Luke 10:25-37 (click to display NIV text)
June 16, 2013
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
” ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the Law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ “
There are two problems with listening to a well-known story. Because we know the story, we do not listen as carefully as we should, and we tend to jump ahead to the end before the story is ready for us. So some of you may already be thinking about how you might be a “Good Samaritan.” You might be anticipating where this sermon is going, and so you are already wondering about the wisdom of stopping on the highway to help someone with a flat tire, or how you should handle a situation when you are downtown and a homeless person asks you for some money. So as we begin I want to ask you to let go of some of those ideas and simply listen, as if for the first time, to the story that Jesus tells.
An expert in the law came to Jesus with a question to test him. The test is easy. “What is the greatest commandment?” Among those who taught the law, there was agreement on the answer. It comes from putting two verses together: Deuteronomy 6:5, to love God with your whole heart and mind and strength, and Leviticus 19:18, which is part of the Holiness code, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus, not wanting to be tested, turns the question on the lawyer. “What is written in the law?” That is easy to answer. “Love God and neighbor.” Jesus asks, “How do you read it?” This is the fascinating question of Biblical interpretation. What does it say, and then how do you read it? The lawyer answers the first question correctly, by quoting Deuteronomy and Leviticus. But then he stumbles in the second by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus sees something in his heart, that he was asking that question to justify himself. So Jesus does not answer that question. He tells a story.
Jon Lunde, whom many of you know from his time in this church, writes in his book about discipleship, “Jesus tells the shocking story of a despised Samaritan caring for an unfortunate Jew at great personal expense and effort.” Any good story draws the audience in by presenting characters with whom the listeners will identify. So which character in the story would that be for this legal expert? It could have been the priest or Levite, two people much like himself who represent the power and thinking of the Temple. In fact, this legal expert might well have been a priest himself. But in the story, both the priest and the Levite walk past the wounded man. The Old Testament Law is clear that they were obligated to help the wounded man, even if he had been dead. They must care for his body, and at that point all purity laws take second place to the need to help the man in trouble. The priest and the Levite clearly break the law, or ignore it, and the legal expert would not identify with them.
Neither would this fellow identify with a Samaritan. That would be unthinkable. So, the way Jesus tells the story, the man must identify with the wounded man who had been robbed. He would have to say, “That’s me in the ditch.” So his question is not, “How many people do I have to help to be a neighbor?” Rather it is, “If I am lying in a ditch somewhere, who do I hope will see me as their neighbor?” So when Jesus asks him, “Which of these do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” His answer is, “the one who had mercy on him.” A literal translation here is, “The one doing the mercy with him.”
This whole section in Luke is about discipleship. The first part of chapter 10 is about Jesus sending out his disciples to live by faith and do the work of God. The second part is this parable about showing mercy. The third part is Mary and Martha, where Martha finds her attempts to serve people and meet their needs can be very confusing and distracting. Then Jesus speaks about prayer and about the goodness of God, because only as we pray does the call to be merciful emerge. So in this chapter we have faith, mercy and prayer as the marks of discipleship. This is how you follow Jesus.
I think Jesus is saying in this story he tells, that to be a disciple is to begin by identifying with the wounded person who needs compassion and mercy. We can’t jump ahead and try to be the Good Samaritan until we first understand and feel with people who are broken, who are wounded, who need mercy. You do not have compassion for others until you understand something of their plight. We need to begin in our discipleship by opening our eyes to what it means to be a wounded person today.
Friday morning we discussed this parable in men’s Bible study. About an hour later, a woman I have known for some time, who lives in one of the poorer and more dangerous communities around here, came to see me. She had been robbed this week–her house broken into, punched in the eye, which was still red and swollen, and hit on the back of the head with a gun, her few belongings of value stolen. The first part of discipleship is simply coming to realize how hard life is for the poor in our communities, to see what it means to be lying by the side of the road.
The second step in discipleship is to admit that I am the wounded person. It is not just someone else who is broken. Mercy comes from experiencing mercy. When you were broken, when you were wounded, God was merciful towards you. He forgave your sin. He healed you. He lifted you out of a very difficult and dark situation. And so you can be merciful, because you know what mercy is.
Then we come to understand in a deep and personal way that brokenness is not healed in the hospital. It is not healed at the bank. Brokenness is healed at the cross. It is when you kneel at the cross, confessing your need and admitting your sin, experiencing the love and salvation of Jesus Christ, that you come to know mercy so that you can become merciful. It is really only after you have come to the cross of Jesus, that you are able to identify with the Samaritan who acted with mercy.
It is not just being able to show mercy as individuals; I think Jesus is talking about a discipleship that means living in a community of mercy. We do not wait to happen upon a person in need, lying by the side of the road. Rather, as a community of mercy we are proactive in following Jesus in this county and in this world. The parable does not tell us how to live this life of mercy, but in Christ we can do it together.
As we say farewell to Steve and Susan Barg today, we affirm once more that it was largely through our experience with Aaron Barg that this church became truly a community of mercy. It was every week, and very practical. It was giving help and taking walks and showing love, and in the midst of that Aaron changed our hearts, and his influence lives today.
So we are asking, what are the next steps in our discipleship? What does it mean for us to be disciples of Jesus Christ in this community? How can we pray, and act together in faith, and proactively show mercy and compassion, and through our witness see people come to Christ?
In a few weeks five young people from the Covenant church in Cuernavaca, Mexico, will be coming here to spend some time with us. What will they experience? What will they see? What will they learn about discipleship? What will they take back to their church? What will they bring to us? This story that Jesus told is a continuing story. It does not end with the wounded man recuperating at the Inn. The story continues in our hearts and in our lives.