Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Who's the Samaritan in Your Life

Sermon August 25, 2013
13th Sunday after Trinity - Luke 10: 25

The parable of the Good Samaritan is certainly one of those well-known passages from the bible - know well by people of our generation anyway.  The danger with a well-known passage such as this is twofold (if not more).  First when we are listening to it being read, we are likely to not pay attention.  We will think, Oh yes – the Good Samaritan – that’s a nice story – I’ve have heard it so many times that I certainly know this story.”  And so the listener doesn’t listen and if you don’t listen – you don’t hear what God is telling you.  Well, that the first danger – the one you have to pay attention to.
The second danger is for the preacher.  The congregation listening to the Gospel may say to him or herself after she has stopped listening, ‘I’ve heard quite a few sermons on the Good Samaritan.  I wonder if this preacher will say anything new or will it be the same thing I’ve heard before?”  That’s the danger for me.  Will I be able to say something that will reveal a new perspective on this word of God? Or will it be the same old – same old. 

As the hymn says, it is an old, old story of Jesus, of Jesus and his love –  a story that he is telling us.  One of the principles of the Gospel is that it should surprise us every time we read the Gospel.  If we read it with fresh eyes and listen with fresh ears it should surprise us because we will be different people from the last time we read it and hearing the Word of God should change us.  So I am going to read it again and see if you can hear it again for the first time…..

Was there anything that surprised you when you heard it this time?  Was there anything that you hadn’t heard before?  Well, one of the things that I became aware of when I read it a few days ago to begin to write my sermon is that it is really in three parts – three acts.  The first act sets the scene.  We have the person coming to Jesus to ask him as question.  The second act is meat of the passage – the parable that Jesus tells to make his point to those who are listening.  The third act is the climax – the message – the truth that Jesus want us – the listener to hear and inwardly digest.
In act one the thing that stands out in this reading is that the person who approaches Jesus is a lawyer.  Now, if it weren’t for this passage I wouldn’t have thought that there were lawyers in Jesus day.   I would have thought that issues of law would have been handled by the priest and other religious people.  But here we have a lawyer asking Jesus – a rabbi – a teacher for his view on the law.  Jesus turns the question on the questioner - a good Socratic method and answers a question with a question – in this case a question of law.  Jesus takes the game to the lawyer’s home court.  And the lawyer answers in good lawyerly fashion – with a summary of the law.  Jesus – the good teacher affirms his student – applauds him and tells him that if he does what the law says- loves God and his neighbour he will live.  These are the two great commandments we recite at the beginning of the service.

All well and good.  It could have ended here.  But Jesus has engaged him and drawn the lawyer into his sphere.  The lawyer now asks the question Jesus intends him to ask, “Who is my neighbour?”  Jesus now has him fully engaged – just as we should be if we are listening.  Well, who is our neighbour?  Jesus draws the lawyer and us further into his realm by the cast of characters in the story.  Who are the players – the characters in the story? ….
Well we have the traveler – who is not identified – but we assume that he is a good Jew.  We have the priest and the Levite – good upright Jews and of course the Samaritan – the hero.  Who else?  Well let’s not forget the thieves (we don’t know how many of them there are – but more than one).  And finally – well we have the inn keeper. 

The scene is set by the traveler being preyed upon by the thieves.  Of course he is travelling in dangerous country.  The audience – the lawyer and others will automatically identify with the traveler.  He is a citizen who has to travel in dangerous country – probably a familiar experience for people in Jesus time – travelling was not a pleasant and safe undertaking like today – well perhaps like it used to be until recent times.  The listeners could all picture themselves in the traveler’s shoes.  The dramatic event happens – the traveler is robbed and left for dead – a dramatic but not a surprising turn in the story.  Now here comes the twist.  Two upstanding God-fearing holy people come along and pass by on the other side.  These are the associates of the listener – the lawyer – good upright Jews.  People like him.  He can imagine that very well happening – and he is probably filled with righteous anger.  What happens next?  Well our hero comes to the rescue.  But another twist to the story -the hero is a Samaritan - you can almost hear the intake of air as the lawyer gasps in surprise.  A Samaritan!  Shock and horror – a despised outsider – he’s the one who comes to the rescue of the good Jew.  The Samaritans who are almost as bad as Gentiles.  Perhaps even worse – they are the poor cousins to the Jews who did not worship at the temple and were basically part of a family feud that was long and deep.  There was no love lost between the children of Judah and the Children of Samaria. 
No love lost and yet this is the neighbour who showed mercy and love   - the example that the good Rabbi Jesus held up as a paragon of the law.  The question for us today is - who is the Samaritan in your life?  Who is the one who you as a good upright person hate to have come to your recue?  Who would you hate to have save your life?  Who would be the last person you would want to owe a debt so great that it could not be repaid?

That is the Samaritan in your life.  That is your neighbour.  That is the one who showed mercy to the good Jew.  That is the one Jesus - our Saviour and Redeemer tells us we must love if we are to receive eternal life.  Amen. 

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