the one about the lawyer and the neighbor...
July 15, 2019, 7:31 AM

Sermon from July 14, 2019

Text: Luke 10:25-37

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, Luke’s gospel moves right back into one of those ‘old-time classic’ parables. Probably one of the most well-known parables throughout all of scripture. The story of the ‘Good’ Samaritan.

But, first, a few things. We have to understand something as we dive into this poignant and radical story. The Samaritans and the Israelites have a ‘complicated’ relationship to say the least. As a commentary I read this past week stated it, for the first-century Jew, you couldn’t scrub a Samaritan hard enough to make them clean or holy. Israelites were told to never associate with those Samaritans. They were not considered good people at all in the eyes and culture of many first-century Jewish men and women.

The mere fact that a Samaritan is mentioned in this short story from Jesus was more than likely offensive and scandalous to all who could hear. Jesus has a habit of taking what we or the world thinks is ‘normal’ and turning it on its side. It is what parables do. And this one here does it spectacularly.

And another thing, the Samaritan man in this parable is never once called ‘good.’ It is just a title we and translators have placed upon him. But, here’s the trouble with that. Calling him the ‘Good’ Samaritan continues to imply that Samaritans are still inherently ‘bad.’ We have to be careful when we place those sorts of labels on folks. We still do that today with all sorts of cultures and groups.

You’re not like ‘those other ones.’ You’re a good _________ fill-in-the-blank.

The Samaritan is just a Samaritan. And he is a neighbor. Period. He lives into his calling and life as a neighbor beautifully.

And so… This parable begins with a question, and I think it is a question that we still ask today. In fact, it is the question that (more or less) is emblazoned on countless billboards as you travel down the interstate to pretty much anywhere in this country. I remember at least passing by a few of these signs on trips to Alabama and Georgia this past week.

You know those signs, the ones that ask (to some degree), ‘Do you know where you’re going?” and there is allusion of clouds or fire somewhere on that sign. Y’all have seen those billboards, right? We see them all the time. Of course, they kind of just blend into the blur of the background as we travel along to our destinations.

But, at their core, they ask the same question that the lawyer poses to Jesus in today’s gospel reading, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

My grandfather once told me – and I’m sure you’ve heard this before as well – that the BIBLE stands for ‘basic instructions before leaving earth.’ It’s kind of cute right? We like our acronyms and try to apply all sorts of different meanings to things.

I used to joke with a few friends that the NFL team the Buffalo Bills stood for “Boy I love losing Super Bowls.” Interestingly, as big Bills fans they didn’t think it was very funny.

The thing is, whenever we try to apply some cute saying to a word, it usually falls incredibly short or flat in its purpose and intent. It’s ‘cute’ to say that the Bible is some big instruction book that’ll get you a ticket to heaven if you just know it and follow the rules.

The only problem is that at times the Bible seems to speak around itself, changes the rules, and can be very confusing if you try to follow it word for word. It is inherent to a collection of works written by many different people, to many different contexts, at many different times over a long period of history. When we try to follow the ‘rules’ so that we only get to a preferred and desirable end result, we can lose sight of what we’re actually doing or what we’re even called to do. We also try to catch people flat-footed when they don’t adhere to our specific ruleset that we’ve devised.

I think that is exactly what the lawyer we are introduced to in our gospel this morning is attempting to do. He’s a smart guy. He knows scripture. In fact, it is his job and vocation to know the Holy Scrolls and all that they contain. I don’t think he’s really trying to appease or saddle up comfortably to Jesus in our reading today.

No, instead he’s testing him. He’s trying to throw him off his game. He’s attempting to get Jesus to denounce something that is central and core to the life of faith. The life of faith for both those who are Jewish and to those of us today who follow Jesus.

And Jesus, probably knowing the ruse, asks him to answer his own question. Because, obviously this guy knows it already. And, he responds correctly.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your mind, your body, and your soul. Also love your neighbor as yourself.

Do that and you will live.

It’s interesting how Jesus changed the question isn’t it? Did you catch it? The lawyer asks Jesus what he must to do to inherit eternal life – what must he do to be saved. To be good in the eyes of God after death.

And yet, Jesus’ response is – do what you’ve said and you’ll live. Now. Present. On-going. Right this minute. Now. Live.

I’ve always loved that response from Jesus. Because, frankly it gets really tiring not only as a pastor, but as a person of faith when people seem to be more concerned about their or another’s after-life than they are about the life of the world right now. Where they’ll look past the suffering and hardship of those around them as they follow some weirdly blended rules of faith, nationalism, and more.

Where someone will try everything to ‘follow the rules,’ so that they are considered ‘good’ and holy. Being behaved. Reading scripture. Saying prayers. Following the ‘right’ rules.

Yet, in the midst of that overzealousness to ‘follow’ the rules, they can at times fail – and sometimes fail miserably – at actually living into the life that God has called us into.

The lawyer is asking a misguided question. He’s more concerned with the afterlife than with his life right now. He’s even less concerned with the lives of those around him.

It doesn’t seem to occur to him that those things he says he follows applies to everyone around him.

Jesus tells him and all those around him a radically offensive story to their culture’s ears. A story about a Samaritan. A Samaritan who lives into the faithful life of being a neighbor! The person that they would least expect is used to embody the life of a faithful neighbor.

And not only that – but, Jesus states that the lawyer (and all those who follow the Lord) should be like that man of Samaria!

Jesus is telling this man – Jesus is telling us – that the things we do and are called to do, to love God with all of who we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves, isn’t about inheriting eternal life.

Or at least not the sole purpose. It isn’t.

The Bible – as cute as it is to say – isn’t a book of instructions before leaving earth.

What the Bible is – what scripture tells us – is how to love God and love those around us. To live into that love. To experience that love. And to realize that that love is shared by and through people and groups that you might have been told are ‘bad’ ‘evil’ or ‘wrong.’

Jesus tells this man that he should do this – love God and love neighbor – so that he will live.

Not so that he’ll get a cushy spot in heaven. Not so that he’ll get a front row seat to the resurrection. Not so that he’ll sit at the head of the banquet table in God’s house.

No, Jesus tells this man – Jesus tells us – Love God and love neighbor so that you will live.

So that they will live.

So that you are cared for. So that others are welcomed, nurtured, loved, accepted, affirmed. So that all might know God’s love for them. So that we might all be neighbors.

Don’t live your life always concerned with what comes after this life is over. If we do that, we might miss the opportunity, miss the joy, miss the love that this life offers us. We just might miss the life that God has intended for us and the world.

Go and do.

Love God with all that you are. Live out that love by loving your neighbors – all of them – no matter who they are – no matter where they come from – no matter how they enter into this place – as you love yourself.

Do this and you will live. Amen.


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