Radical Love in Real Life

 Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 8/Year C: July 14, 2019
Gospel: Luke 10:25-37

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, July 14, 2019

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

Early in my public relations career I sat in on the hiring process for the junior staff. The seasoned executives were very averse to hiring public relations majors for the jobs, in the industry for which they were uniquely educated, because they were very legalistic in their thinking, and were difficult to mold.  They may have known the public relations 101 “laws,” but they had difficulty applying those PR “laws,” to the day-to-day practice, on the ground—with real-life people and real-life scenarios.

Such is the case with the lawyer and Jesus leading up to the familiar parable of “The Good Samaritan.” A lawyer, in this context, is one who was well-educated and well-versed in Jewish Law.  Attempting to test Jesus, the lawyer asked what he must do to inherit eternal life.

Jesus said, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”   The lawyer already had the answer to his own question, and replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus affirmed his answer saying, “Do this, and you will live.”

The lawyer’s questioning didn’t stop there, “And, exactly, who is my neighbor?” he inquired.  This question might be translated as, “Just tell me who qualifies as my neighbor so that I can direct my attention to the people who count towards completing my eternal life ‘To Do’ list.”

Much like the recent public relations graduates, the lawyer certainly had a good handle on how to execute the law as it was written.  However, he had not yet grasped how he ought to live the law on the ground—with real-life people and real-life scenarios.

At least seven players are involved throughout the parable, including two or more robbers; the man who fell into the hands of robbers; the priest; the Levite; the Samaritan man; and the innkeeper.  We know nothing about the robbers other than their total disregard for the dignity of the human being traveling along a notoriously dangerous stretch of road where people were known to be assaulted.

As for the man, we know that he had been stripped naked, beaten and left half-dead. Was he Jewish? Was he a Samaritan? How long had he been on the side of the road before anyone saw him? The text doesn’t say.

We also know that the priest saw the half-dead man, perhaps presumed that he was dead, and crossed to the other side of the road to distance himself from him. You see, according to Jewish law, contact with a dead body would make him ceremonially unclean, severely impacting his ability to perform his temple duties.  Perhaps he was concerned about job security.

Then, there’s the Levite, a temple assistant, well-versed in the law, who also saw the half-dead man, and crossed to the other side of the road.  Perhaps he had seen the priest’s reaction to the man’s body and figured, “If the priest didn’t do anything, I don’t feel so bad about ignoring this guy.” Maybe he came upon the man’s body long after the priest, and presuming the man to be dead, did not want to risk coming into contact with a dead body. He was concerned with self-preservation.  The text does not fill in these missing details.

We go from what seems to be an absence of details to a rich description of another traveler along the same treacherous road—the Samaritan man. The Samaritans were Israelites who intermarried with foreigners and adopted their idolatrous religion.  The Jews considered them half-breeds, and were universally despised by them.

When the Samaritan saw the half-dead man, he came near to him and was moved to help him.

Two things are striking about the Samaritan man’s reaction to the man.  First, the Samaritan, not being constrained by Jewish law, freely acted on his pity for the suffering human being.  Second, when the Samaritan did come near to him, he discovered that the half-dead man was just that—half-dead, and was still alive!

The text’s use of the words, “came near,” to describe the Samaritan’s approach to the man is significant.  Peppered throughout Luke’s Gospel are the statements, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you,” or “The Kingdom of God has come near.”  Within the same chapter, and leading up to the gospel passage, Jesus told his newly-appointed, seventy-two disciples to say to all whom they encountered—whether they were welcomed or rejected, that “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”[1]

Consider that the gospel writer’s intentional use of the words “came near,” to describe the Samaritan’s initial engagement with the man was Luke’s way of showing how the Samaritan’s actions embodied the kingdom of God for the wounded man as Jesus had commissioned his disciples to do.

The text goes into great detail to humanize the Samaritan man for the listener. He didn’t just help the man; he cared for him by addressing his immediate human needs.  He poured oil and wine on his wounds, and bandaged them. He helped to restore the man’s dignity by gathering him up, giving him shelter, and caring for him until the next day. When he had to leave for a period, he paid the innkeeper, and enlisted the innkeeper to ensure the man’s ongoing care in his absence, saying, “Take care of him…”

I imagine that at this point the lawyer’s skin would have been crawling with distaste for how the no-good Samaritan was being positioned as the hero in this parable. The Jews offered prayers that these people would be denied eternal life. For the Jewish lawyer, the thought of a Samaritan inheriting eternal life would be inconceivable.

Jesus then asked the lawyer who he thought, out of the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan, was a neighbor to the wounded man.  The lawyer stated, “The one who showed him mercy.” (Right Answer again!)  Jesus affirmed his answer and gave him the imperative, “Go and do likewise.”

The parable of the Good Samaritan is about you. It’s about me. It’s about our shared human experiences. Who are you in this narrative today? There are at least seven characters from which to choose, and on any given day, any one of us could be the robber who wounds someone else, intentionally or unintentionally.  We could be the priest or Levite, constrained by belief systems and prejudices that restrict us from engaging people who may represent a perceived threat to our way of life.  We could even be the innkeeper who gets swept up in someone else’s good deeds.

The daily realities of the violence, horror and the seeming absence of humanity in our neighborhoods, our country, the world, just in the past few days alone could make anyone feel helpless, like the vulnerable, assaulted man.

The image of the Good Samaritan is God’s mercy given freely for ALL who receive those in need, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, nationality or anything else that would be used to separate human beings from one another.

God’s vision for humanity denies that any of us should live in a traumatized state, stripped of human dignity, and left half-dead in the darkness of despair—robbed of hope.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to respect the dignity of every human being. We are called to resist exclusion in order to more fully embrace radical inclusion. And, we are called to boldly reflect the humanity of Christ—to come near as the intimate stranger, to our neighbors who have been left—physically and spiritually—half-dead along the many treacherous roads of life’s journey.

We are called, by God, to practice radical love on the ground, with real-life people and in real-life scenarios. Let us go—and do likewise.

Amen.

[1] Lk 10:9, 11, NRSV