(sermon note: 02-21 sermon note)
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?’ 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.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus 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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He 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. The 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 of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about an older couple who were in bed at their country home during a bad thunderstorm. Suddenly there was a surprising knock at the door. The husband went downstairs to see who it was. A man in soaking wet clothes was standing there and asked, “Can you please give me a push?” The older husband responded with a resounding, “No!” and slammed the door on the miserable looking man. The husband went back upstairs, climbed back into bed, and his wife asked, “Who was there?” The husband said, “Just some guy looking for a push in this awful weather.” The wife uttered, ” Honey, don’t you remember the night of our wedding, how our car got stuck in the mud and that nice man was kind enough to help push us out?” The husband quickly realized that he should go outside and help the man. The husband put his jacket and boots on and went out onto the porch. He couldn’t see much because of the rain and cried out, “Hey buddy, ya still need that push?” The man yelled back, “Yes, please!” The husband said, “Just tell me where you are.” The man responded, “I’m over here on your swing-set.”
Certainly not the type of help that the generous husband was eager to provide, nor comparable to the type of help that the poor man in Jesus’ parable needed…but funny nonetheless! Jokes, unlike parables, don’t have to teach us anything. They can simply help us to laugh! And there’s nothing quite like the image of a grown man, out in a thunderstorm, in the middle of the night, wanting to be pushed on a swing. I mean come on, what a bizarre situation! I suppose it wasn’t any more bizarre of a situation than the one described by Jesus. The poor man in the parable had been robbed, stripped, beaten, and left beside the road to die. Perhaps that was a fairly common occurrence in Jesus’ time so his hearers wouldn’t have been particularly shocked by it. No, what brought the situation into the realm of bizarre was the idea that a priest and a Levite passed by the man and failed to offer and help. Both priests and Levites were considered to be godly, faithful people. If anyone was expected to show mercy and compassion to the poor man, it would have been them! After all, God is a merciful God…his representatives ought to be likewise! Even then, the one who did stop to help the man was someone who didn’t necessarily know our merciful God, at least as we know through scripture. His god (or gods!) may have been known for their mercy, maybe not, we can only guess. But as a Samaritan, he didn’t know about the mercy of our God and wouldn’t have felt compelled by our God to show the beaten man mercy. So truly a bizarre situation that Jesus had created, not all that different from the situation of a grown man wanting to be pushed on swing during a thunderstorm in the middle of the night…
Besides, both situations are meant to highlight the compassion that we are all encouraged to share towards each other. We are ALL called to stumble out of bed in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm to help someone in need. We are ALL called to stop by the side of the road to help someone in need. That’s why we have “good samaritan” laws out there, they apply to us ALL. And if you think about it, most situations that demand “good samaritan”-like response are inevitably bizarre situations. They’re not ordinary situations. They’re situations that are extraordinary. They’re situations that are so unusual and demand such unusual responses that most people simply don’t respond. It’s hard to respond the way the situation demands we respond. It takes courage to respond appropriately. And don’t even try to suggest that you don’t have the courage needed to respond to someone in need! As we heard on Wednesday, God has blessed ALL of us with a great deal of courage to have our being here in this world. The lions weren’t the only ones gifted with courage. No, we, too, have quite a good amount of courage to help us endure the suffering and injustices of this world. God is generous with all of his creation!
There is an element of Jesus’ parable that is often overlooked and needs our attention. Yes, we are all called to help our neighbors in need but not simply with the bare minimum. The Samaritan didn’t simply help the man up, give him a pair of clothes, and send him stumbling down the road. No, he bandaged his wounds and poured oil and wine over, presumably to disinfect and help jumpstart the healing processes. The Samaritan then put the man on his animal and carried him to the nearest inn where he continued to care for him. Before the Samaritan left the inn, he gave some money to the innkeeper to cover the expense of the man’s stay and offered to pay for any further care the man might need. Which is all to say, the Samaritan went above and beyond in his care for the man in need! So, too, are we called to care for each other…not with the bare minimum but with more-than-enough care. After all, that’s how God cares for each of us, with more-than-enough care. None of us truly knows exactly how much care our neighbors may need at any given time. Even the ones who need immediate care like the man along the road (and perhaps the man on the swing!) have needs that are often less apparent. Better to err on the safe side and provide more-than-enough care. ALL care is put to use one way or another eventually. If anything, our neighbor can store our more-than-enough care for any future needs.
We are all called to serve and love our neighbors, both in times of need and in times of their lives. And we are called to respond with more-than-enough care in their times of need. The wisdom of scripture only reinforces this calling. Recall what Paul advised his congregation at Ephesus: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (4:32) In his letter to his congregation at Galatia, he also advised, “bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (6:2) Friends, Paul’s advice is most certainly for us too. Being kind, bearing each other’s burdens…how else can we love and serve each other?! We need each other and we know God through each other. More importantly, we know God’s grace through each other and the grace we share with each other. Jesus used parables like the Good Samaritan and encounters like the one he had with Mary and Martha to teach the importance of loving and serving each other. In the days ahead, let us seek out ways to provide more-than-enough care for our neighbors in need. You know there is more-than-enough need out there! Let us show compassion and kindness and grace and mercy to all those we interact with. God is compassionate and kind and gracious and merciful to us and for that we give thanks: thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.