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Another Sermon for Proper 10/Ordinary 14 C The Good Samaritan

May 2, 2016

good sam artHere comes one of those fundamentalists.  Look at the ringlets.  Look at the headgear.  What does he want with me?

Good teacher, what must I do to I inherit eternal life?

What must I do to inherit eternal life?  He asks me that? He’s not some simple soul in search of the truth.  An expert in the law?   Asks me, the worthless vagabond from the North? I bet he’s trying to engage me in some fancy debate.  He doesn’t really want to know anything that’ll change his life.

Why do you ask me? You are an expert in the Law of Moses.   What does the law say? 

 The Law! This lot think it came directly from the mouth of God. All of it. Every one of the 613 commands. Even those bits where God tells them to destroy all foreigners. No wonder they hate the Samaritans so much. These lawyer types divide the whole world into good guys and bad guys.

 What is it that you teach in the synagogue about finding favour with God?

 Well, let me see (scratch chin).  The most succinct form of the law is the Shema which says, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your strength. Oh, and you must love your neighbour as yourself.

So he DOES want to score points in some intellectual sparring match. Well, let’s pursue this argument to its logical conclusion.  Let’s help him to see that it leads to a dead end.  Let’s see if I can help him break out of his legalistic mindset. Let’s take this fundamentalist legalism seriously and show it for what it really is.

So you knew the answer all along.  Do this, fulfil the Law of Moses and you will indeed live for ever.

Live a life slavishly devoted to legalism.  Try to earn God’s favour entirely by your own efforts.

Well, love your neighbour as yourself might mean any number of things.  I have heard several of the great rabbinical interpretations.  What would yours be? If I am to love my neighbour in order to find favour with God, who then is my neighbour?

 I’ll tell you a story.  A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  I don’t need to tell you how treacherous a trip he was making.  And alone!  Well, as you can expect, he was set upon by thieves and beaten to within an inch of his life.  They stole all he had – his robe, his sandals, everything.  He lay naked and bloodied in the dust by the road. As good as dead. A priest came by, hurrying for fear of attack, seeing the naked body he glanced this way and that. He must have suspected a trap. Or he may have thought him already dead. Who can say? Nevertheless he hurried by.

 Well, of course, he would wouldn’t he?Numbers 19: 11-13 prohibits contact with corpses.

 Later, a levite came along. He too was fearful and dared not dilly-dally on so dangerous a journey. These weren’t bad men, mind you, rabbi. Just frightened. As you or I would be.

 Well, not necessarily  frightened. The Levite would be ritually unclean for important services. That would be taking something away from God.Robbing God of the glory he deserves in worship.

 Then, some time later, A Samaritan happened along. Do I need to tell you, rabbi, how much we Jews despise the Samaritan dogs, and they us? No, of course not. Anyway, the surprise here is that the Samaritan risked his life by stopping, by rolling the man over and discovering that he was hovering between life and death. It was the Samaritan who covered his nakedness, dressed his wounds mounted him on his donkey and took him to the nearest inn. He paid in advance the man’s board and medical expenses until his full recovery. I see you scoffing, rabbi. It’s true that it’s too great an act of mercy to believe, especially of a Samaritan but give me some license. If it were true, which of the three men who encountered the beaten man on the road, was a neighbour to him?

 Well, maybe we have given the Samaritans a hard time. After all, there was no Jew and Samaritan when we were oppressed in Egypt. It wasn’t until we settled down in Israel when Rehoboam became king and surrounded himself with yes-men. When he lost touch with the common people. and soon had a civil war on his hands. It’s not surprising that the North broke away and established Samaria as a rival to Jerusalem as capital city.

 This man is cleverer than I thought. There can only be one response. The most obvious one. What is he going to make of the answer? I can’t second-guess what he’ll say.

 Why, the one who showed mercy on him.

 Do this and you will live.

 He’s just led me down a dead end. I asked him what I must do to live for ever. He agreed that I must love my neighbour as myself. Then I asked him who my neighbour was and he told me a story in which my neighbour is everyone I encounter with a need. So if I want eternal life I must meet the needs of everyone I come across.

 I wonder what he’s thinking now. I agreed with him if you want to find favour with a perfect God you must behave perfectly. I pointed out the implications. To live perfectly is to love your neighbour that can’t be confined to your friends, your relatives and those you like. It must spill over to everyone you encounter.

 Loving your neighbour involves great risk, great cost, great sacrifice. If I would find God’s favour and live for ever I must love my neighbour. actively seek to meet the needs of every person I encounter. Why, that’s impossible. I can’t even begin to meet the needs of my immediate family. my close friends, let alone every person I meet. I simply don’t have enough time , enough energy, enough motivation, enough love. It would be physically and emotionally beyond my capacity to do so. impossible.

 I hope he’s understood it now. Perhaps I should have been more careful. You know what these fundamentalists are like. Perhaps he’ll turn my story into another law. When he heard me say, Go and do likewise he must have thought ‘It’s impossible’ And that’s the point. You can’t DO anything to earn God’s favour. God cannot be bought. Human beings, by their very nature, cannot hope to impress God by their ability to jump through various legal hoops. Yet they try. Ever since our forebears left Egypt they tried to do a deal with God Get a contract. If we sacrifice so many goats every week, if we pray, if we don’t oppress the poor God will protect our king, our nation. He will make our land fertile, protect us from natural disasters. They constantly needed reminding that the God of Israel is not the God of contract. he’s the God of covenant, of promise.

I asked him WHO my neighbour was. He told me HOW I was to love him. But I can’t. It’s as if he was telling me how……. How GOD loves us. God loves us like that Samaritan. God’s love is extravagant. Like a mother who loves her kids whether they’ve earned it or not. responds to their needs, drops her own plans. responds to whatever happens regardless of the time it will take regardless of what other people think regardless of the law. A mother’s love goes way beyond a neighbour’s And God’s love goes way beyond that. So God is like our mother only better. We can’t earn this sort of love.

 I’m confused. If this guy’s right, I’ve been living the wrong way for years. I didn’t need to put all that effort into good works.

 Jesus’s story isn’t about what we are supposed to do. It’s about what God is like. He’s like a mother who goes out of her  way to love us, unconditionally. But aren’t we made in the image of God? So shouldn’t we be like that Samaritan too?

 If we try, we’ll get burnt out Scripture says: No man can see God and live. So if we try to be a good Samaritan we’ll burn out.

 Scripture also says:It’s an awesome thing to fall into the hands of the living God. So it is.  If that’s what he demands.

 But then again, scripture says: In God we live and move and have our being. So we should be like him Perhaps, if we do the Good Samaritan thing now and again Not because we have tonot in our own strength….but in his as he lives and moves through us when a situation particularly presents itself to us when we discern that he’s calling us uniquely us to it then we are doing his will. he calls us each of us in different directions and he gives us his strength to do it. Now that’s something to think about.

(NB The priest and levite were going DOWN from Jerusalem – so they weren’t going UP to serve in the temple and thus seeking to avoid ritual impurity.)

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