the deeper questions,
and the bigger context,
aren’t we more like the Priest and the Levite
than any Samaritan who stopped, and then went out of his way?
It’s our choice, the role we will play.
Beloved, while this parable provides us
with a number of important lessons
even as it has often been interpreted narrowly to speak about charity.
But, because of how it has been understood and used,
it also leaves us with a host of questions
when it comes to the promotion of justice.
Considering the whole and holy ministry of Jesus,
maybe the questions aren’t so many or confusing.
Do you really doubt
that if we want to be Christian
we are charged with a part
creating a world that is just and safe and home for everyone.
Rather, the question is,
as I left it with the kids,
who we want to be in the parable?
Whose way do we intend to walk?