Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there? He 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.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus 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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Lē’vīte, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He 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. The 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.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Yikes, kids! Today’s a little different than our normal Sunday morning, and this sanctuary is a little different (to say the least) than the Malott Chapel. But even though today’s a little bit different, we have a gospel story that is pretty familiar, isn’t it? The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most well known in all of the Gospels. It’s a story most of us have heard more than once, so at least we have that, here in these more formal and sacred surroundings.
In our Children’s Ministries office, we have folders that contain notes and ideas about the Bible stories we talk about from week to week in Sunday School and chapel. I stuck a post-it note in the Good Samaritan folder several years ago that began “Sometimes we are the Samaritan and sometimes we are the guy who was beaten up.” So when Sarah asked me to talk about this parable from the perspective of the beaten man, I thought that this was a pretty challenging assignment, but I remembered this note and how I’d thought about this perspective from time-to-time. So, here goes.
Early in the Gospel of Luke, we find the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil. After 40 days in the desert with no food and (I’m guessing) very little shelter, the devil comes to Jesus and tempts him to use his divine power to satisfy his human needs and desires. Jesus has the devil by his side showing him all the food, riches, power and glory that could be his here on earth if he’d just bow down and worship him. But Jesus rejects the devil’s temptations, using the word of God found in scripture and stays on the path that God has chosen for him. After 40 days in the wilderness, you can imagine an image of Jesus that looks similar to that poor unfortunate fellow in the ditch by the side of the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.
So, I wonder if Jesus thought about those temptations as he told the parable of the Good Samaritan to the young lawyer who wanted to know how to inherit eternal life. Because, you see, we all live with the devil by our side offering us these same temptations. Though we here at Kenilworth Union are fortunate enough that we don’t often experience a daily struggle for food, many of us spend a lot of our time in pursuit of riches, power and prestige. And, of course, no one is immune, either in our own lives or in the lives of those we treasure, from injury, illness and death.
So, these are the things that can knock us down, that can push us into a ditch by the side of the road and leave us half-dead. As we lie there beaten and bloodied by life, we can see plenty of alternatives on the horizon that we think might be able to help us up. Ambling down the road comes a culture offering healing and happiness just inside the department store or the next party. If we just wear the right jeans or have the coolest phone, we’ll be all set for a life of happiness!
But none of that stuff works, certainly not for very long. Like the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable, these momentary illusions give us false hope when they are on the horizon, but they just keep walking on by and we are still in the ditch.
But then another figure appears on the horizon, a Samaritan, an outsider with a different way and a different message. Rather than the message we see and hear all around us most of the time, this traveler offers us compassion and love. This despised outsider, this rabble-rouser, our radical Jesus, offers his hand to us, to lift us up and deliver us to a place of healing. And if we take his hand and go where he leads us, our lives are saved.
When we hear this parable, I know that it is easy to think of ourselves as the Good Samaritan – the hero. Here on the North Shore with our mission trips, charitable causes and gala benefits, we embrace the idea that we can be the salvation of others less fortunate than we. And don’t get me wrong, those are all good things to do because, as I’ve told you kids so many times before, we are called by Jesus to share the love that God gives to us every day by sharing God’s love with others. But I think it is better, and more accurate, to see ourselves as the ones in the ditch, the ones that are in desperate need of salvation – a salvation that comes by embracing the God that created us – our God that knows us all by name and loves us just the same.
When Jesus asks the lawyer about what is written in the law, in response to his “eternal life” question, the lawyer replies with what we now call The Greatest Commandment – love God with all our heart and soul and strength and mind AND love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus says that there are two things that we are to do to live in harmony with God and in the world that God created for us – LOVE GOD and LOVE OTHERS. So this morning, I urge you to put your faith in that radical Jesus, the one who died a ridiculed, ostracized outsider. Only he can lift you up out of the ditch, bind up the wounds of abundance, vanity, pain and sadness, and bring you the eternal life of God the Father.