Sermons That Work

This Is a Remarkable Story…, Proper 10 (C) – 1998

July 12, 1998

This is a remarkable story. Jesus turns every thing upside down. The man who asked him the critical question was not satisfied with Jesus’ very simple, very clear, and very traditional answer. “ Love God and love your neighbor” is very simple. It is ancient.

The man, though, was not going to settle for that. He wanted to know who is the neighbor that he is to love. He was probably asking the question, “who is deserving of my love? Who is fit to be my neighbor?” The questioner probably asks other questions like, “does tithe mean before or after taxes?” Does this tithe business mean giving the whole thing to the church, or does the United Way count as tithe?”

Sometimes when people ask these sorts of questions they are really asking a question. But at other times people ask these questions trying to justify not doing something that God has commanded. The time honored way to ignore what God commands is to set it up as a legalism. The text is clear that this is precisely what the man asking the question was trying to do. The question, “who is worthy of my love?” is a legalistic question. The man asking was trying to justify ignoring folk who were not deserving. Do any of you remember the phrase, “the deserving.” Do any of your remember the phrase, “the deserving poor.” This was a legalistic phrase. The issue shifts from caring for the poor, one of Jesus’ commandments quite clearly expressed in the 25th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, to who is deserving of receiving care.

Jesus answered the man with a story. The story is very familiar. It is an example to us. First, let us not be trapped into judging the Priest and Levite. They did what they did. Let us not be too concerned with the man who was robbed. His needs were met.

Let us look at what the good man did. First, and foremost, he interrupted his journey to care for the man who was in trouble. Next, he did everything that was required for the wounded man. Finally, he followed it up with a commitment to the inn keeper to assure that the care would continue until it was no longer needed.

Let us examine each of these actions. We can assume that the good man was traveling for a reason, probably a good reason. He had places to go to, things to do and people to see. But, for the sake of the wounded man he interrupted his own journey. Any time the term journey is used, it raises the image of one’s personal progress. We hear people describe their journey in faith or their journey in a career. Journey is even used in reference to one’s life in the phrase, “the journey from the cradle to the grave.” One of the ironies of life is that sometimes, when we interrupt our own journey for the sake of someone else, we find more meaning in the relationship than we have in the personal journey. It may be that a relationship is more important than a journey. When folk marry, one of the things they say, “ is our journey in relationship is more meaningful to us than our individual journeys.”

Next, the good man did what was necessary. One priest in the Pacific Northwest, when asked, “how do you deal with this difficult congregation so well?” said, “I do what ever it takes.” Doing whatever it takes requires sacrifice. Doing whatever it takes requires one to place the best interests of someone else ahead of our own perceived best interests.

Finally, the good man followed up , followed through and made arrangements for the future. One brand new parent asked an old seasoned parent, “how long does this losing sleep with the baby go on?” The old longtime parent said, “at least the next 18 years and probably some more.”

Jesus after telling the story of the good man then asked the question, “who was the neighbor to the man who was wounded?” The question got it. He answered, “the one who showed compassion.” Jesus said, “go and do the same.” Jesus turned the man’s original question on its head. The original question was, “who is fit to be my neighbor?” Jesus answer is “everyone.”

This is really a story about the love of God. God seems to love without any care or concern for who is deserving. As one theologian said, “God has no taste.” In Jesus, God interrupts the normal business of being God and becomes a human being for our sake. God is suddenly personal, immediate and right in the mess with us. It is as if we are the wounded ones beside the road, and God leaves the road to be present with us as one of us. God also did whatever was required. This is the message of the cross. Jesus loved us enough to die for us.

One of our noonday prayers describes that action as “stretching out his loving arms on the hard wood of the cross to draw all into his loving embrace.” He did whatever it required to show us that we are absolutely loved and forgiven.

Finally the Resurrection and Ascension assure that this love is forever and ever.

If Jesus had not given himself fully to heal our woundedness, this story of the Good Samaritan would not make sense to us. But, because he did, the story feels true. You are invited to live in that truth.

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Christopher Sikkema


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