Luke 10:25-37 • July 14, 2019
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
A pastor, not this pastor, by the way, decided to skip church one Sunday morning and go play golf.
He called his Associate Pastor early in the day and told them he wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be at worship. His plan was coming together perfectly. And to make it even more perfect, he drove to a golf course in another city, so nobody would know him.
He teed off on the first hole. Just as his club hit the golf ball perfectly, a huge gust of wind caught the ball, carried it an extra 175 yards and dropped it right in the hole. A 452-yard hole in one.
An angel looked at God and said: “What’d you do that for?”
God smiled and said, “Who’s he going to tell?”
Someone shared that story with me recently on one of my social media sites. And since many of you are not connected with my pastoral ministry online, I thought it’d be a cute story to share today. Honestly, I’m not sure if it has anything to do with today’s gospel at all.
Today’s gospel and the themes weaving throughout our worship together this week are probably familiar to you. Or at least a little familiar. After all, the parable that we know and love as the Good Samaritan is one that extends far beyond the reach of Christianity.
Entire organizations in our society are built around this parable of Jesus – think the Good Samaritan Society that seeks to provide care to some of the most vulnerable in our communities.
United States Presidents and other world leaders have used this parable as an example of national pride and concern for fellow citizens over countless centuries.
And faith communities like our very own congregation often model their mission and ministry out of this parable. How else can we explain the Good Samaritan fund in Good Shepherd’s annual ministry financial plan? Or the fact that even our mission statement echoes its truth. We believe that, as a congregation, we are called “to share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children.” In all that we say and do together as a church, this parable is at least part of our work together. Our mission statement doesn’t just say that we should share God’s love only with people from Bismarck who are members of Good Shepherd or only with people whom we deem worthy of God’s love or only with Christians who are also Lutheran or only with people who are citizens of the United States.
All means all for Jesus throughout the gospels and this parable states that truth very directly.
And so we try, as Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, to the best of our God-given ability to live up to that “all” in the mission God has called our congregation, and congregations like us around to the world, to live out in God’s creation.
Brothers and sisters, this is good. Very good. It’s no wonder why this parable is called good. It’s no wonder why this parable has been a blessing to God’s people for 2,000 years.
But here’s something to note. Did you catch that Jesus never says anything about “good” in this parable? He doesn’t call the Samaritan good. Not even once. And he doesn’t say the lawyer or the priest or the Levite are bad either. Or good.
Pastor Eugene Peterson believes that the parables of Jesus are narrative time bombs designed to explode people into new awareness.
Maybe that’s why this parable has become known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan over the last 2,000 years or so. Once in awhile, God’s children need something that causes us to explode a little in order to be moved into a new awareness as it relates to our faith life.
The parable before us today is not simply about doing good when you feel like it, it’s about taking care of your neighbor. Treating everyone as the beloved children of God that they are, wherever they are, whoever they may be.
I’m guessing that you all are a lot like me. We all think we are or at least want to be the Samaritan in this story. It’s a lot better to see ourselves in that role and gives us another opportunity to make fun of and judge the behavior of the lawyer or the priest or the Levite.
Truth be told though, you and I often act more like the lawyer, asking Jesus who really is our neighbor. God can’t possibly love everyone, can he? We need clarification about just who our neighbor actually is before we are going to even think about doing anything for someone else.
Or, we are like the priest, afraid to get our hands dirty to do something good for someone we do not know. Someone different from us. Someone who’s not Lutheran. Or maybe even not Christian. We go out of our way to go around that neighbor in need. Someone who actually knows them can help. Someone who’s part of their community. At least that’s what we often think or say.
Or we are like the Levite, and simply walk by, because the one who needs our help doesn’t actually deserve our help. Why can’t they just pick themselves up and get a job, help themselves for a change?
Let’s take another look at the gospel before us today. And in the spirit of Eugene Peterson’s language, I’ll put a little more fuel on the fire for the narrative time bomb this parable gives us today, shifting us into a new awareness.
A man fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out.
A subjective person came along and said, “I feel for you down there.”
An objective person came along and said, “It’s logical that someone would fall down there.”
A Pharisee said, “Only bad people fall into a pit.”
A mathematician calculated how he fell into the pit in the first place.
A news reporter wanted an exclusive story on his pit.
A fundamentalist said, “You deserve your pit.”
An IRS man asked if he was paying taxes on the pit.
A self-pitying woman said, “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen my pit.”
A charismatic said, “Just confess that you’re not in a pit.”
An optimist said, “Things could be worse.”
A pessimist said, “Things will get worse.”
Jesus, seeing the man in the pit, took him by the hand and lifted him out. (from Barbara Johnson, Ecunet, Homiletics, July-September 1995)
At the beginning of today’s gospel reading, a man, who is identified by Luke as a lawyer, asks Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The lawyer offers a list – “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.”
The lawyer then asks Jesus what I believe is a genuine and faithful question – “And who is my neighbor?” The Parable of the Good Samaritan is how Jesus addresses the lawyer’s follow-up question. A follow-up question that may be the heart of what I believe the Spirit is trying to say through this sermon today.
Jesus shares the parable and then answers the lawyer’s follow up question with another question. “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer, and you and I say, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus says to the lawyer, and to every child of God who has ever claimed to be a follower of Jesus since that day, “Go and do likewise.”
In her 2004 Christmas message, Queen Elizabeth II refers to this parable as being a story about “tolerance and respecting others.” She summarizes it in this way. “Everyone is our neighbor, no matter what race, creed or colour. The need to look after a fellow human being is far more important than any cultural or religious differences.” [Short Stories by Jesus, by Amy Jill-Levine, pg. 79]
Maybe God – through our savior Jesus – is coming to you today as the one who is in the ditch; or maybe God is coming to you and inviting you to be the one who shows compassion and mercy; or maybe God is even coming to you and me today as children of God who need to be reminded who our neighbor is in the first place, so we’ll finally stop beating them up. Or worse yet, walking by and ignoring them, leaving them on the side of the road to die alone.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we see our neighbors along this journey we call faith, I hope and pray that we are bold enough to respond to Jesus’ call for mercy. To “go and do likewise.” Because that indeed is good, good news. As Martin Luther instructed us about five centuries ago, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.”
And, oh yea, if I ever do get a 452-yard hole in one – I guarantee you, that I will share that good news with you too! Even if it happens on a Sunday morning.