Go and Do Likewise: Thoughts on how we are to show mercy (Good Samaritan, part 3; August 25, 2019)

Go and Do Likewise

Luke 10: 25-37

25 Just 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.’

29 But 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. 31Now 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 travelling 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.’

How many folks here have seen Disney’s The Lion King?

Like most of the Disney animated movies it follows a particular pattern.

The “Hero’s Journey”.

Simply put the hero’s journey looks like this:

A character living an ordinary life suddenly goes on an adventure, encounters a crisis, secures a victory and then finally comes home changed and transformed by the lesson learned on the journey.

That certainly is The Lion King, right?

Simba has his adventure, his crisis, his lesson and his transformation and his return.

Simba’s lesson?

Remember who you are. You are … the one true King. Remember who you are.

So, Simba goes home and becomes king.

But now what?

What is he supposed to do next?

What does he do next?

We don’t know.

Do he and Nala live out the lesson that transformed Simba?

Does he teach the lesson to his son?

We don’t know.

We don’t see the rest of Simba’s life.

We don’t see how the lesson was lived out.

We don’t see what kind of king Simba ultimately is.

We don’t see how Simba rules over the Serengeti while having to deal with rebellious hyenas and carefree meerkats all causing endless headaches and requiring tough decisions.

And basically, we are OK with that, because, well, it’s just a story.

We like the ending and that’s enough.

In Luke’s telling of Jesus encounter with the lawyer that includes the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we see a kind of hero’s journey there as well.

Who is the hero?

Actually, the lawyer.

The lawyer is living his ordinary life when he hears about this man named Jesus.

He embarks on a journey to meet Jesus and “test” him.

There is a crisis when he and Jesus battle over an interpretation of Torah.

The lawyer wants to know what he has to do to inherit eternal life.

What does he learn?

Remember what Torah says.

Love God and love neighbor.

To love God and love neighbor, you must show mercy.

Mercy to those who need it, even when you despise them.

Then Jesus tells him, “Go and do likewise”.

If this were a Disney film, the lawyer would go back to his people transformed by the lesson.

But what does the lawyer do?

Like the story of Simba, we don’t know.

We don’t see how the lawyer shows mercy.

How does the lawyer show mercy to those in need when his own people will call him unclean if he shows it to the despised?

When I thought about this, I was reminded of something learned when I went to Malaysia several years ago to visit several Christian communities there.

Some things you need to know about Malaysia.

Malaysia a Muslim nation.

Islam is the constitutionally recognized national religion.

It is illegal to try to convert someone from Islam to any other religion.

Doing so will land you in jail.

While there, I met the president of Sabah Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Thu En Yu.

The seminary is East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo in the city of Kota Kinabalu.

Dr. Thu told us this story.

Back in the 1960’s there were 30 missionary pastors and 30 nurses who traveled around the tribal lands of Borneo visiting local communities, providing health care, education and also some teaching about Jesus.

The Muslim Malaysian government expelled all the foreign Christian missionaries because they were being a bit too successful in creating Christians in the animistic tribes of Borneo.

Now the local pastors, of which there were few, had to take over for the missionaries.

As one of those pastors, Dr. Thu walked to tribal villages every Sunday.

But there were too many villages.

They needed more pastors.

So, he started a Bible School in the early 1980s.

Lay people were taught the Bible and sent back to their communities to teach the new Christians in the villages.

Over time, the Bible School grads wanted more training, more education, and to become ordained pastors.

So, Dr. Thu proposed expanding the Bible school into a seminary.

And the local Muslim community did not like it.

The newspapers opposed it.

The local state officials tried to stop it.

Dr. Thu was harassed by the police.

The Muslim community accused the Christian community of a large-scale attempt to convert Muslims.

They wanted the school closed and Dr. Thu jailed.

He was finally summoned to meet with the Governor of East Malaysia.

Dr. Thu assumed it was a publicity stunt during which he was going to be arrested and the school closed.

When he met the Governor, he was shown 3,000 signatures of people who said they were “Muslims” and who claimed they been approached by Thu’s students who tried to convert them.

Dr. Thu was waiting for the handcuffs.

But then the Governor told Dr. Thu his own story.

The Governor had been educated in a Christian Mission School as a boy and had been treated well by the missionaries even though he was Muslim.

He was never asked to convert, though he was taught about Christianity.

He had observed how much good the Christian Church was doing by providing education and health services to those without access to it and where the government could not provide it.

The Governor not only approved the Seminary but proclaimed it a constitutionally protected activity and then gave the seminary 6 acres of land across the street from the Governor’s palace.

When the seminary building was finished, the Prime Minster attended the dedication and as a dedication gift, paid off the remaining debt incurred for the building of the seminary.

The government has since given the seminary 3 more acres of land to build new classrooms and facilities so the seminary can become a Christian University – in a Muslim country!

So, if we apply the concept of the hero’s journey to this story, who is the hero?

It would be easy to say it was Dr. Thu.

But if we look at our text, we see that it actually is the Governor.

The Governor is going about his ordinary life as a child in Borneo.

He embarks on an educational journey in which he learns about what it means to receive mercy from infidel Christians who seek not to convert but to care for and educate.

The lesson is the same as the lesson of the Good Samaritan.

Love God, love neighbor, show mercy.

He is transformed by the experience.

Later he becomes governor of East Malaysia.

Here is where we get a bit more from this story than we get from the Lion King and our text.

We see how the Governor lives out his lesson.

A Christian seminary is proposed but the Muslim community wants to shut it down and jail its leaders.

The Governor decides to support the Seminary with legal status, land and money based on the lessons he learned as a boy.

He stands up to his own Muslim community and the Muslim community backs down.

Dr. Thu explained that he learned a lesson, too.

It is necessary for the church to proclaim its message by living the Gospel out in the community and demonstrating how Christian living benefits the community as a whole.

Not to force conversion.

But to show mercy.

They showed mercy to those who were in need.

They loved their neighbors.

And in return, they received mercy.

They were loved by at least one of their neighbors.

Someone like the Samaritan in the parable.

Both followed Jesus’ challenge.

Go and do likewise.

But here is a subtle part of the lesson.

Neither the Christian missionaries who taught and cared for the Governor, nor the Governor who allowed the building of the seminary, did those things expecting something in return.

This was not a quid pro quo.

It was showing mercy.

It was loving neighbor.

We see that in the parable.

The Samaritan, stops, helps, transports, houses and finances the recovery of the man in the ditch.

In Jesus’ telling of the story, the Samaritan has no expectation that he will receive anything in return for his troubles.

So why does he do it?

To be a good neighbor, certainly.

But why be a good neighbor?

Because being a good neighbor creates a community.

A community that is based on mutual care and connection.

A community with no boundaries.

Not a community of religious or cultural clones.

A community where mercy is practiced in a way that all can live together as neighbors despite their differences.

A community that models the Kingdom of God.

This is what Jesus means at the end of his lesson when he tells the lawyer, and us, to go and do likewise.

We need to love God and love neighbor.

With no expectation of a return.

We need to practice mercy.

We need to go and create a community where mercy is practiced to all so that all can live together as neighbors despite their differences.

When we do that, we live in God’s Kingdom.

This is our hero’s journey.

We are living our ordinary lives as children.

We begin a journey of faith, like Nora here, when we are baptized.

We encounter a crisis, perhaps many, and learn a lesson when someone shows us mercy.

Someone we don’t know and might not look much like us, and at a time we really don’t deserve it.

That is our lesson.

And it should change us and transform us.

That is what we have promised to help Nora with.

But there is another reason we are called to go and do likewise.

An underlying theme of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Who is the Christ figure in the parable?

The Samaritan.

Like Jesus, the Samaritan shows mercy to one who needs it, without regard to merit.

Jesus gave his life as an act of mercy to we who need it, without regard to merit.

That is why Jesus tells us to go and do likewise.

It is the Jesus way.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (August 25, 2019)

This week we finish our series on the Good Samaritan. As I was writing the message, I tried to think of an example of a community of Good Samaritans. This came to mind. When I was a student an Allegheny College, I spent many cold winter afternoons hanging out with my friends watching the community TV. What were we watching? Old shows from the 60s. Two of our favorites were “I Love Lucy” and “The Andy Griffith Show”. Why were we attracted to these shows? They portrayed a world that was kind of idyllic. Lucy and Ricky bickered but each show ended well. Their fiends Fred and Ethel were comical and fun. The two couples were inseparable as neighbors and always there for each other. They were a small community that was basically “neighborly”. Mayberry, on the other hand, was a much larger setting. Sheriff Andy Taylor was charged with keeping the peace in this small rural community. The antics of the eccentric locals always, in the end, highlighted their closeness as a community and … well … neighborliness. What made these people “neighborly”? Relationship. They were not only acquaintances, but also connected. It was that connection that made them truly neighbors. That is part of why my friends and I liked these shows. They were comforting. They were examples of what a good life might look like. What does this have to do with our Good Samaritan? Come and see on Sunday, August 25, 2019 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church when Pastor Jeff preaches “Go and Do Likewise” based on Luke 10” 25-37. We worship at 9:30. We will look for you!

Who is My Neighbor: Thoughts on Jesus’ view about boundaries (The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Part 2)

Who is My Neighbor?

Luke 10: 25-37

25 Just 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.’

29 But 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. 31Now 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 travelling 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.’

I have a confession to make.

When I was a kid, I almost never watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

I thought it was kind of corny.

But when my kids were little, we did watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and you know what?

I liked it.

It was a show that gave me comfort.

That comfort started out with the opening song.

You know how it goes:

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?…

It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?…

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day.
Since we’re together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Won’t you please,
Won’t you please?
Please won’t you be my neighbor?

It makes us all want to say … “Awwwwwww!”

It is really comforting.

That’s the kind of neighborhood we want to live in, right?

The kind of place where neighbors love each other, right?

The kind of place where we might feel like we are already living in the Kingdom of God.

That place Jesus called eternal life.

That is what we talked about last week when we talked about the Good Samaritan.

The Samaritan sort of invites the man who was beaten and bloody into his neighborhood for care and protection.

Since we’re together, why don’t we treat each other like neighbors?

Mister Rogers would approve, I think.

But don’t we want to ask a question?

Like this little question from the lawyer?

Who is my neighbor?

Who are these neighbors we are called to invite into our lives, like Mister Rogers’ song?

There are lots of potential neighbors in the world, aren’t there?

Who are these neighbors we are called to love?

Are there limits?

Are there boundaries?

In the lawyer’s world, according to the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary:

[F]irst century Judaism was ordered by boundaries with specific rules regarding how Jews should treat Gentiles or Samaritans, how priests should relate to Israelites, how men should treat women, and so on.

One was not required, and in some cases no allowed, to invite someone to cross one of these boundaries into the neighborhood.

What is happening in our text is that the lawyer wants Jesus to give him a clear, manageable definition of “neighbor”.

So do we.

The lawyer wants to hear that his neighbors are the people within his particular boundary.

People just like him.

That confirms his strongly held beliefs, right?

That’s manageable, right?

He can do that.

So can we.

But instead of a straight answer, Jesus tells our parable.

A Jew is walking from Jerusalem to Jericho and gets mugged.

He is in a ditch, bleeding.

Along comes a priest and a Levite.

These devout religious men take a look at this poor soul and just walk on by.

Then along comes a Samaritan.

This is the twist.

Talk about a hard and high boundary!

As a Samaritan, this man is a pariah to the Jews.

He is part of what the Jews viewed as a heretical and blasphemous culture of former Jews who abandoned the true faith and intermarried with pagans centuries before.

A Jew was not to have anything to do with a Samaritan and would go out of the way to avoid even touching Samaritan land.

Samaritans were unclean.

Even if you were a Jew beaten and bleeding in a ditch, you would rather die than accept help from a Samaritan.

It would be like someone a member of the KKK refusing to receive blood donated from an African-American even if it meant certain death to refuse it.

And make no mistake, the feeling between the Jews and Samaritans was mutual.

They despised each other.

That is the setting in Jesus time and in this parable.

Here is the twist.

What does the Samaritan do?

He takes care of this hated Jew.

And Jesus then asks the lawyer the critical question – “Who among the three who came across the man in the ditch was a “neighbor?”

The answer is obvious.

The lawyer can’t even choke out the word “Samaritan” and simply says “The one who showed mercy”.

The hated Samaritan is the “neighbor”.

So, let’s examine what this means.

Jesus says the boundary between the Jew and Samaritan is trumped by the requirement for neighborliness.

Jesus says that a neighbor does not recognize boundaries when that neighbor sees someone in need.

The Kingdom of God, according to Jesus, has no boundaries.

It is a place where all are invited.

J. Ellsworth Kalas author of “Parables from the Back Side” says this:

It’s easy to see the Point of Jesus’ story. I’m sure the lawyer saw it and was pained by it. Jesus wants us to realize the responsibility we have to our fellow human beings, and he wants us to understand that we are neighbors to the whole human race. It doesn’t matter whether we know the other person, or whether his race or style of life is like our own; it doesn’t even matter whether the person appeals to us or repulses us. Because someone is human and inhabits the planet with us, he or she is our neighbor. That’s the point of the story.

What does that look like these days?

In 2018, I watched a movie that was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Live Action Film.

It was called Watu Wote: All of Us.

It is a true story about a 2015 event in Kenya.

A young woman named Jua is a Christian living in Kenya.

Jua is clearly Christian.

She does not have a hajib.

She does not wear traditional Muslim clothing.

She boards a chartered bus to visit a relative.

Jua is nervous because the bus route passes near Somalia and the territory of the terrorist group Al-Shabaab.  

Jua is also uncomfortable because the rest of the passengers are all Muslim.

As it passes near Somalia, the bus is stopped by armed men from Al-Shabaab.

Jua and the rest of the passengers all know what is going to happen next.

The terrorists are going to kill any Christians on the bus.

They are going to kill Jua.

The Muslim women on the bus immediately surround the Jua and literally change her clothes.

They give her a hajib.

They cover her with dark clothing.

The stay gathered around her.

All the passengers are herded off the bus.

As expected, the terrorists demand that the Muslims identify any Christian passengers.

Not one passenger points the Christian woman out.

One of the passengers confronts the terrorists and says that they will not identify any Christians so that if the terrorists want to kill any Christians, the terrorists will have to kill “All of us!”

Despite the fact Christians are considered “infidels” by many Muslims, these Muslims risk their lives to protect this vulnerable one.

They invite her into their neighborhood, at least until the danger passed.

Like the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable, the act of showing mercy to Jua makes the bus passengers neighbors of Jua.

This extraordinary story is a recognition that two cultures who have been in conflict for 1,400 years can ignore barriers and treat each other as neighbors.

That is the point of Jesus parable.

What does that mean for us?

A couple of things.

Who are the Jews and Samaritans in the world today?

It’s not hard to identify them.

Read the paper.

Everywhere in the world there are peoples in conflict.

Such conflict that the goals of each side is the complete annihilation of the other.

Jesus says that they are all neighbors.

If they act like it maybe there could be peace and coexistence.

But let’s look in the mirror.

What’s going on in our “neighborhood”?

We could talk about race, immigration, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and many other “boundaries”.

But today, let’s talk about political parties.

You want to talk about a boundary?

Our political parties are like the Jews and Samaritans of Jesus’ day.

Each accusing the other of pure evil.

I wonder sometimes if the blood bank should ask for the political party of the person donating blood.

No Republican blood in a Democrat’s bloodstream, right?

Not much neighborliness.

Not much love.

So Jesus says it’s not very Kingdom-like.

Not conducive to eternal life.

But Jesus has a more subtle point in this parable.

More practical, too.

The Jewish lawyer has to admit that the Samaritan has it right this time.

That is what we must be willing to do.

Everything the people on the right stand for is not evil.

Sometimes they are right.

Everything the people on the left stand for is not evil.

Sometimes they are right.

Admitting that our “Samaritans” are right sometimes is the first step to inviting them into our neighborhood.

This is what pains the lawyer.

Jesus makes him admit that the Samaritan (he who cannot be even named by the lawyer) is right this time.

And Jesus tells him what?

Go and do likewise.

Learn from the Samaritan’s good deeds.

Can we do that?

Can we admit that our sworn enemies are right, when they are?

Can we learn from them?

Since we are together, can we be neighborly?

Can the left and right be part of the same neighborhood?

If not, we might not have a neighborhood to run, right?

What does that look like here at JMPC?

We are a diverse congregation.

We are diverse ethnically, politically, economically, generationally, philosophically and theologically.

But JMPC is our neighborhood and everyone here is invited in.

There are not boundaries here.

We love each other as neighbors even when we disagree.

Why?

Because we are a community of faith whose mission is to know, glorify and serve God.

We might disagree on the best ways to do that, but we can all agree on that mission.

When we do, we are acting like the Good Samaritan – and that pesky lawyer who must admit that the Samaritan has it right this time.

And it is a beautiful day in our neighborhood.

So that leaves us with this:

After the grudging admission that the Samaritan is the “neighbor” in the parable, Jesus tells him to “Go and do likewise!”

What does that mean?

Come back next week.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (Parable of the Good Samaritan Part 2; August 18, 2019)

As I read the text surrounding the Parable of the Good Samaritan, I am reminded of a scene in the movie “Monte Python and the Holy Grail”. King Arthur and his knights must cross the Bridge of Death. As they approach an old man stops them. He is the “bridge keeper”. He says this to the troupe, “Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see.” He then asks each one three questions. The first two are the same for all. “What is your name?” “What is your quest?” The third question is different. For some it is “What is your favorite color?” For others it is a trick. They don’t know the answer and so are cast into the chasm of death. Finally, Arthur steps up. “What is your name?” “Arthur, King of Britain.” “What is your quest?” “To find the Holy Grail.” Then this: “What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?” This is the “gotcha” question. But Arthur responds with his own question. “African or European?” (You have to see the movie to understand why Arthur asks this question.) The bridge keeper does not know the answer to Arthur’s question and so is cast into the volcano.

In the text this week Jesus is asked what must be done to inherit eternal life. He answers that we are to love God and love our neighbor. Loving neighbor means to be … well … neighborly. Easy! (That was last week’s lesson in part 1 of the Good Samaritan sermon series.) But then the questioner asks the “gotcha” question. “Who is my neighbor? “He is like the bridge keeper. He wants to trap Jesus. Jesus will not be trapped. Jesus asks his own question. It is a better question. Come and hear about it on Sunday August 18 when Pastor Jeff preaches “Who is my neighbor?” based on Luke 10: 25-37, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Part 2. Come and finish up the summer with us at John McMillan Presbyterian Church at 9:30.

Do This and Live: Thoughts on the parable of the Good Samaritan (Part 1).

Do This and You Will Live

Luke 10: 25-37

25 Just 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.’

29 But 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. 31Now 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 travelling 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.’

Amy Jill Levine is a Jewish New Testament scholar at Vanderbilt University Divinity School.

She wrote a book about the parables of Jesus a few years back called “Short Stories by Jesus”.

Levine starts the book by saying that the purpose of religion is to “comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable”.

She then says that the point of Jesus’ parables was to afflict the comfortable.

Levine puts it this way:

… [I]f we hear a parable and think, “I really like that” or, worse, fail to take any challenge, we are not listening well enough.

A couple of years ago, Matt and I wrote daily Lenten devotionals based on Jesus’ parables.

Each devotional covered a different parable.

As I was writing mine, Levine’s words rang true to me.

Familiarity with the parables can lead us to use them as memes of a sort.

We name them.

Prodigal Son

Talents

Unjust Judge

Wheat and weeds

The four soils

We hear many parables and say, “I really like that one.”

They provide comfort.

But when we really listen and put ourselves into the shoes of the original listeners … well … we might feel a bit afflicted.

And hopefully challenged.

Certainly, one of the parables that fits within this category is today’s text.

The parable of the “Good Samaritan”.

We all know the story.

Two guys who claim to be pious see another guy in need and just walk on by.

But then a guy with no claim to piety sees the same guy in need and stops to help.

What is Jesus trying to teach us?

A simple lesson.

We are supposed to be like that Samaritan guy.

In a superficial way, it is comforting.

Comforting because we all help someone else from time to time.

But there is more here than meets the eye.

Surprisingly enough, Jesus’ lesson is much more complicated.

It is in equal parts comforting, afflicting and challenging.

And so, it requires more than twenty minutes to talk about.

Which is why I am taking three Sundays to do what I can to explain this well-known short story.

To begin, we need to understand the context of the parable.

Luke describes the story as part of a rhetorical exchange that in Gospel parlance is commonly called a “conflict story”.

A conflict story looks like this.

Jesus is approached by someone who challenges his authority with a question.

Jesus responds to the question with a question of his own.

The answer to Jesus’ question also answers the challenger’s question.

The answer to Jesus’ question is so obvious that the challenger has no choice but to give the answer Jesus seeks.

Then Jesus responds with a lesson, often with a parable.

Here we have such a text.

Jesus is approached by a lawyer.

What this means is that this man is an expert on Torah – the law.

He is a Torah lawyer.

The lawyer seeks to discredit Jesus with a question.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Don’t we all want to know the answer to that question?

Can you imagine yourself asking Jesus that question?

Jesus responds with his question.

What does Torah say?

How do you interpret it?

The lawyer responds with the Shema from Deuteronomy.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength.

Then the lawyer adds a line from Leviticus.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

The two texts that summarize the Ten Commandments.

Is this how you would respond?

These are the two great commandments, according to Jesus, right?

No need to be a Biblical scholar to agree with the lawyer’s answer.

Jesus is pleased.

And then he gives the lawyer, and you, and me affirmation.

You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.

And from this, we have a bit of comfort.

We meet the criteria.

We love God, right?

Here we are worshiping God, right?

We read our Bibles and we pray, right?

Lots of evidence that we love God, right?

We can check that one off.

But what about that loving our neighbor thing?

Do we love our neighbors?

What is the evidence for that?

To answer that question, we need to look at where that phrase comes from.

The dreaded Leviticus.

Specifically, Leviticus 19: 18 which in part says: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

This little phrase, something that has been coined “The Golden Rule” is a summary of what the author of Leviticus says God requires of us if we are to be “holy”.

Basically, to be holy, we must be neighborly.

Neighborly, but in a very specific way.

Here is what the lawyer, and Jesus, would have had in mind:

Leviticus 19: 9-18

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling-block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not render an unjust judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

So, what does that look like to Jesus?

He tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate.

A Jew is walking from Jerusalem to Jericho and gets mugged.

He is in a ditch, bleeding.

Along comes a priest and a Levite.

They take a look at this poor soul and just walk on by.

Why?

Jesus does not explain, and no excuse is offered.

Jesus’ clear intention is to denounce these pious Jews for failing to do what Torah calls them to do – be neighborly.

Help, even protect, the vulnerable.

You can imagine the Jesus’ listeners shaking their heads in disbelief.

“How could these Pious men do such a thing?”

But then comes a Samaritan.

Here is the most non-Jew kind of guy one can imagine.

What does he do?

[H]e 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.”

Which one of these three followed Torah?

The Samaritan!

The guy who probably never read Torah.

What does he do?

Takes care of and protects the vulnerable man in the ditch.

Even when he doesn’t know the guy, or anything about him.

Even when it is inconvenient.

Even when it is expensive.

Even when he isn’t sure the help he gives will be all that successful.

He sees a need and he does what he can to meet that need.

The one right there.

The man in the ditch.

It is not all the needs of all the world.

It is the need he immediately sees.

That is why he is “good”.

Or as Leviticus would say, that is why he is “holy”.

So now we need to ask ourselves if we are like the Samaritan.

That is when our comfort often falters.

It would be easy to beat ourselves up for the times when we think we have failed.

The accident we don’t stop for.

The friend we don’t counsel or comfort.

The people in our community whose lives are disrupted but we just send “thoughts and prayers”.

The people who just need a bit of hospitality, but we don’t step up.

Yeah … I get that.

But I do have a bit of comfort for you.

Remember the story Jesus told.

The Samaritan did what he could.

What he was capable of.

He had an animal.

He had some time.

He had some money.

And, most important, he had the desire.

I think we all here have that same desire.

But what are we called to do?

Jesus does not call us to do things that we are not capable of.

Only what we are capable of.

We need to know and accept our limitations.

You can’t help if you don’t have the skills to do what is needed, right?

You can’t let hungry folks into your garden, if you don’t have a garden.

Which is why neighborliness is, according to Leviticus, a community thing.

When we gather as a community, like our community here at JMPC, we have a lot more capability than we do as individuals.

Here are some examples.

Last year, after the flood, we had a team of folks who knew a bit about home repair, go out and repair flooded homes.

I am part of a community that has that capability.

We have this SHIM garden and the new orchard that helps (or will help) feed the hungry.

I am part of a community that has that capability.

We give the temporarily homeless a place to sleep for Family Promise.

I am part of a community that has that capability.

We go to First Pres. Of Duquesne to lead their Kid’s Club; teach prenatal care to pregnant girls (and sometimes help in the delivery), and counsel disadvantaged youth in life skills.

I am part of a community that has that capability.

These are just a couple of examples of how JMPC as a community tries to be neighborly.

No one is capable of doing all of these things, but as a community, we are capable.

That is one of the things we offer here at JMPC.

The opportunity to be part of a community that does important things in the world.

Neighborly things.

Holy things.

So, you don’t need to feel discouraged by Jesus parable of the Good Samaritan.

You should feel encouraged.

Maybe inspired.

Do you see a need?

Do you want to try to fill it?

Do you need a bit of help to meet someone else’s need?

That is part of why we are here.

To love our neighbors as ourselves.

To be holy.

But there is another matter we need to discuss.

Another question the lawyer asks.

Who is my neighbor? Come back next week and we will explore what Jesus says about that.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church: End of Summer Sermon Series on the Good Samaritan (August 11, 2019)

In 1973, John Darley and Daniel Batson wrote an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology entitled: From Jerusalem to Jericho, A Study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior. I am pretty sure most of the readers of this little teaser for this week’s sermon are not going to look up the article to read it. It’s pretty heavy stuff. But its topic is the same as the topic for this week’s sermon. The Parable of the Good Samaritan. As you might guess, the events that occur in the parable happen on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. A man is saved from a life-threatening circumstance by the ‘Good Samaritan’. Jesus says that to do the same is what we need to do to inherit eternal life. It is a simple message. But then there is this: The Darley and Batson article describes a test done by the two academics. Several seminary students were assigned to teach a lesson on the Good Samaritan to a group of people. The classroom was in a building across campus. Off they went. An actor was stationed about halfway. This character was clearly in distress and in need of help. Ready? Can you guess what happened? Yep! Not one of the seminary students stopped to render assistance. One actually just stepped over the purportedly injured man. Why? They were in a hurry to teach the class about why it was essential to stop and help such a person. This begs the question – What would we do? If we want to “do this and live”, what does “this” mean for us? Come and hear about it this Sunday at John McMillan Presbyterian Church at 9:30 when Pastor Jeff starts his three-part sermon series on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. There is a lot more here than meets the eye! Come and spend the last three Sundays in August with us.