Wounded Travelers on the Same Street [sermon 2.21.16, 2nd Sunday in Lent]

by susan on February 22, 2016

a-man-fell-among-thievesJust 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.” 29But 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 traveling 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.”Jesus’ unorthodox behavior was ruffling quite a few feathers by the time we get to the 10th chapter of Luke. The story he tells, in fact, was told in response to two questions posed by a lawyer wanting to challenge him.  

-Luke 10:25-37, NRSV

Jesus’ unorthodox behavior was ruffling quite a few feathers by the time we get to the 10th chapter of Luke. The story he tells, in fact, was told in response to two questions posed by a lawyer wanting to challenge him.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” was the first question.

Jesus, knowing this man’s education and credentials, throws the question back:
“What is written in the law? What do you read there?”

It’s a loaded question.

The lawyer quickly recites, “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 Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus another question: “And who is my neighbor?”

The Message translates the question this way: “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?” We might translate it: “Just who do I have to love?”

In response, Jesus tells a story.

jericho-road-imageThe story involves a dangerous stretch of road from Jericho to Jerusalem. At a point approximately thirteen miles out of Jerusalem and five miles from Jericho, travelers would arrive at a pass, later called the “Ascent of Blood.” The name was given because of the amount of blood shed there. This road was known for bandits attacks and gang activity.

When Jesus describes a man being attacked and left for dead, it’s likely those listening had either been attacked themselves or knew someone who had been.

The story involves a dangerous stretch of road and it also involves several travelers.

The first two travelers heading from Jerusalem were likely heading home after serving in the temple. Two religious men, the priest and the Levite see the man from where they are, but stay at a distance, and continue on. There is no doubt that according to Jewish law that they had an obligation to stop and to offer aide.

Perhaps fearing for their own safety, they pass by.

When those listening to Jesus’ story sense there is about to be a third traveler, they would have been certain of who he was. In stories like these, the third character would be the hero. The third traveler would be the stereotypical do-gooder – in the stories they heard or told, it was often the “good Israelite” or the “good Jew” – the one who did the right thing.

Jesus has a twist though:
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him;
and when he saw him,
he was moved with pity.
Unlike the priest and the Levite, the Samaritan felt the man’s pain in his gut and showed compassion.

It was a stunning turn of events.

Jewish scholar Amy-Jill Levine writes, “In modern terms, this [shift from Levite & priest to a Samaritan] would be like going from Larry and Moe to Osama bin Laden.” (Short Stories by Jesus, p. 95)

The Samaritan was hated by the Jew. The Jew was hated by the Samaritan. They were enemies who both had a long history of doing wrong to each other.

Samaria, also known as Shechem was known for the biblical stories of rape and murder that happened there. For Jews, these stories pigeon-holed all Samaritans as criminals. This stereotype along with political divisions and religious differences left Jews and Samaritans in constant conflict. They had learned to keep their distance.

Except in the story Jesus tells in response to the question about “neighbor”…

[take a minute to meditate on the image to the left: The Good Samaritan, 1885, Ferdinand Hodler.]

the-good-samaritan-1885The Samaritan not only comes close; he comes close enough to bandage the half-dead man’s wounds, to pour oil and wine on them, to lift the man onto his own animal and bring him to an inn, and to spend that night taking care of him. The next day he even gives two denarii to the innkeeperto make sure he is taken care of until the man returns again.

Why? What would possibly inspire this kind of show of compassion?

Who was the neighbor to the wounded man? asked Jesus.

The word “neighbor” is an interesting one in Hebrew. It turns out that in Hebrew, the words “neighbor” and “evil” share the same consonants, and since biblical Hebrew is written without vowels, the two words are written identically. It’s hard to distinguish neighbors and evil ones. Perhaps because we are all capable of doing both right and wrong.

Seeing the man from across the way, the Samaritan must have seen evil. He must have seen his enemy.
The closer he got though, he began to see a neighbor, maybe he even saw himself.

Who was the neighbor to the wounded man?, Jesus asks.
The lawyer can’t even bring himself to say it.
It’s too hard to imagine anything good coming from a Samaritan.
It’s impossible to believe the Samaritan could provide something that he lacks.

He responds: “The one who showed him mercy.”

I had a encounter with one of my enemies on the street this week. As I was leaving city hall feeling disappointed over the withdrawal of a fully inclusive Human Rights Ordinance bill, and he was walking in front of me. I had noticed the t-shirts being handed out, but had not gotten close enough to read one.

His shirt read: Jacksonville says no! no! no! to HRO.
I am part of Jacksonville and I did not share this sentiment.
I was ticked.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), having spent all morning studying this parable, I wondered what might happen if I started a conversation with him, so I did. I tried to listen, to see him as less than my enemy. I asked questions. I shared my belief, quickly resorting to defending my position. I heard the anger and saw the fingers pointing at me. I wondered what my face looked like – overly confident, too and certain of myself?

I’ve been reflecting on this encounter and have concluded this:
I gravitate toward the likeminded. I tend to stay in my silo instead of crossing over to sit and talk with my enemies. I am most comfortable there. I can predict what will be said, but according to Dietrick Bonhoeffer, the Christ-centered life is lived “not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.”

The kingdom of God Jesus came announcing and inviting us into is not lived by keeping our distance from those with whom we disagree.

It is lived by risking our comfort, our reputations, even our lives to love them as God has loved us.

One more image of what that kind of love looks like…

Takunda MavidaOn May 20, 2012, 18 year-old Takunda Mavima was driving home drunk from a party when he lost control and crashed his car into an off-ramp near Grand Rapids, Michigan. Riding in the car were 17 year-old, Tim See, and 15 year-old, Krysta Howell. Both were killed in the accident. Takunda Mavima lived. Mavima pleaded guilty to all charges.

Despite their unimaginable grief and anger, both the sister and the father of victim, Tim See, gave a moving address to the court on behalf of Mavima, urging the judge to give him a light sentence.

“I am begging you to let Takunda Mavima make something of himself in the real world — don’t send him to prison and get hard and bitter, that boy has learned his lesson a thousand times over and he’ll never make the same mistake again.”

And when the hearing ended, the victim’s family made their way across the courtroom to embrace, console, and publicly forgive Mavima. (from this Storyline blog post)

There is something more important:
than being right
than winning
than getting revenge.
There is healing that needs to happen.

Until we recognize that all of us are wounded in some way,
that none of us have arrived and that we need each other,
we will never know the kind of life that Jesus came to bring.

Lent practice 2

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