I would suggest that, if you know anything about the New Testament,
you would be able to tell the story of the Good Samaritan without even looking at the text.
But, like any other piece of Holy Scripture, there is always something more in this
living Word of God than we learned in Sunday School –
just because we are listening to it with today’s ears;
sifted through the various experiences we’ve had in our own lives.
By this time in Luke’s narrative, the Jewish officials have already begun to worry about Jesus and his teachings.
They haven’t finalized a plot to do away with him yet.
But they’ve begun to gather information that they are sure will be helpful when that time comes.
And so, in today’s Gospel, a lawyer stands up to test Jesus.
This is not the attorney we think of today.
He’s not standing up to question Jesus.
This is a lawyer in what we would call today Canon Law, not Civil or Criminal law.
He was adept at arguing cases based upon the Scriptures.
And what we, at first glance, hear as a question; Luke tells us is a TEST!
What must I do to inherit eternal life?
Literally, the Greek wording is: “Teacher, I will inherit eternal life having done or acquired what?”
Jesus, turning the question on the lawyer asks TWO questions:
“What is written in the Law,” and “What do YOU read there?”
This reminds us that the Word of God is a LIVING Word.
Yes, there are words written down which do not change.
But, we all know that every time we read the scriptures, they say
something to us NOW that they may not have said before.
And every person of faith who reads the scriptures,
because of their own experiences of faith and life, will hear the Word as it applies to their own life;
and that may be very different from how another hears it.
The lawyer answers Jesus the way any Jewish person from the time of Moses to today would answer.
"Sh'ma Israel, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echod."
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
You shall love the Lord your God out of all your heart
and with all your soul; with all your strength; and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
To which Jesus says, “Yep! That’s the right answer!
Do this, and you will live.
The lawyer could have ended the discussion there.
But remember, he’s there to test Jesus and also, Luke tells us, to justify himself.
So, assuming that he has always loved his neighbor as much as he’s loved himself,
he asks Jesus, “So who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replies with a story.
Now, if you visit the Holy Land today and take one of the official Bible tours,
your tour guide will most likely take you to a spot I visited on my tour.
On the road today from Jerusalem to Jericho, there is a building marked “The Samaritan’s Inn.”
It was just an empty mud-brick building when I was there.
But it was also the place where you could get your picture taken riding a Bedouin’s camel.
The significance is that the story Jesus told has become so real that some place had to be built
to remember the story.
But the story might have just as well began, “Once upon a time…….a man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho.”
Jerusalem is at a higher elevation. Jerusalem is built on a series of hills.
And the road to Jericho, not that far away, yet in the desert, does actually go “down.”
This is Jewish territory, in the province of Judea.
It’s only logical that a priest and a Levite could, “by chance,” be travelling on that road.
But there were just as obviously robbers who would be on that road taking advantage of
rich people who were travelling alone.
So, “the man” (assume here Jesus is talking about a Jewish man) fell into
the hands of robbers who stripped him of anything valuable, beat him so that he
could not follow them, and left him there half-dead.
This would have been a familiar story to the lawyer so far.
What comes next is a surprise.
First came the priest and the Levite.
Now all priests were descendants of the tribe of Levi but not all Levites were priests.
Levites of Jesus’ day assisted the priests in the temple.
The one thing they had in common was that they were not to be landowners.
They were to depend on the tithes paid by all the other tribes to support
the Temple and the Temple’s caretakers.
If you think about the incident where Jesus upset the tables of the
moneychangers in the Temple, you get the idea that both the priests and the
Levites (who were probably some of the moneychangers) didn’t have a hard life.
They were not only looked up to by the public as learned men, they were probably some of the wealthiest.
One of the many ritual laws was that a bloody person was unclean.
And so, it’s not at all unreasonable that the priest and the Levite passed the man by
on the other side of the road.
It’s not that they didn’t notice him.
Jesus makes it clear in the story that “THEY SAW HIM.”
They just didn’t do anything for him.
It’s almost as though Jesus is treating them as no better than the robbers.
Then comes the Samaritan.
When the Samaritan sees the man, Jesus tells us, “he was filled with compassion.”
(A much better translation than “pity.”)
In fact, the Gospels only use this word in two other cases.
When Jesus sees a mother about to bury her only son, he has compassion.
And, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, when the father sees his son returning, the father has compassion.
Having compassion on the man, the Samaritan treats his wounds with wine and oil;
bandaging his wounds, he puts him on his own animal and takes him to an inn
where he takes care of him and gives the innkeeper money with a promise of more money on his return trip.
Remember that this whole discussion started when the lawyer asked Jesus, “who is my neighbor.”
Once again, Jesus turns the discussion around and asks the lawyer,
“who was neighbor to the man who was beaten and robbed?”
And when the lawyer identifies the Samaritan,
Jesus answers his first question, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life,”
with the instruction to the lawyer, “go and do what the Samaritan did.
I am sure that the lawyer was disappointed.
Jesus had given him a clear answer to his questions.
On the one hand, it was obvious even to him that it was the Samaritan who loved his neighbor as himself.
But, darn it, why did it have to be a Samaritan?
Samaritan were half-breeds.
They didn’t acknowledge the Temple in Jerusalem.
In the chapel of my seminary, there was a beautiful triptych.
The center panel was of the crucifixion.
The two side panels told the story of the Good Samaritan.
The painter’s intention was to tell the worshipper that Jesus identifies with the Samaritan,
not only because the Samaritan had compassion, but also because Jesus, like all of the Samaritans,
was despised by his own people, his own family.
Jesus identifies with the outcast, the sinner and the Samaritan
because they have known what it is like to be judged punished.
They know what it is like to be “them” and not “us.”
It is through a lowly young girl that the Messiah is born.
It is through a bunch of rough fishermen and a tax collector that the Gospel will be spread.
It is through a condemned criminal that the whole world will be changed.
A Samaritan was the last person a Jew would ask for help.
In fact, the Mishnah stated: “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like the one who eats the flesh of swine.”
Yet Jesus tells the lawyer to be like a Samaritan when his life’s road
crosses the roads of the beaten and bruised ones of life.
There are two things we must do now in light of this Gospel reading.
First, we must admit to God that there have been plenty of times in our lives when we,
like the priest and the Levite, have not had compassion on the needy.
Whether out of fear or the busyness of life or just keeping our eyes and
ears to focused on our cell phones and ipads;
there have been many times we have not stopped and done something for those in need.
And for this, we must ask God’s forgiveness.
The second thing we must do is oh so much more important.
We must take time to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Each and every one of us have to take the time to commit ourselves to be like the Samaritan, like Jesus himself. Yes, in small ways as those opportunities come to us day by day.
But today, each one of us needs to pledge to God that we will take the first step to work for justice.
Begin to research how I can help the poor, the hungry, the homeless;
those in prison; the illiterate; women in Afganistan; children suffering from
Malaria in Africa; gay people being imprisoned in Russia and in Uganda;
Palestinians who are cut off from their livelihood by walls and checkpoints;
children in hospitals and parents who mourn their children taken away from them by drug addiction.
Find a PASSION. And then, be compassionate.
And you will find life becomes so much closer to eternal life when you do.