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Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost (2019)

Jul 14, 2019

Passage: Luke 10:25-37

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Series: Sermons for Year C (2018-2019)

Detail:

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (2019)
July 14th, 2019
St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel)

Amos 7:7-17      Colossians 1:1-14      Luke 10:25-37

 

Context is everything. As with so many of the lessons we get from scripture, what we learn from scripture depends greatly on our understanding what’s going on in the background. Understanding the context helps us not only to gain a better understanding of what’s going on in scripture - it prevents us from settling for a simplistic reading of scripture. There’s a great example of what I’m talking about that has been making the rounds through the internet. It’s a picture of a page from one of those novelty day calendars, where each page has a snippet of scripture that’s supposed to be a sort of inspiration for the day. The quote on one of these pages is from Luke 4: 7, and it says, “All this will I give you if you fall down and worship me.” If you only know that this saying is taken from scripture, you might be left thinking that the meaning is that God will reward those who worship him, but if you look at the context of the passage, then you know that this particular quote is a line spoken by Satan in the context of the temptations that Jesus faces right after his baptism. So, again, context is everything. 

The same is true for the parable of the Good Samaritan. We know this parable as a sort of lesson in being kind to others, and there’s nothing wrong with thinking that that’s the point of the parable. But if we look at the context of the parable itself, there’s more going on than perhaps we’d like to admit. Because the parable of the Good Samaritan was told for a reason. And it wasn’t just to drive home the point that we should be kind to each other. 

Have a look again at why Jesus told the parable. As the Gospel tells us, he was being challenged by a lawyer. The lawyer wants to know what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus gives him a straightforward answer: love God and love your neighbor. But the lawyer presses the issue by asking who is his neighbor. And this question is what prompts Jesus to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan. So really the parable is not just about showing kindness to others and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It’s about who our neighbor is in the first place. 

Now, briefly, one of the things that we know about the context of the world in which Jesus lived and taught is that Samaritans were not viewed in a positive light by Jews. And vice versa. Most members of the Jewish community in which Jesus lived and taught would have seen the Samaritans as half-breeds and totally unworthy to be counted among God’s chosen people. And the Samaritans would have seen the Jews of their day as arrogant usurpers of tradition. Both viewed the other as complete outsiders, and the notion that Jews and Samaritans could be neighbors would have been scandalous to most people from either group. So the parable’s impact is more about who shows mercy than it is about simply showing kindness. And the point of the parable is to drive home the teaching that we are supposed to show kindness to others no matter what we might have been lead to believe about how unworthy they are.

Now, I happen to think that Jesus’ parables are not just odd illustrations that were applicable only in the context of life in first century Palestine.  If we’re willing to pay attention, then it’s easy to see that this parable has the same power and punch-in-the-gut feel now as it did back then. Because it challenges us - even in our own 21st century context - to come up with an answer for “who is my neighbor in the first place?”  And the answer we hear, right down to this day - and the key lesson from the parable - is that everyone is your neighbor. Even those whom we’d rather hate. That’s the lesson; not simply “be kind to everyone.” The lesson is that if we want to be serious about loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves, then we have to get over our hatred of whomever we’d like to perceive as outsiders; in order to see that even outsiders are capable of showing the kind of mercy that we’d expect of those who are supposed to be God’s chosen and exceptional people.

So I’d like to retell this parable in a modern context. I’ll add that what I’m going to say here is deliberately provocative, in much the same way that what Jesus said was provocative for the Jews who heard the parable when it was first told by Jesus.

An American was traveling from to Laredo to San Antonio when he fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a preacher was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a congressman, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But an illegal immigrant from El Salvador while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds. Then he put him in his own car, and brought him to a hospital. 

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"  If your answer is, ”The one who showed him mercy." then the challenge is, "Go and do likewise.” 

We have, in our own modern context, a unique opportunity to appreciate the timelessness of this teaching of Jesus. We have an opportunity to chip away at the barriers that we might want to create for ourselves so that we can understand that showing mercy is far more important than creating barriers against those whom we might think are undeserving of mercy. Or at the very least, we have the unique opportunity to acknowledge that not all those whom we think of as outsiders are incapable of being our neighbors. 

Because I suggest the alternative is living with a worldview that discounts the humanity of the outsider and doubles down on the notion that only a select few are capable of being our neighbor. And if this is the alternative we choose, then I think we’d need to accept an alternative reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan that would fit such a context. And such a parable might sound like this: 

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 Levite, 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 decided that the road was too dangerous and it would be best if he kept to himself, so he passed by. Later on, another traveler was walking along the road. And he fell into the hands of robbers who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. And everyone who saw it passed by. And no one did anything. And the pile of bodies continued to grow.

So the question remains for us: which version of the parable will define our generation? 

God save us.