Scripture: Luke 10:25-42
There are well known stories in the Bible, and then there are well known stories in the Bible!
The parable of the Good Samaritan is probably the most well known story Jesus tells. There are Good Samaritan laws in place, which protect individuals from being sued because they stop to help someone in need. We call people Good Samaritans because they are helpful, you see the name used in the news and other places regularly.
The challenge of looking at this story is that people will think they’ve got it all figured out and there’s nothing else to know. This is a danger we can face when we don’t let the Holy Spirit reveal something new to us each time we pick up our Bibles.
We want to carefully read our Bibles, trying to ignore our preconceived notions as to what it means just because we heard some preacher say something that one time. It’s when we carefully read our Bibles that God can speak to us in a new way about how we interpret, how we see ourselves in the story, and how the story impacts us not just as readers, but as people who want to learn and live out the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Most certainly the story of the Good Samaritan has a lot to say about how someone lives their life as a follower of Jesus.
The situation begins with an expert of the law asking Jesus a question. Now an expert in the law is a scribe. Jesus seems to encounter a lot of scribes in his journeys. The scribe is asking what it takes to gain eternal life. He wants a checklist of items telling him, step-by-step, what it takes to get into heaven.
Jesus, of course, turns it back on him asking what it is the law says. He’s the expert, so what does he read?
The scribe states something we’ve heard before, he says, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)
Jesus says, “Yup, that’s it. Do it.”
But because the scribe is seeking a checklist, he needs to know which people he needs to love. So he asks, “Who is my neighbour?” He doesn’t want to waste his time loving people he doesn’t need to love.
This launches Jesus into a story about a man who is travelling a dangerous road out of Jerusalem. He encounters some bandits who beat him and strip him, steal all his belongings, and leave him there to die.
As he lies there dying on the side of the road, naked and alone, 3 people pass by.
Now the traditional story-telling technique the scribe and the rest of the crowd is used to is the following pattern of passers-by: priest, levite, scribe. Sort of working down the hierarchy of the temple and the authorities. Also, when there is someone in danger, the third visitor is always the hero.
So, as Jesus is telling the story the scribe is looking ahead; he is seeing the familiar pattern unfold, and he’s going to be the hero!
Jesus tells how the priest passes by. And then the levite. Here comes the third, we know it’s going to be the hero… it’s a “Sssssssssamaritan!”
This would invoke a reaction from the crowd. Jesus probably heard a few gasps, and I suspect the scribe would look a bit shocked right now.
Why is this?
Simply put, the Jews and the Samaritans hate each other. These are two nations which are supposed to be close. In fact they used to be all Israelites, but the nation split apart around the time of King David, and they can’t stand each other. They actually spend time and energy actively trying to discredit, and even destroy, each other’s reputation.
This hatred goes far deeper than trying to pit a Habs fan against a Leafs fan. This is two nations at war, even it if isn’t war in a traditional sense with armies and battles. It’s a war of values that goes back for many, many generations.
This story of the Good Samaritan comes at a very interesting time in the life of Jesus.
If you were with us on Ash Wednesday, you heard Luke 9:51-62 read. In that passage Jesus approached a Samaritan village, but before he got there he was told the Samaritans don’t want him. He was not welcome in their town. The response of his disciples speak to the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. James and John say, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Luke 9:54) Jesus won’t allow it though.
So it’s pretty clear, that not long before Jesus tells this parable, there is still great animosity towards the Samaritans. We get a hint of this when the scribe can’t even say the word “Samaritan” when Jesus asks him who is the hero of the story. The scribe can only say, “The one who showed mercy.”
The Samaritan is a most unlikely source to learn about love and mercy.
So, when the scribe proudly asked his question of Jesus, he thought he was going to get off the hook, that it would be easy and straight-forward. He thought that nothing would need to change for him. Maybe he even thought Jesus would point to him and say, “Be like that guy, he’s got it all figured out!”
But it wasn’t to be that way. Instead Jesus offers a challenge that will be hard for them to follow. Everyone you meet is your neighbour, whether they are your friend or your enemy. And in every case, you love them as much as God loves you.
Being a good neighbour can look different at times.
When we have funeral receptions here in the church, often we ask the family what they want to take home with them as far as leftovers from the table goes. Usually what they tell me is, “Nooo, we have no room for any more food in the house!”
And they aren’t lying. Often their fridges are full, their deep freezers are full, the counters are full, all with the food people bring them when word spreads about the death of a loved one.
This is pretty much an automatic response for people. Someone dies? Bring a casserole. They can use it. The families are very thankful for this act of generosity. But I can say that it’s also overwhelming at times when they try to figure out what to do with everything that’s dropped off. By the way, I’m not suggesting we stop this practice.
But what about more complex situations. What about if we’re driving down the road and we see someone in need? What if someone is hurt?
It’s interesting when you look at the reaction of the good Samaritan. This man took on great personal risk by stopping. The robbers could have been lurking in the bushes, waiting to attack the next person to come along. The man could take advantage of the generosity. When he took him, and left him at the inn, who’s to say he couldn’t have raided the minibar and drove up the costs of the stay by making all kinds of long distance phone calls and ordering pay-per-view movies?
But he was willing to take on this risk to show love to his neighbour, even if he was a stranger.
Let’s take a look at the second encounter in our scripture reading today. The story of Jesus stopping in to see Mary and Martha.
Hospitality towards company is very important in the culture of Jesus’ day. As a visitor, he needs to be provided a good meal, possibly even a place to sleep.
So when Jesus comes in, Martha begins to work on these preparations, but when she looks for her helper, Mary is no where to be found in the kitchen.
Where is she? She’s sitting and listening to Jesus.
In this encounter, we have the struggle between what is right to do in terms of cultural expectations versus a desire to learn from a master; and also to do what feels right.
Would Jesus like to have a good meal after a long day of walking and doing ministry? Sure he would! Can he wait a little longer? I think he’s saying he can.
This story has been used to judge women unfairly. It says they need to do this or that, that maybe they should be in the kitchen, or that they are too obsessed with preparations. All sorts of things have been said out of this story. A lot of which is unhelpful in understanding what is important.
Here’s what I think we can get out of this story.
Do we get distracted from the work of ministry so much that we forget to come back to the source of our ministry?
Mary took the time to sit and listen to what Jesus had to teach in her own home. This is an opportunity that would happen rarely. So she jumped at the chance to listen and learn from Jesus.
Martha decided to do the important work of preparing a feast for her guests.
We all need our Martha’s right?
But Mary reminds us there is a source for what we do and why we do it.
There is a lot of work we can be doing as followers of Jesus Christ in our community. I’m sure if I asked everyone one of you to list the things the church should be doing today, and of all of you here, I’d have at least 30 different answers, at least!
So how do we know what to do? How do we choose from all these opinions, all these options we have before us?
We sit at the feet of Jesus.
We submit to his authority, because he is the Son of God who knows how the world works, but also knows the plans of his Father in heaven for how the world should work.
Cultural expectations are one thing. You could argue that Martha is loving her neighbour by taking the time to prepare a meal. But it’s also an opportunity that will still exist later.
We all need to learn to sit at the feet of Jesus once in a while. We need to sit down from the busyness we find ourselves in the middle of and take time to listen to our Lord and Saviour. What does he have to say to us?
How do we do this?
We read the Bible. We pray. We actually stop and listen intentionally to God in prayer and we trust that He will share His plans for us.
It’s when we do these things that we will gain a better understanding of how God wants us to serve.
If we want to know how to love our neighbour, then pray about it. If we don’t know what to do for all of our neighbours in Cape Breton; our neighbours who are poor or hungry, our neighbours who are cold, our neighbours with addiction or health issues… then we need to listen to God in prayer.
Jesus himself took time to pray every day for direction from God. We see it often in the Bible where it says Jesus went off by himself to pray. What was he doing? He was listening to God for direction. And we can do the same thing.
It’s so easy to get distracted from living a life of faith by making ourselves busy with things we think are important. We do this well. In fact, I’m really good at this.
But it boils down to: where do we get our priorities from?
Do they come from the culture around us, or do they come from God?
Which is the more important source?
Now, when you think about it, the scribe asks a very good question. He asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The problem, I think, is that he wasn’t looking for an answer. He was looking for validation for what he was already doing!
But he didn’t get it.
Instead, he received a lesson on what it means to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and how to love your neighbour as yourself.
In a way, you can wonder just how much he loves God with if he’s coming with a preconceived notion of what the answer should be.
He is a scribe after all. He is an expert on the Laws of God. People come to him if they have questions about what things means according to God’s Law. And when they come, he tells them what the Law says, and what they need to do to please God.
The scribe has incredible knowledge about the Laws of God.
But does he have a heart for God? Is he confusing this knowledge of God with something he thinks could be love for God?
The two things are very different as Jesus shows us in the parable of the Good Samaritan. If the Laws are followed by the way society interprets them, then the man dies alone and naked on a wilderness road.
God wants us to act with a heart of love and mercy, which means sometimes we take on a great personal risk to help someone in need.
Now, we don’t need to go out of church this morning and start giving all our money away to say we’re helping people. Helping people looks differently with each circumstance. Sometimes it might mean a financial risk. Other times, most times, it could simply mean we need to open our hearts and let someone in so they can feel less alone. Broken hearts can heal.
Whatever it is we see in our neighbours, we need to be able to sit at the feet of Jesus to hear what he has to say into our lives as God’s servants. When we are listening for God in our lives, then we are better able to serve.
If we’re better able to serve as children of God, then we can better love our neighbours as ourselves.
Jesus wants to speak into our lives. He wants us to know the love and mercy of God personally.
Are we willing to sit at his feet and let him teach us?
Are we willing to take to heart this love he offers us and then take that love out into the world around us?
To be perfectly honest, we have to ask ourselves, “Do we have a choice?”
Remember, the correct answer to “What do I need to do to inherit eternal life?” hinges on our ability to love God and follow Jesus and love to our neighbours.
Sit at the feet of Jesus. Let him speak God’s love and direction into your life. This is a gift we are offered. A gift which will change the way we live, and can even change the world for our neighbours, giving life where there is no life to be found and hope where there is hopelessness.
My friends, we are children of God, sitting at the feet of Jesus, learning love and mercy as we go.
And as we do, we learn about God’s passion for His creation. His passion for us. We grow in our understanding, which draws us closer; loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.
It also helps us see our neighbours, friends and foes, who need God’s love in their lives, as we too are loved by God.
Let us pray,
Thank you for showing us how to live. We ask you to speak into our lives so that we may know how you would have us live. Speak so that we may offer love and mercy to those who need it, beginning with our own selves as we hear this love for us.
Jesus, may we see those in need who are our neighbours, and as a people, as a church, may we respond in love and mercy, as you have shown us love and mercy again and again.
We pray this in your most holy name. Amen and amen.