February 21, 2021
Today, Jesus the teacher is being tested by a lawyer … who is searching for a theological centre and asks the question
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer, who … unsurprisingly … can quote the law regarding loving the Lord and loving your neighbour. Jesus commends him for knowing the right answer and instructs the lawyer to do it.
The lawyer responds with another question – who is my neighbour?
The lawyer seeks to set boundaries for who receives God’s love and just how inclusive this love actually is … after all, the lawyer is an insider … he’s among the chosen people and holds a measure of status.
The lawyer wants to identify the grey areas. He wants to justify himself is how Luke puts it.
“Who is my neighbour?” the lawyer asks.
Another way to put it is, “How am I called to love?”
In answer, Jesus shares the parable of the Samaritan.
Jesus tells the lawyer and the gathering that there was a man who was making the journey from Jerusalem to Jericho when bandits beat him and stole his clothes and left him lying battered by the side of the road.
A priest happens by … and keeps going.
A Levite … another temple official … happens upon the scene … and keeps going.
Then, a Samaritan … a member of a group despised and distrusted by the Jewish community … arrives … and stops.
The Samaritan cares for the man … gets him up on his animal and brings him to an inn that’s along the route.
The Samaritan even gives the innkeeper the equivalent of two-days wages to care for the man and promised to give even more if the cost of care was more than he anticipated.
At the end of the parable, Jesus asked the lawyer who he considers to be the neighbour in the story.
The lawyer answered, “the one who showed him mercy.”
Right answer, Jesus says.
The audience who first heard this story no doubt expected the priest or then the Levite to be the hero of this tale.
The crowd could have expected either the priest or the Levite … as officials in the temple … to stop, bind the man’s wounds, ease his suffering and … if he passed … to prepare the body for burial. So, it is a surprise when they pass by the victim without offering assistance of even slowing down when they notice him lying by the side of the road.
We aren’t even told why they kept going … were they late for an appointment? Were they worried that the robbers were still around? Were they pre-occupied by something that happened at the Temple?
So, the crowd would have been surprised and, perhaps, even angered that the Samaritan was the lauded character of the story.
The Samaritan is the opposite of the priest or the Levite … and of the lawyer … they were considered ceremonially unclean, socially outcast, and religious heretics.
Samaritans were descendants of a mixed population that occupied the land following the conquest by Assyria. They opposed rebuilding the temple and Jerusalem and constructed their own place of worship.
But, had it not been for the actions of the Samaritan, the pair’s uncaring inaction could have led to the victim’s death.
We can see the man who has been stripped, beaten to the point of death and abandoned as a foreshadowing of what awaits Jesus in Jerusalem. Of how the people in Jerusalem mirrored the actions and attitudes of the priest and Levite.
We can also recognize how we are called to be like the Samaritan … offering help to those in distress … regardless of cultural or traditional differences. Or how we are called to avoid the distractions of life and to listen to the word … the lessons … being shared with us … to take a wider view of God’s presence in our lives and to be open to … and to love wholly.
But what if we look at the parable from a different angle today?
What if instead of looking for ourselves in either the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan, we look at ourselves as the traveller heading to Jericho?
What if we look at ourselves as the person battered, beaten, bloodied and left lying in the ditch … a victim of someone else’s greed or need for domination?
What if we were the ones trying to make eye contact with the priest and the Levite as they give us a wide berth as they pass by with their minds set on their own lives?
The two stories this morning … the Samaritan and the passage about Mary and Martha – are about breaking boundaries … not establishing boundaries as the lawyer sought to do at the beginning of today’s passage.
The second story about sisters Mary and Martha is one where Mary breaks society’s rules and expectations for women to learn at Jesus’s feet … to be a disciple. And … rather than criticize Mary and send her off to help her sister … Jesus rebukes the gender boundaries that were in place.
A couple of weeks ago, we heard about com – passion … about entering into another’s suffering and walking with them in it.
Compassion … love … is intended to be boundless.
Today’s passage invites us to empathize with the roadside victim … to feel the pain and sense of abandonment he experienced. To perhaps, recognize the impact our ministry … our caring can have on others … and to recognize the barriers that have been placed in our path.
It invites us to consider how we love others.
The characters in the story … the Samaritan … Mary … and even Martha … model aspects of how we are called to serve others … actions informed by and through God’s words and not society’s … or our own … expectations.
When we do this, the instruction to “Go and do likewise,” takes on a wholly … and holy … different meaning.
So, during the coming days of the Lenten Season … when we are called into reflection … we can examine ourselves for the attitudes and perceptions that keep us from fully sharing God’s love … God’s gift of grace … and leave them along the path as we travel toward the cross.
In other words, to answer the question, “How do we love?”