By the Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
July 15, 2007
Read: Luke 10:25-37
The Jericho Road. It happened on the Jericho Road. It always happens on the Jericho Road. The Jericho Road is the seventeen mile road that connects Jerusalem to Jericho. That road drops 3600 feet in those seventeen miles. It is a steep, winding, descending, remote road that for centuries has been a place of robberies.
It always happens on the Jericho Road. It is the seventeen miles of violence and oppression. It is the strip of suffering. The Jericho Road is a symbol for suffering in our world. The Jericho Road is the seventeen rooms of the ICU in the hospital, it is a place of suffering. The Jericho Road is the seventeen floors of the Projects in any city; it is a place of family violence. It is the seventeen mile border between warring nations, recently between Nicaragua and El Salvador, Israel and Palestine, where thousands and thousands of people have been killed. The Jericho Road is the seventeen years that my cousin Johnnie wandered the streets after coming home from Vietnam. The Jericho Road is the seventeen years that Ada’s daughter took care of her when she had a heart disease. The Jericho Road is any place where there is suffering, violence, oppression; where people are robbed of their dignity, robbed of their love, robbed of their food, robbed of their freedom. The Jericho Road is always with us.
Jesus tells us a story about the Jericho road. A parable after the lawyer asks him the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Now a lawyer is usually a smart person, with a well-trained mind. He is logical but also imaginative; he can make connections between seemingly unrelated facts and still root out the inconsistencies when other people try to do the same thing. He is concerned with the law, if not with justice, and with drawing the line between right and wrong. Finally, because this lawyer is following Jesus around, he must be hungry for God, and wants to know what a life of faith will require of him.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he asks Jesus. And who doesn’t want to know that? Who doesn’t want that? Life with no end, life with no death. For some people, eternal life means heaven, the jackpot at the end of the rainbow, but to hear Jesus talk about it, eternal life also means hitting the jackpot NOW; eternal life means enjoying a “depth and breadth and sweetness of life” (B. Brown) that is available right this minute and not only after we have breathed our last. But then, if you believe that, how do you get it? What must we do to experience it? That is the question the lawyer is asking.
And Jesus doesn’t give an answer, he asks a question. And the lawyer responds with the “right” answer. “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”. And Jesus says, “Do this, and you will live”.
But then the lawyer thinks about all those people he encounters on his way to work. He thinks about the morning’s headlines and about the handful of letters that will be waiting for him at the office, asking for assistance. He thinks about all those people on his books who can’t afford to pay him what they owe him. And so the lawyer does what any good lawyer does, he tries to justify himself and asks Jesus to define his terms. “And who is my neighbor?”
What the lawyer is really asking is who is NOT my neighbor? Who may I legitimately set outside my concern and still feel good about myself? Where may I draw the line?
And Jesus responds with the Jericho Road story…the story we know as the Good Samaritan. Jesus has recently left the town of Samaria where he was rejected. Rejected as a Jew whose “face was set” to go to Jerusalem. This would have been the perfect opportunity to make all Samaritans look bad….after all he was rejected….but he didn’t. Instead on that Jericho Road, on the strip that we all know well…that strip of pain and suffering in our lives…Jesus detailed the compassion of one who has known what is feels like to be rejected.
You may have noticed that Jesus didn’t really answer the lawyer’s question. The question is “Who is my neighbor?”. But the question Jesus answers is, “Whose neighbor are you?” And the answer is: anyone’s. Everyone’s. Jesus declines to put limitations on the commandment of love and lets the lawyer decide how he will act on it.
Can we imagine ourselves as the victim in this story? The one in the ditch, a ditch of our own making? Can we imagine that, in our carelessness, with our foolish choices, in our sinfulness, we have managed to get ourselves into a difficult place, where we are as good as dead? Can we suppose that we have wandered far from God—perhaps by trying to tell God who is neighbor and who is not, perhaps by ignoring God in our desire to live life on our own terms? Can we suppose that we have wandered far from God, and are in danger of losing our lives to the power of sin that has attacked us and left us, gasping for life, in the ditch?
And then along comes—help? No, along comes the one we have made an enemy! Along comes the God we have ignored and offended. And what does this Lord of all do?
Well, this God does the unexpected. Rather than killing us or leaving us to die, God tends to our wounds, and gives everything imaginable to bring us back to life. In fact, this God, embodied in Jesus Christ, crawls right in the ditch with us, and will, indeed, be beaten and stripped and left fully dead.
What do you think? Does that sound farfetched?
Not if the one who stops, and helps and crawls in the ditch with us is Jesus. Jesus already made it clear what he’s all about. He’s on the way to Jerusalem, where he will give his all—even his life—to forgive us and heal us and give us life!
Notice that Jesus doesn’t end this story. We don’t know what becomes of the victim once he is left in the hands of the innkeeper in Jericho. Perhaps we are intended to finish the story with our own lives? When we receive life from Jesus, what will we do with it? Will we keep it for ourselves and a few people who seem deserving? Or will we, like Jesus, ignore the boundaries, see all as our neighbor, and reach out in mercy to the one who’s in the same ditch we’ve been in ourselves. That ditch along the Jericho Road.
Jesus says to us even now, today, “follow me. And go, do likewise” Amen.
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