2022-07-10 Pentecost 5
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“And who is my neighbour?!” Iconic words spoken by a lawyer to the Good Lord Jesus. It was a setup, really. Jesus was always being put to the test by law-dawgs, the Pharisees, the religious establishment. They were always trying to trap Him in His words and wrap Him up in the Law of God so that He would make a mistake, say something wrong and they could lambaste Him for blasphemy or wrong teachings or the like. We remember this clearly from the “Render unto Caesar” teaching. “Is it lawful to pay taxes unto Caesar, or not?!” the crowd asks, trying to throw Jesus into a quagmire of impossible choices. Unfortunately, they never got the memo. It’s not wise to mess with the Word of God Who is the author of wisdom! Likewise in today’s reading, you’ve got a lawyer doing His best to burst Jesus’ bubble.
He launches his attack thusly: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” How can I earn my own salvation? How can I have self-made salvation? Jesus answers him in that wonderful way of asking a question. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer accurately quotes the Torah of old and gives the perfect Sunday-School answer: “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 neighbour as yourself.” Jesus simply says “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But the lawyer isn’t content with the Sunday School answer. So he presses Jesus, trying to justify himself. “And who is my neighbour?”
That is to say, “who do I have to love as myself” or oppositely, who can I not love? Who can I simply skip over? What fringe minority of people with unacceptable views can I ignore, shun and hate and yet, still go to heaven? So Jesus answers with a parable. The famous ‘The Good Samaritan’ parable as we now know it. It is a timeless teaching! Even the pagans have most likely heard of it! It’s a story of huge grace and mercy. We’re familiar with the gist of the parable. A guy goes down from Jerusalem to Jericho. And as he goes, behold! A gaggle of robbers come out from behind the rocks, beat him up and take his stuff and leave him for dead on the side of the road. Broken and bloodied, the poor man helplessly waits for someone to help him lest he die.
As luck would have it, Percy the Priest was walking by on that same road! Praise the Lord! If anyone would help this poor and afflicted man, surely a man of the cloth would! … But no, no. Percy sees the broken and bloodied man and gives him a hard pass to the other side of the road, leaving him stricken, smitten and afflicted in the ditch! Time passes and again, here comes another person to the rescue! This time it’s Larry the Levite! Larry looked and lingered but likewise left him to languish! No help from the tribe of Levi, from the people who were supposed to know God the best! He also crosses by to the other side.
This poor man. Alone, bloodied and beaten in the middle of nowhere. Two people happened to walk by and the same two people kep’ on walkin’. Mighty neighbourly, mighty neighbourly. This man in the ditch must have felt completely doomed! But then, in the midst of darkness and trouble, here comes good ol’ Skippy the Samaritan down the road! The ditch man struggles to open his eyelids to see who was coming this time, but wait, ugg! Of all the luck, it’s a no-good, half-breed Samaritan! There’s no way this guy will lend a hand. He will just continue along on his merry way and the poor beaten man will succumb to his injuries. Coyotes will have a bonanza on his cold, dead carcass and that will be that! But what a minute, what’s this? Skippy the Samaritan sees him and he doesn’t pass by. Instead, he has compassion on the poor man!
He walks right up and immediately administers first aid. He binds up his wounds, pouring on both oil and wine. He loads him up on his own donkey, takes him to the nearby Days Inn, the one with the water slide and no bed bugs, and took care of him. He goes to the front desk and slaps down the Platinum Card, paying for the man’s current care and paying for any extra he may rack up! Now which of Percy, Larry and Skippy “do you think, proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer answered: “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
It’s such a great parable! All the warm fuzzies from Skippy fill our hearts with gladness! The poor man receives care, compassion and mercy from the most unexpected place – a no-good, half-breed, derelict Samaritan from Samaria! He shows his true, neighbourly goodness! But what is the point of the parable? Be Mr. Nice Guy like Skippy? Pay the tab at the hotel? Be saved by your own works? Well let’s go back to Lester the Lawyer’s original question: “Who is my neighbour?”
His real question was ‘who do I have to love and who can I pass by yet still make it to heaven.’ Which people can I ignore and neglect? He is, of course, asking the wrong question. He tries to justify himself rather than confess his sins. For Lester, he wants to earn his own salvation. He wants to work his way to heaven. But you can’t justify yourself if you don’t walk the walk. You need to live God’s law perfectly. You can’t pass people by. You can’t pick and choose who your neighbour is and love only certain people as yourself! You have to love all people as yourself and do so with kindness and mercy and compassion! Ol’ Lester fails miserably at this point and so has no hope of justifying himself by his works.
Instead we look at this Samaritan Snapshot and realize that we don’t have a hope of justifying ourselves and earning God’s favour by our own good works. For in our sins, we are exactly like Percy the Priest and Larry the Levite. We have passed by neighbours in need. We have not shown compassion. We have not been merciful. We have failed to forgive others as God forgives. So not only are we like Percy and Larry, but we are also like the beaten and bloodied man in the ditch. We need compassion. We need mercy for our sins. We need grace to heal us and make us well. This is what justifies us. This is what forgives our sins and gives us life everlasting. Christ Jesus, our “Good Samaritan” comes to our aid by His cross and resurrection.
As we are healed by God’s mercy and compassion, they change us. Instead of being the Percys or the Larrys, we find that Jesus makes us into Skippys! We want to share the same grace that we have received with our neighbours. And who are our neighbours that we will love as ourselves?! Everyone. Our friends our families and even our enemies who hate and despise us. “But Pastor, my neighbour lied to me and stabbed me in the back, and his cat comes over and poops in my kid’s sandbox! Surely I don’t have to be kind to him!” And our Lord Jesus responds “Did I stutter?! Love your neighbour as yourself!"
The Christian faith cannot and does not exist without love and care for each other. St. John writes “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1JN 4:11). This is truly the consequences of God’s mercy. Our Lord has shown us His incredible and amazing grace through His cross and resurrection. He forgives us richly and doesn’t give us what we deserve. So how in turn do we respond? That’s what the parable of the Good Samaritan leads us to. The prophet Micah sums it all up for us: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) Thanks be to God now and forever more. Amen!