8th Sunday of Luke, The Good Samaritan

LUKE 10:25-37

At that time, a lawyer stood up to put Jesus to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?” And 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 neighbour as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.

The man in our story today is in pain, is humiliated and very angry. He feels lonely because he is all alone, out in the middle of nowhere. He has no hope of getting justice. The people that took his money and his possessions are long gone. No one can get them back. And he’s probably going to die.

In his humiliation, something even worse happens. One of his own people – a priest – walks by but refuses to help. Jerusalem, in those days, was a pretty small town by today’s standards. This man would have known the priest by name. He thought they were friends. Brothers.  Someone he knew by name refused to help him as he was dying.

He is learning a very painful lesson. Relationships he thought he could trust in; that which he thought was reliable wasn’t reliable at all. He thought someone cared about him but they didn’t.

Well that was just one person. Surely someone else would care about him and help him? A Levite comes by and does the same thing: walks by on the other side of the road. The robbery victim is feeling hopeless, looking death in the face, humiliated, defeated. He almost wants death to come now. It would be a relief.

And just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse something even worse happens!A Samaritan comes by. The man in our story is lying there helpless, and sees one of those people!!

And the man starts to think – oh great! Now I get to be humiliated in front of my enemies. This Samaritan is going to make fun of meHe’s going to delight in my misfortune. He’s going to come over and kick me while I’m down. He’s going to have such a good time because a JEW is beaten. Please, God, let me die now!!!

But the Samaritan doesn’t do that, he comes over to help. And that is the unkindest cut of all. It is unbearable when we have to accept help from people that we think are beneath us.

The man in our story is part of a culture that thinks the Samaritans are fakes, phoneys. The Jews thought that the Samaritans were only pretend Israelites. Wannabes. They were counterfeits. They didn’t count. They didn’t know what they were talking about.

The Samaritans said that God’s mountain was one place. And the Jews said that God’s mountain was somewhere else. In the mind of the Jews, the Samaritans were wrong they wouldn’t listen.

And now the man in our story, who is a Jew, has to decide: is it better to refuse this Samaritan’s help and die here on the side of the road? Would I rather die or accept help from this Samaritan?

I don’t think it was an easy choice. I think it was probably the hardest thing he had to endure that day. Sometimes working with people with whom we disagree is the hardest thing in our life. It demands more humility than we can muster on our own To work together with people who have hurt us, people who we have tried to reason with – but to no avail.  It is even harder than being beaten to death or abandoned by people we thought we could trust.

Capitulating to the reality of evil is actually easier because it requires nothing of us. I don’t have to be wise or virtuous in order to see another person’s faults. I don’t have to know Jesus Christ to understand that the world is a cold, cold place. Seeing that dark truth doesn’t require anything of me.

But working together with someone that I think is beneath me – that is pretty hard. Letting someone help me when I think I have so much to teach them – wow that’s hard!

“That guy doesn’t know the first thing about …” And now I’m going to die if I don’t accept his help and get along with him. I might even have to say thank you!!

I want to kind of press pause on the story at this point. We’re going to kind of freeze the frame and look at the moment of decision: do I accept help or not? He has every right to stay where he is He could do that. Maybe he gambles and thinks that the next Jew who comes by will help him. That’s also an option.

The medicine for our sins is sometimes a very terrible medicine to swallow. The medicine for our pride and judgment might be that we have to listen to people you don’t want to listen to.  The medicine for the lies we tell ourselves is to face the truth. The medicine for my darkest secrets could be that I share them with a trusted confessor.

Taking a sober look at who I have become is difficult. By doing that, I agree to take responsibility for changing. And that might be a very scary thing.

Some of us suffer from the illness of a misconception of the Christian Faith. Some of us have envisioned Christian faith in a way that only relies on the judgment of outsiders, a Christian Faith that centres on memorization of facts and rules and arguments. The counterfeit Christian faith of legalism teaches us that love is weak, and that judgment is a virtue.

That so-called faith needs the medicine of humility and patience. That so-called faith needs the medicine of self-examination, of learning to pray more and speak less, the medicine of working in silence instead of being a busy body.

Often the bitter medicine, comes to us in the form of a person. The person we need to respect. The person we need to show patience to. The people in the world who need our prayers, compassion and empathy, not our opinions.  We will not be truly Christian until we find a way to give that to them.

We all have a bitter medicine to take. And like the man in our story today, when we look at the medicine, at the one who will help us, and shrink back, recoiling in disgust, we are at a moment of decision. We can refuse the help. That is an option.

It is also a pretty big gamble to hope that someone else is going to come by and help. It’s a pretty big gamble to say to Jesus Christ, “I don’t need your medicine right now, maybe I will later.”

What if, one day, you stop wanting any help at all?

We need to nurture the inner motivation and inclination to seek God’s help. That inner motivation is like a plant that needs to be watered with the tears of repentance.

How many times do we say, every liturgy, “Help us, save us, have mercy on us and keep us, oh God, by thy grace?” How many times do we say that?

I think we say that because we are in dire need of help. We are all sinners and we need help really badly. That is why God sends us Samaritans – and now I’m using the Samaritan as a metaphor for the hard work we have to do to confront our own sins – God sends these to us because the hard road of taking up our cross and following Christ is the only road to true life.

Now here’s the kicker: you might be my Samaritan! I might be your Samaritan. I might be the person you need  But the person you wish to God you didn’t need. You might be the only chance I have, but I have such a hard time deciding if it is worth it.

I want to tell you another story about a different Samaritan. This time the Samaritan is a woman.  And this woman has made a lot of mistakes in life. This Samaritan woman has made so many mistakes that she can’t go get water at the well with everyone else. They will drive her away if she tries.  Everyone else goes to get water from the well early in the morning when it’s not yet hot out.  Or late in the afternoon when it has cooled off. But not in the noon-day sun.

This woman has to go out of the village to the well at noon so she doesn’t meet anyone. And this particular day Jesus is sitting at the well. Jesus asks her for help. Jesus who holds the whole of creation in the palm of his hand asks for help. He asks her for water.

Jesus doesn’t do this because he needs her help. But he knows that if he esteems her, and believes in her potential to be his servant She can be saved. Her whole family can be saved. So even though Jesus doesn’t need her help he still asks for it.

Jesus is not prevented from accepting the help of a Samaritan even though Samaritans are wrong or misguided.

Jesus is not wishy-washy. He speaks the truth and says, “Salvation is of the Jews.” But Jesus doesn’t need to defeat the Samaritan woman. He doesn’t make her admit that her people are wrong.  He says: one day we’re not going to worship in this place or that place. Jesus allows her to learn slowly.

The most important thing for Jesus is that people are saved. That no one is left out or left behind. He is willing to do anything to include the Samaritan woman; the sinful, misguided, confused woman. Jesus wants her to be a member of His family and of his Church.

When Jesus does that, the woman who was so ashamed and ostracized that she had to go to the well in the heat of the noon-day sun, runs into the village, and tells everyone about Jesus. All of them find Jesus, and they forget to judge her. They forget to fight with her because they’re too busy being saved by Jesus Christ.

The greatest motivation to take our medicine and to accept the healing of Jesus is our pain. The two Samaritans in our two stories today – they are both in a lot of pain. That is the place where Jesus meets us.

When I am angry, I find relief by confiding in someone about the pain behind my anger. This is my pain which is causing me to feel anger. When I want to judge and control other people, when I feel a sense of panic because my legalistic rules are being transgressed, I have the freedom in Christ to look at the pain that is behind that counterfeit faith: the pain of ambiguity and uncertainty, the pain of not belonging, the pain of disappointment with others. I have the freedom to see that pain for what it is.

Jesus said to the Samaritan Woman, “If you knew who I am you would ask me for water! For living water.”

Remember who Jesus is and tell him about the pain that is causing your anger and judgment, or whatever other spiritual sickness may have afflicted you. And he who saved not only the Samaritan woman but her whole community Is powerful enough to give you his love and strength. He will call you to use your experience of pain as a way to have compassion on others. Jesus can help you to use your experience of pain to bless other people.

That is the good news that the story of the Good Samaritan tells us. Since Jesus cannot heal the healthy person we pretend to be (as that person does not exist), true freedom is found in bringing the pain-ridden and suffering person we are to Christ. That is where healing begins.