Good Samaritan Sunday
July 10, 2022
+ For those of you who listen or read my sermons week in and week out, you know that my “themes” are pretty basic and consistent.
Yes, there might be variations on those “themes,” but, in their core, there is really only one main “theme” to everything I preach.
Love God. Love others. That’s pretty much it.
Which is why our Gospel reading this morning is an important reading.
No, I’m not being emphatic enough.
It’s not just an important reading.
It is, in my opinion, the single most important reading for us as Christians.
And, for those of you who have known for me for any period, you know how I feel about what is being said in today’s Gospel.
For me, this is IT.
This is the heart of our Christian faith.
This is where the “rubber meets the road.”
When anyone has asked me, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” it is this scripture I direct them to.
When anyone asks me, must I do this or that to be “saved,” I direct them to this reading.
This is what it is all about.
So, why do I feel this way?
Well, let’s take a look this all-important reading.
We have two things going on.
First, we have this young lawyer.
He comes, in all earnestness, to seek from Jesus THE answer.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
What must I do to be saved?
This, after all, is the question we are ALL asking, isn’t it?
And, guess what?
He—and all of us too—gets an answer.
But, as always, Jesus flips it all around and gives it all a spin.
Jesus answers a question with a question.
He asks the lawyer, “what does the law say?”
The answer is a simple one.
And, in Jewish tradition, it is called the Shema.
The Shema is heart of Jewish faith.
It is so important that it is prayed twice a day, once in the morning, once at night.
Jesus himself would have prayed the Shema each morning upon awakening and again before he went to sleep at night.
It is important, because it is the heart of all faith in God.
So, what is the answer?
The answer is, “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 additionally, “and [love] your neighbor as yourself.”
Then, Jesus says this:
“do this, and you will live.”
I repeat it.
Do this—Love God, love your neighbor—and you will live.
This is what we must do to be saved.
Now that sounds easy.
But Jesus then complicates it all with a parable.
And it’s a great story.
Everyone likes this story of the Good Samaritan.
We even commemorated it in our very first stained glass window.
After all, what isn’t there to like in this story?
Well…actually…in Jesus’ day, there were people who would not have liked this story.
In Jesus’s day, this story would have been RADICAL.
The part of this story that most of us miss is the fact that when Jesus told this parable to his audience, he did so with a particular scheme in mind.
The term “Good Samaritan” would have been an oxymoron for those Jews listening to Jesus that day.
Samaritans were, in fact, quite hated.
They were viewed as heretics, as defilers, as unclean.
They were seen as betrayers of the Jewish faith.
So, when Jesus tells this tale of a Good Samaritan, it no doubt rankled a few nerves in the midst of that company.
With this in mind, we do need to ask ourselves some very hard questions.
Hard questions we did not think we would be asked on this Good Samaritan Sunday.
You, of course, know where I am going with this.
So, here goes:
Who are the
Samaritans in our understanding of this story?
For us, the story only really hits home when we replace that term “Samaritan” with the name of someone we don’t like at all.
Just think about who it is in your life, in your political understanding, in your own orbit of people who you absolutely despise.
Think of that person or persons or movements that simply makes you writhe with anger.
Those are your Samaritans!
It’s not hard to find the names.
Now, try to put the word “good” in front of those names.
It’s hard for a good many of us to find anything “good” in any of these people.
For us, to face the fact that these people we see as morally or inherently evil could be “good.”
We—good socially-conscious Christians that we are—are also guilty sometimes of being complacent.
We too find ourselves sometimes feeling quite smug about our “advanced” or “educated” ways of thinking about society and God and the Church.
And we too demonize those we don’t agree with sometimes.
I, for one, am very guilty of this
It is easy for me to imagine God living in me personally, despite all the shortcomings and negative things I know about myself.
I know that, sometimes, I am a despicable person and yet, I know that God is alive in me, and that God loves me.
So, why is it so hard for me to see that God is present even in those whom I dislike, despite those things that make them so dislikeable to me?
For me, this is the hard part.
The Gospel story today shows us that we must love and serve and see God alive in even those whom we demonize—even if those same people demonize us as well.
Being a follower of Jesus means loving even those we, under any other circumstance, simply can’t stand.
this story is all about being jarred out of our complacent way of seeing
It’s also easy for some of us to immediately identify ourselves with the Good Samaritan.
We, of course, would help someone stranded on the road, even when it means making ourselves vulnerable to the robbers who might be lurking nearby.
But I can tell you that as I hear and read this parable, I—quite uncomfortably—find myself sometimes identifying with the priest and the Levite.
I am the one, as much as I hate to admit it, who could very easily, out of fear or because of the social structure in which I live, find myself crossing over to the other side of the road and avoiding this person.
And I hate the fact that my thoughts even go there.
See, this parable of Jesus is challenging and difficult.
Something changes this whole story.
Something disrupts this story completely.
Love changes this whole story.
When we truly live out that commandment of Jesus to us that we must love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, we know full-well that those social and political and personal boundaries fall to the ground.
Love always defeats our dislike of someone.
Love always defeats the political boundaries that divide us.
always softens our hearts and our stubborn wills and allows us see the goodness
and love that exists in others, even when doing so is uncomfortable and painful
Now I say that hoping I don’t come across as naïve.
I know that my love of the racist will not necessarily change the racist.
I know that loving the homophobe will not necessarily change the homophone.
I know that loving the Nazi and the Fascist are definitely not going to change the Nazi and the Fascist.
Trust me, I know that loving certain politicians (whose names I will not mention) is not going to change those politicians!
But you know what?
It does change me.
It does cause me to look—as much as I hate to do so—into the eyes of that person and see something more.
does cause me to look at the person and realize that God does love this person
despite their failings and their faults—just as God loves me despite my
failings and my faults.
These are the boundaries Jesus came to break down in us.
And these are the boundaries Jesus commands us to break down within ourselves.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the lawyer asks Jesus.
And what’s the answer?
Love is the answer.
must love—fully and completely.
“Do this,” Jesus says, “and you will live.”
It not only about our personal relationship with Jesus.
It not about accepting Jesus as our “personal Lord and Savior.”
That’s not what saves us.
He nowhere says that is what will save us.
What will save us?
Love will save us.
Love of God.
Love of one another.
Loving what God loves.
Love will save us.
Love will liberate us.
Love will free us.
Jesus doesn’t get much clearer than that.
Because let’s face it.
We are the Samaritan in this story.
We are—each of us—probably despised by someone in our lives.
We, to someone, represent everything they hate.
The fact is, God is not expecting us to be perfect.
God worked through the Samaritan—the person who represented so much of what everyone who was hearing that story represents as wrong.
If God can work through him, let me tell God can work through you and me.
We do not have to be perfect.
Trust me, we’re not perfect.
And we will never be perfect.
But even despite this, God’s light and love can show through us.
So let us reflect God’s love and light.
Let us live out the Shema of God—this commandment of God to love—in all aspects of our lives.
Let us love.
Let us love fully and radically and completely.
Let us love God.
Let us love each other.
Let us love ourselves.
Let us love all that God loves.
Let us love our neighbor.
Who is our neighbor?
Our neighbor is not just the one who is easy to love.
Our neighbor is also the one who is hardest to love.
Love them—God, our neighbor—and yes, even ourselves.
And you and I--we too will live, as Jesus says.
And we will live a life full of the light we have reflected in our own lives.
that light that will never be taken from us.