Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 10th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" 27 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." 28 And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30 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. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 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. 35 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.' 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" 37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." 

The Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. We have all heard many sermons on it through out the years.  We all know that the moral of the story is that we should be like the Samaritan and take care of our neighbors. 

Seminary professor, Mark Allen Powell, says that he likes to look at Bible stories, and other stories as well, in what he calls a narrative fashion.  That is, he hears a story and asks the question, “Who do you identify with in the story?”  

Powell says there are a couple of ways of identifying with characters. The first way is the realistic way.  For example, I might identify with the priest in the story of the Good Samaritan because I am a pastor and I realistically have something in common with the priest. 

The second way you might identify with a character in a story is the idealistic way.  You might choose to identify with a character in your favorite movie —  you could decide to identify with Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel or one of the other Avengers because you wish you had their superpower. You wish you were the one who could be the hero and save the day. That’s idealistic. 

There are a number of characters in this story, so let’s go through them and see who you might identify with and why.

I already said that I could identify with the priest.  He was an important person in the community.  Certain privileges came with his status.  I know about that.  I can wear this shirt into any store in town and at least three employees will come over and ask if they can help me find what I need.  I have worn it in airports. They don’t go through my luggage and I am automatically sent to the shortest line. 

When our daughter worked at Augsburg Publishing, one of her co-workers borrowed one of these shirts from the store so he could return an expensive Christmas gift at the mall. He was black and he didn’t have a receipt.  He knew there wouldn’t be any problem if he was dressed like a pastor. 

You may not identify with the priest because you are not a pastor. But, you could identify with the levite. The levite could be compared to a very active church member. You could be a committee chair, or on the council, or a choir member. 

The levite had status in the community just like the priest. Preachers will point out that there were rules against touching a dead person.  The priest and the levite could have thought the man in the ditch was dead, so they didn’t want to defile themselves.  You could say they were actually keeping the law by passing on the other side of the street.

Powell says that identifying with a character can be idealistic. So, you may want to identify with the Samaritan, because he’s the good guy and you like to think that you would be a helper here. 

It’s also very common for preachers to point out that the Samaritan was someone who was disliked by the people from Judea. From the distance of our perspective, Jews and Samaritans would have been very much alike. They had the same religion. They just had their religious headquarters in different places, you know, like Constantinople and Rome, or like Chicago and St. Louis. 

They were so much alike that their few differences made them think they should agree on everything. In other words, they disliked each other with the intensity that only members of the same family can dislike each other. 

Sometimes preachers point out that the Samaritan was from a different ethnic group and suggest a contemporary parallel.  Dr. Powell tells us that one preacher suggested that in our time the Samaritan would be an African American man.  That pastor had a cross burning on his lawn that night.  

Another character in the story is the lawyer who asked the original question.  A lawyer in New Testament times was not actually an attorney.  He’s a scholar who studies biblical law.  His goal is to get to the truth.  He wants to understand and obey God’s will in all things.  That’s why Jesus asks him, “What do you read there?” Jesus is asking him how he interprets what he reads in the scripture.  

Perhaps you are like this lawyer.  You are a student of the Bible.  You are hungry to hear what the scriptures say about how you are supposed to live your life.  You love God and you love God’s word and you want to know and understand so that you can do God’s will.

So, we have the Priest, the Levite, the Samaritan, and the Lawyer.  But, there is another character in the story that Jesus tells.  There’s the man in the ditch.

We don’t typically identify with the guy in lying half dead and naked on the side of the road.  He was robbed and beaten.  He’s in pain and things don’t look good for him. We ask questions like, “What was he doing on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho anyway?”  That stretch of highway is notorious for thieves. He should have known better. 

We not only don’t usually identify with the guy in the ditch, we tend to blame the victim here. Maybe, he did make some bad decisions that contributed to his situation.  We don’t know. We didn’t ask why the priest and the levite and the Samaritan were on that road, though, did we? 

Today, I would like to suggest that we don’t only think of ourselves as the priest or the levite or the Samaritan or the lawyer in this story, but that we identify ourselves as the guy in the ditch.  You see, if you live long enough there will be times in your life when you feel like the guy in the ditch. 

There will be times when we go down a road we shouldn’t take. There will be times when we make bad decisions.  There will be times when we were just minding our own business, doing what we were supposed to be doing, but ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time and ran into the wrong people. In everybody’s life there are some bad times. 

There are times when we need help and the people we thought would help us pretend not to see us and crossed on the other side of the road. And there will be times when we have to accept help from people we thought we didn’t like. 

Most of the time we get to be one of the privileged characters. But, sometimes we are the guy in the ditch. 

We only need to listen to the news for five minutes to hear about other people who are lying on the side of the road. Neighbors experiencing homelessness in our own community. Neighbors imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. Neighbors who are children living in cages at our Southern border. Neighbors hearing ICE knocking at their doors today. Just listen to the news for a few minutes; you will hear about our neighbors in need.

There are times in our lives when can identify with everyone in this story. We have all suffered at the hands of the robbers and we have all ignored our neighbors in need. We all need strength and blessing, forgiveness and rescue. We all need the One who is merciful to come and save us. 

Regardless of who you are, Jesus is the Samaritan in your story. He is the stranger who came to earth and treated us as his neighbors. Jesus is the One who risked his own life to rescue you from certain death when you were lying on the side of the road. 

Jesus is the One who paid the price to heal us. He is the one who went on his way, not knowing if we would ever wake up and be grateful for what he did. He is the one who promised to come back to us. Jesus is the one who showed us mercy. 

Jesus is the One who makes all of us neighbors. Jesus makes us neighbors not just with those who are like us and live near us. He makes us neighbors with people who worship differently, or not at all. He makes us neighbors with people who have different political beliefs, different languages, different cultures. 

Jesus is the One who makes us all neighbors. He is the One who shows us all mercy. 

Today, Jesus says to you, “Go and do likewise.” Amen.