A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: He was preparing swarms of locusts after the king’s share had been harvested and just as the late crops were coming up.
When they had stripped the land clean, I cried out, “Sovereign LORD, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”
So the LORD relented. “This will not happen,” the LORD said.
This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: The Sovereign LORD was calling for judgment by fire; it dried up the great deep and devoured the land. 5 Then I cried out, “Sovereign LORD, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”
So the LORD relented. “This will not happen either,” the Sovereign LORD said.
This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” “A plumb line,” I replied. Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer. “The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined; with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“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.”
We know the story well- we know it REALLY well.
The Good Samaritan, we call it. A stranger rescues a man from death, and binds his wounds, and takes him to the inn, and pays his bill.
And then he disappears, never to be heard from again- except for the times when WE, raised knowing the story by heart, BECOME the good Samaritan.
There are other characters in the story.
The robbers, who assaulted the man who went down from Jerusalem.
The priest, and then the Levite, who passed by on the other side.
The innkeeper, who did what he was asked to do.
But really- the story is part of a larger story, in which Jesus was being tested.
Does this guy really understand faith?
Does he KNOW the scriptures?
Just how good IS he?
So they tested him, and I want to be generous. I want to say that they were testing him to see if he was legitimate, to see if he could argue scripture effectively.
But we’ve been CONDITIONED to understand that he was being tested by his opponents- Pharisees, and experts who saw him as a threat and an interloper. They wanted to make him flounder- after all, he had been teaching in the countryside, in Galilee- but he was in the big city now, in the Temple, in the shadow of the palace. Let’s SHOW how little he really is.
That’s what we’ve been taught by generations of Bible teachers to believe, so we believe it. And it’s EASY to believe, because the bible tells us that it was Pharisees and experts who conspired with Judas to have Jesus arrested, and then crucified.
So they tested him, and it appears that he passed their simple test: what must I do to inherit eternal life?
He was a bit bemused- really? That’s your test? What does it say?
So the expert TOLD him what it said, and Jesus said, “Do this.”
Well, for a minute that expert looks foolish to us. Duh. What does it say? Love your neighbor as yourself.
But that expert wanted to justify himself- or maybe it was a trick question.
Who IS my neighbor?
So THEN, and only then, did Jesus tell the story. And he told the story from the narrator’s point of view- a man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. People walked that trail all the time. It was a dangerous road, full of robbers who had places to hide.
But people HAD to go that way, so they went. Even Jesus went that way.
Lots of people went that way, and they were robbed.
People knew the way, and they knew its risks. But they didn’t know who the man was.
They didn’t know his name, or his business, or his family, or if he was righteous or not.
He was just a man, going down to Jericho, until he became a man, going down into death.
But the listeners also knew all the import about the next two people to pass that way in the story- a priest, and a Levite.
They were righteous, they did what the law required, and they didn’t do what would put them in jeopardy- like touch a dead body, even if that body became dead while they were trying to help.
So they understood why those people passed by on the other side. After all, THOSE characters were THEM.
So I do not think they were squirming YET.
They were probably puzzled- where is he going with this?
And then- oh my, THEN- then a Samaritan came that way.
Then, the ears of the listeners turned red. Heck, their whole FACE turned red. They HATED Samaritans. EVERYBODY hated Samaritans.
But it was a Samaritan that did what the law required- it was he who loved the man, a stranger, who was dying on the Jericho road. And it was an innkeeper who opened his door BOTH to a man who might die, and a SAMARITAN who brought him in.
Maybe you remember just two weeks ago, that Jesus passed though Samaria with his message, and he was not accepted there BECAUSE HE WAS GOING TO JERUSALEM.
The disciples wanted to call down lightning from heaven, but Jesus rebuked them.
And today, he chooses a Samaritan to be the hero.
So there are a few things we can remind ourselves about this passage, and a few more things we can learn.
FIRST, there is no one who is not our neighbor. No one.
Not the policeman and not the black teenager who stands on the street corner, not the immigrant speaking in a foreign language, and not the brown-skinned person bowing down towards Mecca to say her prayers. Not the homeless person sleeping on the church porch, or the drunk passed out at the bus stop.
Everyone is our neighbor, and we are their neighbor, and sooner or later every one of us will be a person in need of mercy.
SECOND, true and perfect love for our neighbor goes the extra mile. It is not the least concerned about doing what is required, but instead is greatly concerned about doing what is needed.
THIRD, Love is not afraid. There were robbers on that road, and carrying a half-dead person will slow you down.
There are Jews on this road, and they will scorn me and harass me. I don’t even know if the inn that is ahead will let me in!
FOURTH, Love is an ongoing commitment. The Samaritan paid AHEAD OF TIME for what he thought the bill might be, and he PROMISED to pay later for anything that the bill might become.
FIFTH, Love will set aside stereotypes and prejudices.
It just will, because too much is at stake when we live by those things.
I have seen this week- WE have seen this week- too much carnage that is brought about by fear of the stranger, and by hatred of the stereotype.
Listen- the sufferings of people who are stereotyped is REAL.
Every single black person I know can tell me about times they were questioned by the police. They will tell me about their own fears for the lives of their children.
NPR had a series of interviews this morning that revolved around people’s experiences with prejudice, and one of the interviewees said “Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do except obey every single rule there is, and pray that it doesn’t happen to you.”
There are many more things we might learn from this parable, and the tragedies this week. But one thing I want to say is this: violence is not the acceptable answer, and I will not condone it.
But sadly, it has always happened.
So I will do these things:
I will pray for those who have experienced a lifetime of prejudice, and scorn, and ridicule, and I will listen to their stories, and I will not argue with their anger.
I will ask myself, how and why have I not been exposed to this in my life?
I will ask myself, what other ways do they suffer that I have not?
And if there is a way, anyway at all, that I can help them through these times, I will try to figure out a way to help. Because we are traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho- we are all each of those character in the story, trying to get through a dangerous passage.
I think the only way to get there is together, with love.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.