I LOVE the Bible - Week 4
Passage: Luke 10:25–10:37
05.06.2018 I LOVE The Bible 4
Scripture: Luke 10: 25-37
Next Steps for Connection Card: Memorize Luke 10: 36-37; Bring food/gift card to the homeless this week; Serve Wednesday nights at Streetlight; Pray for someone I need to forgive/love; Join Ministry Team _____________________; Attend Pub Theology May 15
I LOVE the Bible, let me count the ways. In many respects, that’s what this sermon series has been about. I love the Bible, I really do. Again, no duh, I’m a pastor, I’m supposed to. But I am continually drawn to this book. I can’t get enough of it, even after years reading, studying, learning, and digesting. And what we’ve done the last few weeks is looked at some of the reasons I love the Bible. Hopefully you are growing in your love of the Bible too.
I love the Bible because of the way it holds a mirror up to myself, my heart, my life. We saw this in the first week when we looked at the disciples going back to their old lives, back to their safe lives in going fishing. I love the Bible for the way it reframes my understanding of God, of the stories in the Bible, and how digging deeper can change the way we view certain stories. We saw that in the challenging, difficult story of Abraham being told to sacrifice his son Isaac. And I love the Bible for the totally weird stories that are in there, stories that are just awesomely strange but also challenge and uplift me. We saw that last week when we had a story that literally involved a talking donkey.
I love the Bible for the way it challenges and stretches me. That’s what our story this week is about.
I love the Bible for the ways in which even stories I know by heart can be flipped on their heads and all of a sudden its like I’m reading them for the first time. That’s my aim in this morning’s sermon.
Our Scripture text this morning is a story that is familiar to Christians and non-Christians alike. It’s a story that basically everyone agrees is sound moral advice. It’s not a story that Christians have to defend, unlike stories about Jesus healing people or rising from the dead. This one is pretty much a slam dunk when it comes to getting people to fall in line with the Bible. Frankly if the Bible were filled with more stories like this one, it’d make our job at getting people to church easier. This morning we’re going to look at the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Here’s a synopsis if you’ve never heard the story (don’t worry, we are gonna read through it, but I’m gonna really dig into the details so let’s just skim it now). There’s a man walking down a road who is robbed and beaten and left for dead. A priest passes by but does not help the man in distress. A good church person walks past and does nothing to help the man. And then a Samaritan comes down the road, but he stops and helps the man. He takes him to an inn and pays for his medical care. And every time we read and discuss or preach on this text we talk about how it’s a story about our need, as people of faith or in general just as people, to help others, to help those in need.
Or is it.
My goal this morning is to blow your minds. But before I do that, let me say this. If you read this story and it makes you want to go and help another person, that is wonderful. That is good. That is right. That is beautiful. Let nothing I say today take away from that. If there was a moment in your past where you read this story and it made you go out and go on a mission trip or go to a soup kitchen or donate money to a worthy cause, don’t let me ruin that memory. My goal isn’t to say that one reading of this story is right and another is wrong. My goal is to provide an alternate meaning to this that can hopefully give this story new life for you. Because I think there’s a lot more going on here than the straightforward read we typically give of this story. This story is subversive. This story is controversial. This story confronts us. We just have to let it speak.
So now let’s read the story, mining it for details, so we can see if there’s more going on here than meets the eye.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
First off, as often as you’ve heard this story, did you know it was about a lawyer? Lawyer jokes are literally as old as dirt. This story that everyone loves so much starts with a lawyer asking a question. Now in Jesus’ day lawyers, experts in the law, were really experts in Bible. To be an Israelite lawyer was to be an expert in Torah, the first five books of the Bible. And to be an expert in the history and the prophets. They knew the Bible, at least the part they had of it, inside and out. When life gave you a situation that put two pieces of the law at odds, you consulted an expert in the law to figure out what to do.
So we are told that an expert of the law comes to Jesus and says, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Now this mention of eternal life can have a couple meanings. For us it means how do I get to heaven. But in the ancient context it could have meant how do I live in God’s kingdom? How do I have life to the fullest? The answer to that is to fulfill Torah, so basically his question is how do I fulfill Torah?
This question is dripping with irony. Because its not like this is a rando asking the question. That’d be understandable. But this is a teacher of the law. He literally has one job: to understand and know how to fulfill Torah. He literally has one job: to know how to inherit eternal life. But here he is asking Jesus. And here’s how this exchange goes:
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘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.’ ” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
Jesus answers his question with a question. Which is what Rabbis did in the ancient world. The lawyer answers what a conventional answer for that day was: love the lord your God with all year heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus agrees. Do this and you will live.
To this point, this is kind of a normal exchange that would happen amongst Rabbis and lawyers and teachers of the law. I remember having conversations in seminary with fellow students about random pieces of theology. It’s a conversation that only happens in certain places, but if you’re in that place its totally normal. But this story involves a lawyer. And you know the lawyer just can’t help himself.
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
He just can’t help himself…but what is important to see is this story comes as a response to a lawyer wanting to justify himself in his attempt to inherit eternal life. He wants to justify himself. He wants to prove how good he is. Remember this. It’s going to come up later. And now, finally, the story…
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.
Here’s some cool historical stuff that proves to you that I did my homework. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notorious for being dangerous. It was a very narrow road and winded around curves. So there were lots of places where robbers could hang out to waylay travelers. And here’s what made it even more dangerous. One side of the road was rock wall. The other side of the road was a cliff. You round the corner and come upon robbers, there’s no place for you to go. There’s nowhere to run.
But then check this out, listen again to what Jesus says. The priest passes by on the other side. Friends there was no other side to the Jericho road. It was a rock wall and a cliff. Jesus is employing hyperbole here, not uncommon in parables. What he’s saying is that a priest comes along this beaten man and would rather jump off a cliff than help the man. That’s bold. But that’s not all.
32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
So a Levite was basically like a good church person. We got a pastor who was ready to jump off the cliff instead of helping the man. And no we have the super good Christian who would rather jump off a cliff than help an injured person in the ditch.
Brief sidebar…get it, because this is a lawyer story…More and more we get surveys of opinions of Christians from those outside the church. Those who have left the church. Young people. Etc. Despite the fact that this church packaged thousands of meals to send abroad, despite the fact this church beautified this school, despite the fact this church collected over 2,018 socks for the homeless, despite all the money we raised for propane for the homeless, and more and more and more, the feelings of people outside the church about Christians are that we are hypocritical, judgemental, that we don’t care about the problems of this world, that we don’t care about the hurting, the poor, the lost, the lonely. According to those survey results they would hear this story and think, yeah, Pastors and Christians would rather jump off a cliff than help people in distress. That’s not the main point of this sermon and I’m not sure its true about Christians in general and certainly not about Christians in this room, but I had to bring it up. Sidebar over.
33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
So a Samaritan walks by. If you were there when Jesus first told the story you would have heard some jeers, some hisses at the mention of a Samaritan coming by. Samaritans were derided by right proper Jews in Jesus’ day. Samaritans lived to the North of Israel and were themselves part of the Northern Kingdom descending from a couple of the original twelve tribes. So if they’re Israelites, why did Israelites hate hate them?
After the Exile, the Samaritans began practicing a different form than Judaism. They adhered to the Samaritan Pentateuch which called for different forms of worship than the Israelite Pentateuch. They believed that there was a different mountain that served as the Holy place of Israel. They believed that the Israelite form of worship had been altered, diluted, and cheapened during the Babylonian exile. And if you are a teacher of the law, if you are a master of the law, nothing would anger you more than a group of people telling you that the law you study, the law you love, the law with which you are obsessed is wrong.
The lawyer that asked the question of Jesus that inspired this story would have despised Samaritans. Would have absolutely hated them. And Jesus would have known that. This wasn’t secret. It was an open hatred. So when Jesus inserts a Samaritan into the story, he knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows he’s trolling this guy.
And lo and behold it is the Samaritan that is willing to help the man. The Samaritan stops, sees the man, and attends to him. The priest and the Levite were willing to jump off a cliff before they’d stop to help the guy. But the Samaritan ministers to the man, puts him on his horse, takes him to an inn where he can rest and recover, and pays the bill. There ends the story. And up until now it seems pretty simple, who is my neighbor, it’s the person you see lying on the side of the road who needs your help. It’s anyone, anyone and everyone, who is hurting, who needs assistance, who needs love and care. It’s anyone who needs ministering. It’s the weakest among you, the most vulnerable. The hurting. And even Samaritans know this. Even those who are so base, so obtuse, so wrong headed that they can’t get worship right know who their neighbor is when presented a scenario.
That would be the story, that would be what this story meant if Jesus had only stopped speaking there. But he didn’t. Jesus has one more thing to say:
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus asks the lawyer a question. And his question totally changes the nature of the story, totally changes the meaning of this story. But before we get to that, let’s look at the lawyer’s answer. Who was the neighbor, Jesus says. The lawyer replies The one who had mercy on him. Which seems harmless enough. But its not.
P.S. - Sorry for the late start and stop on the recording!
If I would have asked you a minute ago, “Friends upon hearing this story, who do you think exhibited loving your neighbor?” you would have said…”The Samaritan.” And you would have been right, it was the Samaritan who rightly loved his neighbor, it was the Samaritan who was the hero of the story. And my point is this, you would have said “The Samaritan” you would have said the word Samaritan. The lawyer doesn’t. Because he can’t. He can’t bring himself to speak the word. He can’t bring himself to name the Samaritan the hero. His hatred, his disdain, his bitterness won’t allow him.
Instead he simply says, “The one who had mercy on him.” The one. That one. You can almost hear him say it through gritted teeth. The story has revealed his absolute hatred. The lawyer wants to insist that he loves his neighbor. Jesus has revealed how much hatred he has for people.
But now lets get back to the question Jesus asked and how it totally flips this story on its head. Jesus asks a weird sounding question. If I were asking a life application question at the end of this story, I might say “Which character showed what it means to love our neighbors?” That’s straightforward. Instead, Jesus says, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” And I think Jesus asks the question this way because of the question the lawyer asked that led to this story.
The lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus asks him who was a neighbor. The Samaritan was the neighbor. To the man in the ditch. Paralleling that to the question the lawyer asked, if the Samaritan in the story was the neighbor, who corresponds to the lawyer? The man in the ditch. The lawyer is the man in the ditch. The lawyer is the one who has been beaten, harmed, left for dead. The lawyer is suffering, hurting, dying. The lawyer is in need of rescue.
Remember what the Bible said about the lawyer as he asked the question, the lawyer was trying to justify himself. The lawyer was trying to save himself. He was trying to get eternal life for himself by himself. Jesus says you can’t. Jesus says you’re in a ditch, hurting, dying, and you can’t save yourself. You need someone to come along and save you.
Let me explain. No there is too much. Let me sum up. Princess Bride for the win. The lawyer asked how he could gain eternal life. How do I experience the Kingdom of God? How do I experience heaven? And here’s the conclusion from this story: while we hate our fellow humans, while we have disdain for people, while we see others as less than or unworthy or as God forsaken, we will never experience the fullness of the Kingdom. Unless the lawyer could see the Samaritan as neighbor, unless the lawyer could see the Samaritan as the one he was called to love, he would never be healed and never experience the fullness of life.
We go on facebook and twitter or watch cable news and we see this all the time. The way I’ve heard and seen people talk about Muslims. The way I’ve heard and seen people talk about the LGBT community. The way I’ve heard and seen people talk about Trump voters. Friends we are all in a ditch, suffering. And unless we can be healed, we will never experience the fullness of the kingdom of God.
Who in your life do you consider the other? Who in your life do you consider beyond redemption, beyond saving, who in your life is too far gone? For whom in your life do you have nothing but hatred? For whom in your life do you have nothing but disdain? Who is it that you would honestly say to hell with them? I know I have people in my life like that. I have people in my life that I am so mad at, that I am so hurt by, that I literally can’t even with them. Love them? Are you kidding me?! No. And yet, Jesus says find a way to love them. Find a way to love them like your experience of the Kingdom of Heaven depended on it.
On your connection card there are some next steps. One is to memorize a key verse from this story. A couple involve reaching out in mercy and compassion to people that need help. And one involves praying for someone. Someone you need to forgive or someone you need to love. Someone you can’t bring yourself to love. And I put pray for because that’s where this starts. You won’t walk away today or wake up tomorrow and be like, yeah that person I was just thinking about the one I can’t love the one who hurt me too much, yeah I forgive him. And if you do, deep down you know it won’t be real. It starts in prayer because that’s how God heals us. That’s how God molds and shapes our hearts so we can really forgive. So we can really love. So if you want to, if you’re ready, check that box. And pray for that person. And pray for God to give you a heart of love, a heart of forgiveness, and a heart of peace. Because that is how we begin to be given life to the fullness.
This is a tough story, friends. This is a complex story that challenges us on many levels. As we stand before this story, seeing it anew, and perhaps seeing ourselves anew, let us go to God in prayer to help give us grace, strength, and courage to respond to this story, to go and do likewise. Let us pray.