July 10, 2022 Fourth Sunday After Trinity The text is Luke 10: 30-37.
[A legal expert] asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and took off, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came upon him, and when he saw him he was moved with compassion. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, treating them with oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 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.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning we once again encounter Jesus telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, one of the most well-known lessons found in Scripture. So much so that even those who do not express the Christian faith will use the term as a common metaphor for someone who comes to the aid of another. And, because the Good Samaritan story is so well-known it tends to be challenging to preach on its meaning without repeating what’s likely been said thousands of times before. Also, preachers need to be certain that they don’t inadvertently repeat themselves in congregations where they have previously preached on this parable.
Which brings us to this morning, and the quandary I find myself in. It seems that exactly one year ago today I was standing in this very spot preaching on the parable of the Good Samaritan. And wanting to be certain that my sermon wouldn’t be completely repetitious I went back and took a look at what I preached the last time I was with you and this Scripture lesson was the Gospel reading for the day. And I discovered that I had asked you to internally assume the different roles of the characters in this parable that Jesus told as he was confronted by the legal expert who asked who is neighbor was.
I thought I would take a moment to revisit this roleplaying exercise, as a starting point for our examination of the Good Samaritan parable, this second time around for you and me. It was assumed that we would all be quite willing to envision ourselves in the role of the Good Samaritan, rendering aid to another person in need. We would find ourselves being comfortable imagining that we would help ease the distress of another, no matter if that person was our beloved neighbor or even someone we were strongly culturally and religiously at odds with. After all, who wouldn’t want to think of themselves as being willing to help others? We were very comfortable assuming the role of the “good” person in this exercise.
And you may recall that I also asked you to imagine yourselves as the priest or the Levite, the ones who went out of their way to avoid helping the man beaten by robbers. And since we’ve all been guilty at some point of not coming to the aid of someone in distress, I’m fairly certain that these characterizations didn‘t feel quite as comfortable for us. We’ve all labored under the “us vs. them” attitude that plagues us as human beings; our tribal nature tends to dictate that we associate with those who are like us and avoid those who are different. And, the differences multiply if we allow ourselves to consider these “others” as unworthy of our assistance. So, in this role we find ourselves as not quite the “good guys”; perhaps difficult for us to accept, but nonetheless, this is also who we are. Luther reminds us that we are “at the same time, saint and sinner”.
And finally, we assumed the role of the beaten, robbed man lying at the side of the road. And we concluded that this was representative of our deep need of help from others; that we were in fact, unable to save ourselves, and that we were dependent on Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross. This acknowledgement of our utter dependence on the grace and mercy of God enabled us to see the needs of the “other” through their brokenness, their hardship, their suffering. And this also helped us to recognize that we are all the same; there is really no “us’ or “them” in the kingdom of God. All of humanity is in the same boat, and we all share the need for salvation and acceptance.
Okay, so that takes care of what we spoke about the last time we considered this parable. But after further consideration, I think I might have missed the larger point of the narrative. What if the stripped and beaten man lying in the dirt at the side of the road isn’t us after all? How would the parable be different if the broken man was meant to represent God? What if Jesus intended the legal expert, and us to understand that the One who is often ignored and disregarded by those who should know better, is truly God incarnate, Jesus himself? The Samaritan parable takes on a whole new meaning if we allow that we sometimes fail to return to God the love that is shown toward us. Perhaps the actions of the indifferent priest and Levite, those who ignored the man are actually a reflection of our action toward the One who extends only grace, love, and mercy to the world. Maybe the Samaritan was held up by Jesus as the example of the ideal we should all aspire to. It’s possible that this “other” was intended to be the model of how we are to reflect the way in which we approach God and God’s commandments to serve the “other”. The way we interact with those in need is potentially the way we really feel about our commitment to the Way of Christ.
The more I thought about this the more obvious it became; we are expected to see the face of God in Christ in everyone we encounter, most especially in those in need. “Who is my neighbor?”, indeed. I submit to you that God in the ditch is meant to represent every single one of God’s children. The priest and the Levite were only able to see someone unworthy in the face of robbed Jesus.
The Samaritan, the one who was acknowledged to be unworthy in the eyes of the Judean people, he was the one to render aid. Obviously, he didn’t see the face of the “other” in the injured one; all he recognized was the image of God in the suffering man.
Which, if we were to repeat the role-playing exercise today, would certainly cause more visceral reactions in us. If we were again to assume the part of the Samaritan, we might pat ourselves even harder on the back, knowing that we were the ones to reflect God’s love back toward our Creator. All well and good, but let’s not get carried away; it’s much more likely that we might recognize ourselves in the far less admirable role of the ones who ignored our God, lying right there before us.
We know that we are forgiven when we fail to act as God commands and Jesus demonstrates. And, we are fully aware that we sometimes serve as the Good Samaritan and occasionally we behave like the uncaring Levite and priest. Yet, the grace of God redeems us, allows us the opportunity to try again, to look into the eyes of the other and see the reflection of God’s love. The image of God in Christ lying on the roadside serves as yet another opportunity for us to recognize that God comes near to us. And each time we find ourselves struggling with how we ought to respond to those in need, we are able to use this closeness of God to remind us to act appropriately. The legal expert questioned Jesus as to who his neighbor might be; Jesus was crystal clear that the neighbor is each and every one we meet, for all are reflected in the image of God.
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and holy God, help us to see your face when we gaze upon others, especially those in need. Send your Holy Spirit to motivate us to show compassion for our neighbors, be they familiar to us or as yet unknown and unmet. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who we often fail to recognize in the suffering of the world. Amen.
God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!
The above sermon was preached by Minister Thomas Houston, LLM at Grace Ministries on Sunday, July 10, 2022.