Lent Wednesday Sermon March 11 2015
25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He 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 he 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 felt compassion for him. 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.”
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds as he often does with a question, “Well, what do you think?” You’ve studied the law, what do you read there? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength. A quotation from Deut 6:5. Love your neighbor as yourself. A quotation from Lev 19:18. Jesus says, Yup, you’re right. Do that and you’ve got it.
Many people equate this part of Jesus’ commandment, specifically the second part, with what’s called the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Actually, it is something more than the Golden Rule. Do to others as you would have done to you is a great mantra and Jesus uses it in another part of the Gospels as well. It immediately makes us empathetic because to decide what we will “do unto” another we must first think about what we would feel like in a similar situation and want ourselves.
Jesus’ law is to love. Love your neighbor as yourself. This requires two things. First, that you love yourself, and do so in a faithful manner. We will talk about this next week. Second, that we are LOVING THEM, not just treating them a certain way. The Golden Rule is all about behavior, and that’s really important especially in a world where the way we treat one another is often careless at best, hurtful at worst. A casual read of the newspaper can confirm this. How we human beings treat one another needs a prayerful examination and some serious repentance. But Jesus calls us to something more: to love.
In the text I just read, the lawyer asks Jesus who his neighbor actually is. And Jesus, as he typically does, responds with a story. A man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jerico and ran into some trouble along the way. Criminals found him, took everything he had, even the clothes off his back! They beat him and left him for dead in the road. Now first, a priest comes by. Surely, this guy will help out the unfortunate traveler! But nope, he goes on not only passing him up but crossing the road to get away from the beaten, half dead man. Then a Levite, a man who works at the church, walks by. He too passes by him on the other side of the road. Here lays the man, naked, beaten, robbed, helpless in the road. But then a Samaritan comes by. Well, no one who heard Jesus’ story would ever think that a Samaritan would ever do anything to help out someone in need. While Samaritans did believe in God, in YHWY, just like the Jews, they didn’t do it the right way. They didn’t follow all the laws and regulations and didn’t even worship in the right places! But, surprisingly, the Samaritan stops. He cleans and cares for the wounded man, binds him up, and even puts him on his own donkey. The Samaritan takes him to an inn and the next day tells the innkeeper to take care of the man and he will pay back anything the innkeeper spends.
So, Jesus asks the Lawyer, Who Was The Man’s Neighbor? The one who showed him mercy is the Lawyer’s reply. There you go, Jesus says, now go and do the same.
While this story is designed to answer the question of who is my neighbor, it also illustrates how the law of love looks in action. If this were merely about the Golden Rule, it might look a lot different. The Samaritan isn’t really just being nice to this stranger out of an empathetic impulse. He is loving his neighbor. He is showing his neighbor compassion.
Compassion literally means to suffer with. A kind and golden rule obeying person would certainly help the wounded man, but it takes compassion to clean a dirty stranger, to bind up open wounds of a stranger of whom you know nothing.
When we hear Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan, what is the picture we see? I imagine a nice guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was taken advantage of. He’s just walking along minding his own business. For no good reason, this innocent man is attacked, beaten by criminals within an inch of his life and stripped of everything, even his dignity. Surely, he didn’t deserve this! Though I’ve never been beaten, robbed and left for dead in the middle of the street, I certainly have had bad things happen to me that I didn’t deserve. Haven’t we all? Bad things happen to good people every day.
But, the truth is, Jesus never tells us anything about this man. In fact a description of him is conspicuously absent. We know nothing about him. Was he a nice guy? Was he a righteous man? Was he himself a criminal? A physician? A murderer? Was he an innocent man or was he a man guilty of all kinds of crimes and sins who deserved a good beating and some kind of poetic justice was served by robbers taking money he had stolen? In Jesus’ parable, any one of a hundred different things could be the truth about the wounded man. Yet his righteousness, worthiness or lack thereof is completely irrelevant to the Samaritan.
Jesus specifically says that when the Samaritan saw him he felt compassion for him. It is love for the neighbor, love for even a total stranger, willingness to suffer along with someone without needing to know whether or not care is deserved, that motivates the Samaritan to use his own supplies to care for the man, to give him his animal to ride, take him to an inn and spend his own money, the equivalent of two days’ wages, for this stranger’s care.
The Golden Rule is a good starting place, but Jesus calls us to something greater. The Golden Rule makes us polite to one another, Jesus’ law of love calls us to love. The Golden Rule teaches us that we should tolerate those who are different from us. Jesus’ law of love calls us to love as God loves. The Golden Rule teaches us to think about not trespassing on someone else’s rights or saying hurtful things to someone different from us. Jesus’ law of love calls us to love those who are different from us without concern for just deserts. The Golden Rule can make us say, ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. Jesus’ law of love calls us to sit beside those who mourn and cry with them, clean the wounds we did not create in a stranger, help others seek justice and peace for offences we did not commit, and to give of ourselves and our resources for the benefit of someone we do not owe.
A Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion for him.
“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… “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”