I preached on the parable of the man on the road, and the Samaritan who cares for him this morning. The Gospel text is Luke 10:25-37.
When I was growing up, I was incredibly independent.
I could do it all by myself. Or at least, that’s what I wanted to be able to do. I could handle any conflict, any haircut, any style choice, any handwriting, anything, really, all by myself.
When I was ten. You name it, I had it DOWN.
Now, of course we know that was not true.
Spats with my sister always got me in bigger trouble than her, because she still, to this day, knows how to press my buttons the best. Haircuts might be a little skewed, slanted, or short, and so I might walk around with bangs that left me looking surprised for a month. My sense of style remains to be anomalous and quirky, and my handwriting is still illegible.
I had a sign over my bed growing up “get help” that was it. It was there to remind me that I didn’t have to do it all on my own. We celebrate independence as a virtue, but it can just as often get us into trouble.
When John and I were in the road to my parents on Easter afternoon, we realized we had a flat tire. We were fortunate that we were stopped at a gas station, and after trying to put air in it, but realizing it was still hissing at us we called AAA. It was going to be an hour, waiting in South Carolina. We had all the tools, but we were in my car, and had never changed a tire on a Volkswagen before, so, there were some things we weren’t sure about. And I was still in my Easter dress.
A man pulled up, and helped us get everything changed and back on the road. He was on his way back from the grocery store. His wife even called him asking him where he was, I’m sure he had family waiting back at the house, but stopped to help a couple of strangers in need.
He didn’t ask for anything in return, though I did offer to take a photo so he could prove to his wife why he was late. And I had a spare loaf of banana bread in the car, and felt like giving it to him in thanks. We were able to continue in our journey, because he stopped to take time out of his day, to help us.
The Samaritan in the parable in today’s gospel reading stopped to take time out of his day to help someone in dire need. We’ve all heard this story. Everyone knows it, or at least is affected by it.
We have Good Samaritan laws to protect folks who help others. We have hospitals that are named after the Good Samaritan. We’ve been in Sunday school classes and vacation bible school lessons, and journeys to find our neighbors.
We know all about neighbors.
We have heard that the Priest and the Levite were afraid of becoming ceremonially unclean, and that is why they passed by on the other side of the road.
I’ve heard entire sermons on the political and religious conflict between the Samaritans and the Israelites. I won’t subject you to the whole thing, but the cliff notes version is that the Samaritans were transplants that the Assyrian army brought in when the nation of Israel was cast out in the Diaspora or spreading. It was an occupation tactic that forced people to live in a strange land. The Samaritans were half breeds brought in from this occupation force, and they worshiped at different location than Jerusalem. It was a very Big Deal for the Israelites.
The road that Jesus describes was a very dangerous road. It was both treacherous, rocky and steep, but it was also a place prime for ambushes. You didn’t really want to go down from Jerusalem to Jericho alone unless you absolutely had to. It’s one of those places that people warn you about.
So there was this man who was going down this road. And robbers and thieves fell upon him, robbed him, stripped him, and beat him. They left him half dead on the side of the road.
It just so happened that a Priest was going down the road and saw him, lying on the side of the road. And he passed by on the side of the road. We don’t know what was going through his head. A Levite, one of the Jews from the clan that was chosen to assist in the Temple, passed by as well. He did the same as the Priest.
Now: at this point in the story, the folks that were listening to Jesus were right along with him. They might have been wondering why the two most respected folks in their community were passing by this person on the side of the road, but they must have had a good reason, right?
Right? Maybe not.
Here is where Jesus throws his curveball. A Samaritan. The outsider. He comes along, sees the man, and is filled with compassion. And then he stops, bandages his wounds, and carries him to an inn.
Ok, now. We know this story.
We know it so much, in fact, that we MISS the curveball. Yeah, isn’t the Samaritan ALWAYS the one who stops to bind the wounds of the man on the side of the road? This is the way the story always goes. We don’t realize how amazing, and rocky, surprising and scandalous this story is.
Imagine, if you will, someone different than a Samaritan. The person in this place should be whatever you are most uncomfortable with. I don’t care what that is.
It could be a Muslim, a gay person, a republican, a democrat, a homeless individual, a rich aristocrat, a Cardashian, an atheist, a Buddhist, a Jew, an African American, a Mormon, a Mexican, or anything else that is other.
For me, what makes this the most uncomfortable and the most honest cognate is a member of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Whatever individual from whatever group it is that makes this story most uncomfortable. That should be who you place in your mind when you hear this story. This is the person who showed mercy, and who acted as neighbor to the one laying on the side of the road. The last one in the story of the man who fell victim to robbers. The outsider who stopped and cared for the stranger.
The outsider is the one who was a neighbor to the man who was the victim. He showed mercy.
When I was about eight or so, I was visiting where my dad was going to start working. There was a playground in the back, and I saw it.
I loved the merry-go-round. I liked pushing myself, I loved it when others came and spun it harder than I could do it myself, and it was probably only second to the swings as My favorite.
Now it was Sunday, and I was wearing my church clothes still with my perfect white stockings, and yeah, I briefly heard my momma say something about wait, or something… but I was ready for the Merry-go-Round!
And so I ran to get there. Suddenly my legs erupted into a stinging blaze of pain. I looked down and my legs were covered with these things that were stinging and burning. And I was startled and I didn’t know if I should run forwards or backwards or where I should go to escape the attack. It had never happened to me before.
I was shocked and scared and in pain.
Now, blessedly, I was not actually attacked by bees, instead, I had been wearing those white tights that every girl back then wore, and I had run through a patch of briars, and all the burrs had gotten attached to my legs. After I got calmed down, and realized that I was not covered in a swarm of wasps, I still was covered in burrs. The folks at the inner city mission helped pick the burrs off my dress, and the stockings were a lost cause.
I had desperately needed help.
Stranger in a strange land… I was lost on the way to another friend’s site in Kenya. I had ended up on the WRONG bus. And went to south when I should have gone to north. I’m pretty sure my mistake was like catching the bus to Norwood when I should have been in Salisbury. And someone saw me looking like I was trying to find where I was suppose dot go next, and helped me get to where I was going. I’m lucky that someone who had trained and run in America was where, otherwise I might have been stuck. I ended up being over an hour late… but otherwise, I would have not have gotten there that day and I don’t know what else might have happened.
One of the women’s groups I worked with in Kenya had women from many different walks of life in it. we went to visit one of the women, and she had prepared lunch for us. She didn’t eat. Because it was Ramadan. She loved seeing me around town, and was always looking for ways to help teach me something about living in our community.
We teach our kids to not walk to strangers, but as Christians we are called to love and serve and look for the stranger. We learn about loving our neighbor, and if we think that everyone is our neighbor, then it kinda gets too big. It everyone is our neighbor, then we can’t fix it all. All the work cant be done by only one person, or even just one group. But what if your neighbor isn’t the one with land that reaches yours, what if your neighbor isn’t some faceless stranger, but the one that you see, that is in need of mercy.
I don’t know how many times I have stopped and extended mercy, but I do know that there have been exponentially more times that I have seen someone in need, and refused to look at them. I am ashamed to say that I have done that, even when I had time and resources to help. I’ve celebrated the few times that I have helped, but there have been so many more times when I have not helped, when I have seen the one in need and known that I didn’t want to get involved.
Work for Jesus is Messy.
When you see someone on the side of the road, begging, even if you don’t give them something, recognize them as a fellow human being. When we go out to work at the Mobile food Pantry, see those who we are serving as possible friends, rather than just folks asking for a handout.
The man who was on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho needed mercy. He may not have really deserved it, he had walked alone on the road that was notorious and dangerous.
When we are serving in Christ’s name, we are called to love, and extend mercy, even if we don’t think it may be deserved.
We are not called to judge, we are called to serve.
As we remember the story of the Samaritan, we remember that we have received grace and love and mercy as a gift. We don’t deserve it, but Jesus has offered it freely to us. As Christians, because we have received this free gift, we are commanded to go out, and seek out times and places where we can care for the one who is need of mercy. We are called to become neighbors to those around us, strangers and family alike. We are called to love and serve the other, in whatever form they present themselves.
And we are called together to celebrate at this table as we prepare for the eternal celebration that will come with the Kingdom of God comes in all its glory, when no one will be hungry anymore.
Amen, and amen.