Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, July 10, 2022

YEAR C 2022 pentecost 5

Pentecost 5, 2022
Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Psalm 25:1-9
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Good Samaritan.  You’ve heard this story before.  There are so many things one can say about this gospel reading from Luke.  Three years ago, when this story came up, I focused on the connection to the Confession, where we admit that we have not loved God with our whole heart, and we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.  Meaning, if that’s what Jesus says we need to do in order to have life, then we are unable to do it on our own.  And that’s why we need Jesus.

And this year, I want to focus on getting the right people in the right place in this story.  First thing, the guy who comes to Jesus is a lawyer.  But he’s not a lawyer like you and I think of lawyers.  He’s a student of the law, an expert in the law, but it’s the Law of Moses we’re talking about, not the Ohio Revised Code.  He’s a scholar, more than a lawyer.  He’s trying to gain insight from Jesus, not trap him in some technicality.  But, more specifically, we’re told he is trying to “justify himself.”  That’s an important phrase in this story.  The scholar is trying to justify himself.

So this lawyer, wanting to justify himself—or perhaps not wanting to accidentally love someone he doesn’t have to—asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”  That is, whom exactly am I supposed to be loving?  Skips right over the first part about loving God, and tries to get a narrower reading on what Jesus means by “neighbor.”  And then, of course, Jesus tells the story that we call “The Good Samaritan.”

Although we do not know much about the Samaritans, there is one thing we do know about them.  The Jewish people hated them.  Samaritans were half-breeds.  They worshipped on the wrong mountain, setting up their Temple somewhere other than Jerusalem.  The Jewish people saw the Samaritans as unclean, backward heretics . . . The lowest of the low.

So the guy in the story is going down from Jerusalem (that is, returning from where the Jewish Temple is located), and he is beaten and robbed and left for dead.  Along come two representatives of the Law, probably coming from that same Temple:  a Priest and a Levite.  Under the system that the lawyer has been studying, these two would be expected to help.  Love God and love your neighbor; that’s the Law.  So the Law should save the guy, see?  And here are a couple of people who personify the Law.  If the Law can save the poor wretch, well, here comes his Cavalry!

And what does the Law do?  What do the heroes of the Law do?  They cross to the other side.  They avoid the man completely.  They leave him to die in his misery.  The Law cannot save him.

And so, Jesus introduces the third person approaching the man.  The lawyer would be expecting maybe a Judge, or a Scribe, or a Pharisee.  Someone of high religious stature to save the man.  And instead, Jesus sends . . . Wait for it . . . A Samaritan!  The scum of the earth, at your service, sir.  Whereas the righteous, upstanding men cross to the other side of the street, the lowly Samaritan “came near him.”

The Samaritan saw this victim as a human being, worthy of love and support, and, “when he saw him, he was moved with pity.”  The Priest and the Levite cross to the other side of the road so they do not have to see the man.  They shut their eyes.  They avoid their neighbor so they don’t have to love him.  Love God with your whole heart, and love your neighbor as yourself . . . Unless you can cross to the other side of the street, in which case, definitely do that instead.

And Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”  No getting around this one.  But notice what Jesus has done here.  The Lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?”  And after telling the story, Jesus asks him, “Who was a neighbor to the man?”  The Lawyer is not the Samaritan; the Lawyer is the man in the ditch, the one in need of a neighbor.  You and I are the ones in the ditch.

In case it isn’t obvious by now, this is not a morality tale about how you can help your neighbor.  The Good Samaritan is not a story about us being kind to other people.  Because--just like the lawyer--we cannot love our neighbor as ourselves.  Not on our own.  In a matter of minutes you and I are going to admit that in the Confession:  We have not loved God with our whole heart, and we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves--the two things you must do to inherit eternal life.  

The point is that the Law is not going to save you.  The Law crosses the street and leaves you for dead.  Since you cannot love God with your whole heart, and you cannot love your neighbor as yourself, you cannot follow the Law, and therefore you cannot inherit eternal life.  End of story.  Amen.

How’s that for a gospel story?  Awful right?  It’s awful because I’ve just walked us down the path of trying to get us to justify ourselves, as the lawyer was doing.  

And that’s why you and I are left dying in a ditch, beaten and robbed and left for dead.  Jesus asks the lawyer which character was a neighbor to the injured man, and the lawyer says, “The one who showed him mercy.”  That is, the Samaritan.  Jesus says, “Go and do likewise and you will live,” which the lawyer and we are unable to do.  Yes, the Good Samaritan saves the victim, but we are not Good Samaritans.  But the good news is, we have a Good Samaritan.

And so this is where it’s important to ask ourselves:  Who was that masked Samaritan?  Who can possibly save the one dying in the ditch?  Who is it that binds up the wounds of the hurting?  Who makes the lame walk and brings redemption to those who are dead in sin?  Who is this who offers oil and wine and pays the debt we owe?

If you and I are the ones lying beaten and robbed in the ditch, then who is the Samaritan?  The Samaritan is the one who is rejected by his own people.  Hated enough to be strung up on a cross.  You see how this story turns, don’t you?  Jesus is the rejected one who saves you and me from the power of death in our lives.

You and I are not the Samaritan.  You and I are the ones lying in the ditch, unable to save ourselves.  We think the law will save us.  You know, follow the rules, try a little harder, be kind to our elders, eat lots of vegetables.  But when we need salvation and new life, the law crosses to the other side of the street.  It cajoles and condemns, and demands good behavior from us, but the Law does not save.  

But along comes this despised one, the one who lives outside the Law.  The very stone that the builders have rejected has become the cornerstone.  Along comes the one who is reviled and condemned and cast out . . . And he picks up the injured, binds up the wounded, wipes away the tears, and pays for our redemption.

And more than that, when we are beaten down and broken and rejected, he meets us where we are, in this place.  He comes to us in the meal at this altar, offering himself in the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.  You and I do not find salvation in loving God and our neighbor.  Because.  We.  Can’t.  Not on our own.

No, instead we find salvation in trusting the one who saves us from death and the grave, the one who does not cross to the other side of the street, but meets us where we are, right here, right now.  And, being strengthened by this meal, and confident of those promises, we go out into the world proclaiming the good news of what God has done for all people.  And, in that joy, and with God’s help, we just might find that—despite ourselves—we do end up loving God with our whole hearts, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.  All because the Good Samaritan has come near to us.  Because we are loved, we too might love our neighbors, just as Jesus loves our neighbors.


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