Sermon Proper 10C 2019

The Rev. John M. Atkins

Luke 10:25-37

25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26Jesus 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.” 28And Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”30Jesus 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.31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He 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. 35The 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.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

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As I was driving on Sheehan Road in Centerville (near West Social Row Road), I noticed two statues attached to the brick-wall entrance of a development. Both are representations of young boys. One boy is on top of the wall balancing himself while reaching down to clasp the hand of the other boy reaching his arm up for help in climbing the brick wall.

Not knowing the intention of the artist or the developer of the prime real estate, I came up with my own interpretation of the depicted interaction. Like the boy on top of the wall, life presents us with opportunities for helping our friends and neighbors.

In today’s Gospel, we hear the familiar parable of The Good Samaritan. You and I are aware that the parable answers the question: “Who is my neighbor?” No matter our diverse views, the writers of the Gospels clearly pronounce that care for our neighbors can never be separated from worship of God.

In fact, how we care for our ‘neighbors’ signifies the depth of our relationship with God. As with all of Jesus’ teachings, this lesson is timely.

There are many wounded people in our world; countless ‘neighbors’ in many situations needing our attention and help, including our nation’s Southern border and the victims of the Dayton tornadoes.

But the Parable of the Good Samaritan is much more than a moral lesson. Jesus’ parable is a commentary, not only on bad behavior, but also, on bad religious piety.

The priest and the Levite held revered positions in Jewish religious society. Both served in the Temple – a place for connecting with God, a place of prayer for all nations. By Jewish tradition, the priest and the Levite would have become defiled and unable to serve in the Temple if the victim, lying in the ditch, was dead – or if they came into contact with his blood. Both men chose their religious vocations over helping the wounded man.

Through this parable, Jesus makes a controversial claim that religious service in the Temple, or leadership and service in the Church today, means nothing unless it is driven by and expressed through compassion.

In Luke’s Gospel, compassion is shown only by God, God’s beloved son, Jesus, and the Good Samaritan. Compassion is a holy act revealing the presence and love of God.

The word “mercy” is used by the scribe (layer) questioning Jesus, who, by the way, doesn’t even choose to recognize the traveler’s ethnicity or utter the word “Samaritan.”

Mercy infers ‘one-up’ on the other. Like the statues of the two boys, mentioned earlier; one boy reaches down to help the other climb the wall. The one boy shows mercy to the other. And, it’s important to note that mercy doesn’t necessarily infer empathy. Compassion is an empathetic, heart-driven action responding to people in need as valuable neighbors and worthy of help, respect and dignity.

God shows us compassion and Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” But, even more than a hand on the moral compass, as well as a criticism of self-serving religious piety, and a call to be people of compassion, the Parable of the Good Samaritan reveals that Jesus is the Good Samaritan.

Jesus is the outcast of his Jewish religious society, just like the half-Jewish / half-Gentile Samaritan. Jesus is the Holy One serving God in appropriate and poignant ways, unlike the self-serving religious priest and Levite. Jesus is the one sent by God with the purpose of offering compassion no matter the cost. Jesus is the unconventional teacher and Savior willing to be ridiculed, and yet, continually helping victims of ignorance, cruelty and bad religion.

Jesus is the one offering God’s compassion, and some people won’t like it. People opposing Jesus’ generosity of compassion are identified by Jesus. While some are willing to surrender their own ambitions to God, others will fight the God of Jesus tooth and nail. Not all, but some religious people, people with power, people invested in the status quo, people harboring prejudice, and people nervous because society is changing are among those who will fight against God.

Jesus knew that God’s actions of loving and showing compassion are threatening. Jesus knew his message of inclusion, not exclusion, would bring about a terrible, personal fate. On his way to Jerusalem to face the religious and secular powers who would demand his life, Jesus took every opportunity to influence people to love and live God’s compassion.

Like Jesus, his followers are called to be Good Samaritans, people willing to be ridiculed and despised for their loving and compassionate actions. God’s love and compassion revealed in Jesus brings hope to this broken world. That means the love and compassion we share as followers of Jesus brings hope to the world.

That’s powerful! And we have a promise: we never have to love or show compassion all alone – because when we love like Jesus, and offer compassion like Jesus, Jesus walks beside us and energizes us for the work we do in Jesus’ name.

Jesus told his disciples: “Keep your eyes open, for I am with you every day, even unto the end of time.” (Matthew 28:20)  

Yesterday afternoon I saw a cute, touching and powerful video on YouTube by two little girls, Dani and Dannah. The video is entitled Dani and Dannah CALL Jesus. One of the two little girls begins the 30 second video with: “There are a lot of things going on in the world. Here’s my advice: Call Jesus.” Then she lists several scenarios, and adds: “Everybody needs a little Jesus now and then in their heart.” 

I think these little ladies offer us good advice. For strength, you and I can call on Jesus. For wisdom and courage, you and I can call on Jesus. For help in offering love and compassion, we can call on Jesus. For changing our world to be a place of love and expressing each person’s dignity in the midst of valuing our many differences, we can call on Jesus.

No matter the circumstance, we can call on Jesus. Jesus will listen and empower us. Call on Jesus, for he is our example, our companion and our hope.