a sermon, based on Luke 10.25-37, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, July 10, 2016
A story told repeatedly over time can lose its power to arrest our attention. We, in effect, don’t hear it. Or perhaps more true, we know the story so well that when it is told once again our minds race ahead to the end. We, in fact, don’t need to hear it. But an old story can be like a diamond; lovely and, handed down from long ago, treasured, but no longer noticed, until we turn it, exposing to our view a facet hitherto unseen.
Let us listen to the ancient Parable of the Good Samaritan and, at the same time, look at the world around us and its often gritty reality and perhaps through this diamond in the rough hear and see something new.
First, I digress with a couple of prefatory points…
Jesus and the lawyer’s discussion about eternal life is neither an argument nor friendly banter about abstract ideas. The issue of eternity embraces the meaning, the point and purpose, the direction and destiny of this life – a most important matter…
Moreover, Jesus, at this stage of his ministry, is believed by many to be the Messiah. And, as ancient Judaism made no distinction between civil and religious law, the lawyer is a scriptural scholar. This is no ordinary conversation, but a testy verbal contest with ever-sharpening points and counterpoints between theological heavyweights.
Yet as suddenly as the debate begins, it’s over. Jesus and the lawyer agree that loving God, neighbor, and self is the means and the mark of eternal life. Love is the pathway to eternity and the proof one has arrived.
However, the lawyer, on second thought, raises that ages-old controversy about identity and boundaries, inclusion and exclusion: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells a story about a man, though unidentified, undoubtedly a Jew, beaten, left for dead, ignored by two passing religious authorities, finally cared for by a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans shared a historic hatred. So, it’s shocking the Samaritan is the hero of the tale. Yet this disturbing detail underscored the point that everyone is a neighbor.
Neighbors are not born within a particular national boundary, community, ethnic group, social class, or family. Neighbors don’t come in particular colors, share particular bloodlines, or speak with particular accents. A neighbor is anyone who is human. And, again, not born, but rather made. We make neighbors by being neighbors. The lawyer asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers, “Be a neighbor. Be merciful to all.”
This familiar, fairly standard interpretation of this parable probably doesn’t surprise, much less shock us. It doesn’t arrest our attention or draw us to the edge of our seats in anticipation. It rings with a theoretical universalism, Be good to everybody, ever floating on the thin air of abstraction, never landing on the terra firma of our concrete daily reality.
So, as I suggested earlier, let us turn this parabolic diamond to behold a new facet, listening to this story in light of this world. A world rife with the discord of disunion; where individuals, communities, and nations quickly divide one from another by color and culture, history and ideology, purpose and policy; where long-lived conflicts among peoples spin in ever-tightening cycles of argument and assault, violence and vengeance, signs of which we witnessed in horror this past week, often far beyond the reach of human memory to recall the first cause; where the drumbeat of continued conflict is deafening, terror ever-threatening, death tolls beyond counting.
In this light or rather shadow, let us read, reimagine this parable looking through the eyes of perhaps the least talked about main character. The one who was robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Much is rightly made of the virtuous neighborliness of the Samaritan who cared for the man, a Jew, in spite of the ancestral antipathy between Samaritans and Jews. But I wonder how that man felt in being helped by that Samaritan. Jesus tells the story without mention of the man’s reaction and it’s easy to assume he was grateful. In his moment of gravest need, help came and he was glad. But what if he wasn’t? What if he looked up in horrified disbelief into the face of that Samaritan, not only shocked a Samaritan would render aid, but also hating even the idea of it? What if he thought, what if he said, “Don’t you dare touch me! I’d rather die than be helped by you!”?
If so, then this strikes me as less abstract and more real. More like the way the world often is…
If so, then perhaps this story, in which we can behold a reflection of a facet of our humanity we might prefer to ignore or deny, once again can arrest our attention…
If so, then we might ask, “What must we do to inherit eternal life?” Not some pie-in-the-sky-notion-of-where-we-go-when-we-die eternal life, but rather our discerning anew, grasping afresh the meaning of our lives now, today…
If so, then it seems to me we might come full circle, for I believe life’s point and purpose, direction and destiny is found in the depth of our connection, our love, our neighborliness with ourselves, with others, all others, which then proves that we are connected with God.
Illustration: The Good Samaritan (1890), Museum Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
 An old adage, variously worded and ascribed to many, advises that “the preacher should preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other” (or perhaps in this day and time, cybertext!). I aver that the same principle applies to both clergy and laity, thus counseling all to read and listen to scripture whilst looking at the world.
 An allusion to the fatal shootings by police of two black men, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA, on July 5 and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, MN, on July 6 and on July 7 in Dallas, TX, a sniper’s assault on police officers, wounding 12 and killing 5, during a Black Lives Matter protest demonstration.