By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
July 11, 2010
Read: Luke 10:25-37
In Steinbeck’s classic, East of Eden, Liza Hamilton serves as the matriarch of faith for her family. She is a pugnacious advocate of biblical morality and reads the scriptures daily as the guide for her life. Yet there are cracks in her pious veneer. Steinbeck describes her use of the Bible in this way:
Her total intellectual association was the Bible … In that one book she had her history and her poetry, her knowledge of peoples and things, her ethics, her morals, and her salvation. She never studied the Bible or inspected it; she just read it … And finally she came to a point where she knew it so well that she went right on reading it without listening.
The final line is haunting. When we hear today’s scripture lesson, it is too easy to read it quickly and then move on because it so familiar within our culture. “Oh, the Good Samaritan – I know what that one’s all about.” Yet biblical stories that are familiar to us are often the very ones whose messages have often been muted rather than unleashed. So, let’s come to the story of the Good Samaritan with fresh eyes and ears that truly see and truly hear.
There is much more to this story than a cutting critique of religious leaders whose actions don’t match their preaching. There’s more to it than merely a model of neighborliness. In this text, Jesus explodes expectations for God’s people and tears down notions of status in ways that invite his hearers to become part of God’s mission in the world today.
One of the best known figures in the New Testament is not a historical person, but a character in a story told by Jesus. Jesus does not give this character a name, but refers to him as a member of a particular ethnic group. This character is identified simply as “a Samaritan.”
The people who hear Jesus tell this story are shocked by the identity of its hero. They view a good Samaritan, a compassionate Samaritan, as a contradiction in terms. The Jewish contemporaries of Jesus regard themselves as good guys and Samaritans as bad guys. They detest Samaritans, and Samaritans detest them.
This hatred between Samaritan and Jew is already many generations old when Jesus tells his story. It is in fact a vast family squabble, because Jews and Samaritans are related peoples, quarreling cousins. Does that sound familiar?
Jesus shocks his fellow Jews when he tells a story about a Samaritan who is a model of compassion, one who cares for an injured stranger, who cares for — get this — an injured stranger who’s likely to be one of their own, a Jew beaten by robbers on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.
So can we put ourselves in the place of the good Samaritan? Those times when we have opportunity to show compassion resemble this story of the Samaritan. Compassion requires that we take risks and spend resources and do so without any guarantees. The Good Samaritan did the right thing, but there were no guarantees on any sort of payback. No thank you’s. Doing right doesn’t promise to leave us feeling right.
And so this Good Samaritan may not seem such a good guy after all. We may find him to be a troublemaker, because his example of compassion may threaten our security, upset our sense of control. We too are on the road from some Jerusalem to some Jericho, and we can’t afford to be delayed. It seems better to be among those who pass by in safety on the other side.
If the Samaritan’s costume does not fit us, then remember that this role is not the only one we can play. We can bypass as well the parts of those who notice the victim, yet keep on walking.
Instead, when we look at the victim’s face — bruised, bloody, unconscious — we are hit with a shock of recognition. That poor face is our face! We are the victim, attacked by robbers, stripped, beaten, and left half dead. You are there and so am I, lying in the grass beside the road, and so is every man, woman, and child. It’s the human race that’s been mugged and abandoned by the road.
There comes someone to help us. Someone of a despised and alien race. Someone we fear. We want to keep our distance. But he does not fear us. He takes risks in approaching, and spends resources on our recovery with no guarantee we will ever thank him. Even to us, who by thought and word and action may appear to despise him, this Samaritan shows compassion. For once we learn his name. His name is Jesus.
In his incarnation, life, ministry, death, and resurrection, Jesus approaches us, the human race, sad and sorry sight that we are, beaten senseless and half dead by the robber demons of cosmic and human sin. He anoints and bandages our wounds, caring for them at the price of his cross. He places us on his own animal, making us members of his body, that we may share his divine life.
He takes us to an inn, a hospital, a place of safety and health, underwriting our expenses out of his abundant mercy, leaves us in the innkeeper’s care, and promises to settle accounts when he returns again.
Jesus takes the risk of approaching us, even though we assault and nail him to the cross. He dares to draw near, though all too often we treat him as an enemy, and through our thoughts, words, and action we behave as though we hate him.
Jesus spends his resources to heal us and does this freely. His cross is medicine for the world, his flesh and blood our food for eternal life. And all too often we remain unconscious of this grace.
Jesus does this for us, but the story is not yet complete. Do we recover from sin’s assault? Do we ever thank our Samaritan? He acts compassionately, but with no assurance from us. Placed in the inn, we await his return.
Friends, it is in that inn we find ourselves on this Sunday morning. He has made provision for us, above all at the welcome table of this inn, this hospital, this place of safety and health.
May we feast and rejoice, thankful for his mercy, eager for his return. He is our Samaritan.
May we show to others assaulted on life’s road what he shows to us: that risky, spendthrift love which asks no return, the love of a compassionate heart. (Charles Hoffacker) Amen.
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