6Moreover, the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the LOURD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live. 7The LORD your God will put all these curses on your enemies and on the adversaries who took advantage of you. 8Then you shall again obey the LORD, observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, 9and the LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, 10when you obey the LORD your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26he said to him, “What is written in the law? what do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “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. 31.Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
At the beginning of the week, we had not yet heard about the violence that has defined the national news for days. At the beginning of the week, our plates were full with the Fourth of July, and every "bang" was a firecracker in the distance.
At the beginning of the week, our gospel passage was just another parable. It was a familiar story that this congregation has heard countless times before, and this young preacher was struggling to find a fresh take that would again open our eyes to the good news in this text.
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ he said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’”
At the beginning of the week we knew that we’re supposed to be good Christians, which may look different to different people. But we mostly knew what we were supposed to be doing as we moved through our routine.
“He answered, ‘You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’”
We know the answers, we know what we’re supposed to do. But my experience is that most people, myself included, would rather be right than to do the hard work to which people of faith are called. We’d rather find a good line that wins the argument instead of working together for reconciliation in a divided world.
“But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”
We are no longer at the beginning of the week. As the days stacked up, so did the bodies, and our hearts ache with the tragedies that have streamed through our screens since the beginning of the week.
"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers."
Anton Sterling of Baton Rouge, LA.
Philando Castile of St. Paul, MN.
Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa in Dallas TX.
Micah Johnson, also of Dallas TX.
These are just the names which made the news since the beginning of this week. How many more nameless victims of violence will never be remembered? How many more "fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead." How many more died to the idolatry of violence?
Even before the week began, the story was already familiar to us. So much so that we can call the play even before we see it end. One person dies to violence, another says it was deserved, a third says it is unjust.
But it’s not our job to make judgments about who deserves violence and who does not. It’s our job to continue to tell the familiar stories of our faith. It’s our job as people who follow the Word of God to testify to the world that violence is not the only story, even if its tragedy have become so familiar to us.
When Christians look out on the world, we see fear and violence and pain and suffering and injustice and brokenness and sin and evil and death and all the "ands" which follow after.
When Christians look out on the world, we know that God created it. We know that after the LORD had finished creating the heavens and the earth, he rested and called his creation good.
But reconciling what we see with what we know is no easy task. The lawyer who questions Jesus in our gospel reading knows the right answers, but he cannot fit that with the world he sees, and so he’s asking Jesus for a census of the people he ought to love, because the world was just as fearful then as it is now.
And rather than a census, or a proverb, or an affirmation, Jesus tells a story. It’s a story that has become familiar to us over the years, so much so that most of us could retell it from memory, if not word for word we could certainly hit the high points.
“Good Samaritan” is taken in our culture to mean “helpful stranger.” We love to allegorize this parable and make every element a symbol for something else. We love to make it a fable that gives us a moral lesson: “Help people,” we say, “Put others first.” But that takes the teeth out of this familiar story. We must not lost sight that this story responds to the question “And who is my neighbor?”
Loving your neighbor as yourself is much more profound than just being “nice.” It’s even more than being neighborly. "[This parable] demands that its hearers embrace opportunities to practice love for others in powerful ways and perhaps to learn from surprising sources how to do that.” That’s how we can proclaim what we know in a world that does not see that level of love very often. When a Christian sees a threat, we are called to respond with love, not with more threats. When a Christian sees violence, we are to offer the Prince of Peace, not escalating violence.
It’s kind of an unnatural response. It’s much easier for us to just pass by, focusing on what we know and ignoring what we see, like the priest and the Levite. We may see the half-dead man and pass by on the other side. We may even have good and prudent reasons for doing so. Maybe the robbers are still around waiting to ambush helpful passers-by. Maybe we’re running late for an appointment. Maybe we don’t want to get involved. Maybe we’re not in a position to help.
Jesus doesn’t condemn the priest and the Levite, although we do a lot of that in our own minds. He also doesn’t excuse their inaction. They’re simply a part of the familiar story.
But the love of the Samaritan seeks opportunities to be a a neighbor. That kind of love shows mercy even when it’s inconvenient, even when it’s dangerous. The Samaritan knows that the command to love our neighbor is ourselves is more than just being available. "Jesus's parable suggests that love seeks out neighbors to receive compassion and care, even when established boundaries or prejudices conspire against it.”
After all, if God waited to show compassion for us until we asked for it, we would never get there. If Jesus had waited to love us until we asked if he was available, he never would have gone to the cross or emptied the tomb. If the Holy Spirit had waited to empower us until we asked for it, the church would never have left Jerusalem.
This is a familiar story, one we’re better at telling than we are at living. At the beginning of this week, it was just a familiar parable. But we’re not at the beginning of this week any more. Another round of fear and violence has unfolded itself onto the pages of our newspapers. Now the Church has a chance to look at itself through this familiar story and see itself in the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan.
“‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’”
To the extent that we have the faith to be the Samaritan, to be swept along the dangerous road from Jericho to Jerusalem, to show mercy at every opportunity, God will use us. To the extent that we can “God and do likewise,” we will be a conduit of God’s grace in a world that needs to see love at work in the world.
Christians begin our week in worship. We start each week showing that we love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. Perhaps this week, we will live the familiar story even as we tell it. Perhaps we’ll find the faith to love our neighbor as ourselves. Perhaps we’ll look for neighbors in unexpected places, and then we can begin to reflect the light of Christ which the darkness cannot extinguish.
We are at the beginning of another week. Who knows where we will end up as this week comes to a close. There will be more bad news. We will see more fear and violence on our screens and in our papers. We will see, in many different ways, “the man who fell into the hands of robbers.”
This week, we will give up the idol of justifying ourselves, of always being right, and be “The one[s] who showed him mercy.” This is our familiar story, and Jesus has also told us to “Go and do likewise.”