5 Pentecost Proper 10 Yr C July 14 2019



Audio  5 Pentecost Proper 10 Yr C July 14 2019
Deuteronomy 30:9-14, Psalm 25:1-9, Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 10:25-37

Maybe you’ve heard this one, but here it is again. I only have a couple good jokes. A priest, a Presbyterian minister and a baptist preacher, go out fishing. They toss all their stuff in the boat, and push off for the middle of the lake. Once out there, the priest realizes she forgot her lures. So she stands up and steps out of the boat and walks to the shore, gets what she needs and comes on back to the boat. A little later, the Presbyterian minister gets hungry and realizes he forgot his sandwich in the car, so he steps out of the boat, walks to the shore, gets his sandwich and comes on back to the boat. Well, the baptist preacher had left his jacket in the car and it was getting a little chilly, so he stepped out of the boat just like the others, but fell right into the water. The priest said to the minister, do you think we should have told him where the stones are?

Whether or not this is a funny joke, we laugh, or we groan, because we’ve been set-up, we know the form, the pattern, and can guess at the punch line. It’s based on our common stereotypes of these three characters. It’s like the story that is embedded in Luke’s gospel today, a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan walk into an inn…. Oh, wait a minute. What’s happening here? Those who heard this story originally would have been shocked long before the storyteller ever gets to the punch line, because the 1st century hearer would think “a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan would never be in the same story.”

You see, the shocking joke in this story from Luke is that it is the Samaritan who is the compassionate one. In their time and place, the priest and the Levite shared high status in the community of God’s people. They were “temple people.” They were born into priestly families. They were very concerned with status, they epitomized the temple culture where there were those who were in and those who were out, they were in and just about everyone else was out. Within their world, their association with the temple commends them as persons of exemplary piety whose actions would be regarded as self-evidently righteous. The priest and the Levite were accustomed to being evaluated on the basis of their ancestry and their pedigree, not on the basis of their performance.

So the teller of this story has established these two holy men who have done their business at the temple in Jerusalem, and who are now traveling on the dangerous road to Jericho. They see a man by the side of the road beaten and bleeding, and each pass to the other side of the road instead of helping.

Into the story arrives the Samaritan, and everyone who is hearing this story laughs. A Samaritan, they exclaim, Samaritans are no good lazy bums. They don’t even go to the temple in Jerusalem to worship, they keep to themselves, they are just not like us. Maybe we should build a wall to keep those Samaritans out. You see, the Samaritan is a man who is in direct contrast to the holy men of the temple. He has no pedigree, he is a lowly merchant, he even worships at a different temple. It is this distinction that makes this story shocking.

You and I have heard the story of the Good Samaritan so many times we just about know it by heart. And maybe we miss the shocking punch line. The Samaritan as the one who has compassion for the beaten and bleeding man at the side of the road is shocking. And, the compassionate actions of the Samaritan man condemn the holy men’s failure to act.

So what can this very familiar story reveal to us today? The story of the compassionate Samaritan is embedded in the story about a lawyer who has come to Jesus asking about eternal life. First, the lawyer asks Jesus what he must to do inherit eternal life. Jesus answers that question with the story of the compassionate Samaritan, and then the lawyer is able to identify who in the story was the neighbor and the lawyer is told by Jesus to go and do likewise. Today I would like for you to entertain the idea that this story is not just about being good, and it's not about being a hero. I would like you to see its complexity.

The story of the compassionate Samaritan is an illustration of appropriate behavior for a person who loves God and who expects to inherit eternal life. Remember, we’ve talked about this before, when Luke uses the term eternal life, he is referring to the new creation that is a reality in the life of those who profess Jesus Christ as Son of God. The term eternal life is not narrowly defined by what happens after death. It is about the absolutely new life that is the gift of God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is about living in the here and now as much as it is about the hereafter. Therefore the story of the compassionate Samaritan is about an ethic of compassion, it is about how we are related to our neighbors, it is about the love that wins.

You see, the Samaritan is the one who participates in the compassionate and covenantal faithfulness of God, not the holy men. And, this is not just a story about a good guy who helped someone out. This parable of the compassionate Samaritan undermines the system of status and honor based on privilege that was the way things were in 1st century culture. Once again, Luke is telling us a story that shows how the kingdom of God is near; the kingdom of God is about reordering human interactions.

The conclusion of Luke’s story has Jesus asking the lawyer, who himself has a pedigree, who in this story is the neighbor. The lawyer answered correctly, and Jesus admonishes him to go and do likewise. Eternal life is about compassionate interaction regardless of honor and status, race or gender.

This is as hard a message to hear in the 21st century as it was in the 1st century. In these days I wonder if we've progressed at all. The challenge to us is to reject the sinful categories we use to turn other human beings into labels instead of persons bearing the image of the living God. Jesus shows us that we are honorable and valuable because we are God’s creation, God’s beloveds. Jesus’ life shows us that in God’s eyes everyone has a place in God’s house, in God’s kingdom. Jesus pours out his life so that we may know that truth. Jesus fills us with new life so that we may have abundant love for ourselves and for others.

The kingdom of God has no privilege, it is not about your pedigree or your status. It is not about what you have or don’t have. The kingdom of God is about compassion. And compassion has no borders, boundaries, or barriers. Compassion makes us do crazy things, like love our neighbor, our neighbors that are next to us, and our neighbors that are so very far away. Compassion will lift us up, and break our hearts. But it is compassionate that God calls us to be.

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