Delivered at St. George’s Episcopal Church, La Canada, CA

Amos 7:7-17
Psalm 82:1-5,8
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

One of the major differences between Judaism, and Christianity is very subtle. The difference is that Judaism focuses on the Law, but Christianity from the onset, was attracted to the story.

When a prophet like Amos came to a city, to proclaim a judgment on the people of the northern kingdom, he didn’t spend a lot of time telling stories. He merely went before a king, or stood amongst the people and told them off, in God’s name of course. Prophets only relied on a story in order to remind people where they had screwed up, especially with reference to the law of the covenant.

Through the eyes of the gospel evangelists, the good news in Christ is spread by sharing stories, and if you look at the major thrust of the gospels, we are told of the life, and work of Jesus through the use of theological story telling. Historically, I think we can be pretty sure that Jesus used stories to spread his message amongst the people of Galilee. I also think it would be safe to assume that Jesus really did use parables; there are far too many recorded to think these were thought up later and inserted into the text.

The reason I brought up the difference between the Law and the Prophets vs. the Theological Story is that in today’s gospel reading, we are given a story which has become a literary classic, and so well known that even people who never attended a church, or went to Sunday School recognize the story of the Good Samaritan. But, this story is so familiar that it presents a problem. Being so well known we may no longer be able to stand back and grasp the theological importance of the message.  So today, I would like to look at the gospel passage from a different perspective; through the use of questions.

Questions are important. Questions, it has been said, are the starting point of revelation, and questions are central to our story read today. Jesus, after all, answers the lawyer’s questions with more questions. So….lets look at the story of the Good Samaritan asking a few questions, and see where this leads us. In our story today, who’s this lawyer? Is he a person who is trying to trick Jesus in his own words, or does he truly want to learn something? Is he sincere?

Being a scribe (who were the legal arm of the Pharisees), he uses legal-speak asking Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” By using the word “inherit”, he implies that he wishes to impress God so that he can be willed the inheritance of eternal life.

The lawyer in our story reminds me of some people I went to college. When I studied music at university, I had planned on becoming a professional musician, and was not that much concerned with fulfilling requirements to become a music teacher. I wanted to learn from good mentors, the best I could find. Time and time again I was confronted with fellow students, who didn’t seem to give a hang about learning music, but what was needed to complete a requirement; there was no heart involved. Like our lawyer in the passage from Luke, undergrads might have said, “What to I need to do to inherit my music degree.”

Do you recognize a bit of yourself in our lawyer, trying to find out what is necessary to please God?

What about the other characters in our parable? We have three people walking down a road; a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan, and yes…we also have our robbery victim. Starting with the star of the passage; what makes the Samaritan good? You might answer, “Well, it’s because he stopped and helped the man who was robbed.” Ok, fair enough…but let’s look at the other two people. Obviously, if the Samaritan is good, the other two must be bad.
The story says the priest and the Levite pass by the person who was robbed. But, they had passed by on the other side. This implies that they are walking to Jerusalem. The priest and the Levite were walking in the opposite direction. The priest might be on his way to the temple, and more than likely had an obligation or a service to lead. If he was going to the temple, even if he wanted to help the robbery victim, due to purity laws, the priest was forbidden to come into contact with blood, or very possibly, a dead body. This would have made the priest ritually unclean, and he would not have been able to fulfill his obligation to God, temple worshipers, or his vow as priest. Does this make him bad, or does your heart maybe wonder if the priest had a very difficult ethical choice to make, but chose obedience to God?

What about the Levite?

A Levite is a descendent from the tribe of Levi whose task was to support the priest in various ceremonies at the temple. Though not bound by all purity laws, they were expected to adhere, as best as they can, to the purity code, and to be an example. Since the Levite followed the priest on his way to Jerusalem, it would be safe to assume that he was on his way to assist the priest. Does this make the priest and the Levite bad, and the Samaritan good?

Our “Good” Samaritan is not necessarily good, or better than the other two fellows, but the Samaritan, an outcast in the eyes of the Judeans, is ready and willing to heed God’s call to help another person. Our Samaritan does more than rescue the person in distress; our Samaritan blesses the robbery victim with compassion, and blesses their life with an abundance of care. Luke, using the Samaritan outcast, demonstrates the continual message first founded in Hebrew Scripture that God is able to take something seen as bad, bless it, and turn it into abundance. This is the message found in Genesis when Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers but eventually becomes second only in power to Pharaoh. This is the message found in the Exodus story of people freed from servitude and this is the message found in Jesus’ death and resurrection. God takes something seen as bad, and makes it better than good.

Our Samaritan accepts God’s call to action, and invites the victim of assault, and robbery to be his neighbor. The question might not be: “Who is my neighbor”, but could be reframed as: Do you have the energy, and enough compassion to invite all people to be your neighbor?” God calls…..we choose. Our Samaritan was willing to risk, choosing not to be hampered by religious legalism, or doctrinal differences.

Our priest and Levite were caught up in dogma and legalism, and were blind to the reality of God’s hesed: God’s supreme and loving compassion. The Samaritan outcast was free enough in faith to make God’s compassion known. This story proves that God can and will use anyone to make compassion known. Do you think this is possible for you, and all of humanity, to make God’s compassion known? If so…Go, and do likewise.

Amen.