The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

Luke 10:25-37
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Both the lawyer and Jesus knew perfectly well what was written in the law: “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 neighbor as yourself.” But wanting to justify himself further, the lawyer posed another question to Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?”

Now, Jesus knew that the lawyer knew the answer to this question as well—at least according to the law. According to the law, there were all kinds of limits and restrictions – legal loopholes – that disqualified one from being a neighbor and removed any obligation for being neighborly.

So Jesus used the question of “who is my neighbor” and the occasion to do a teaching: about the kingdom, and about the difference between law and grace, justice and mercy, obligation and opportunity. And he does this by telling a story that we have come to know as the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

But what the Samaritan did to become a good “neighbor” to the man who fell into the hands of robbers was perhaps less important to the point of the parable than how he did it— unassumingly with no strings attached. He was much less preoccupied with the religious customs and social rules of his time and more focused on what it meant to be faithful and kind and caring. He was the unlikely hero. His heart and soul were tuned to God (and neighbor). He was utterly focused on the immediate situation and doing the right thing, responding in the right way.

He was sincere, and he provided complete but not excessive care. In contemporary vernacular, the Samaritan wasn’t “co-dependent” but stayed within “healthy boundaries.” For twenty-four hours he attended to the man himself and then went on his way, assuring the innkeeper that any additional costs for the man’s care would be paid. The Samaritan trusted everyone involved and assumed that they would trust him. He was kind and expected kindness of others.

But what made the Samaritan kind? What made the Good Samaritan “good?” Well, there are several plausible explanations. One would be that he was brought up by good parents who taught him not to be prejudiced and who emphasized the importance of public service. (Good parenting.)
That he himself had received compassion and care from an unlikely source earlier in his life and either wanted to give back in return, to “pay it forward,” or he simply knew the value of unconditional love. (A remembering and giving back, or a gift a gratitude.)
He was an honest man looking for a legitimate distraction. (Who knows where he was heading and how badly he wanted an excuse to be late?) It’s a stretch, but plausible if you’ve ever wanted a legitimate excuse to be late or absent somewhere or to some thing.
(And this, I think, is the most likely:) He simply did it, a generous act not particularly conscious or calculated, but more reflexive and spontaneous. Someone was in need and he responded. He saw the man in the ditch as a neighbor, and he responded as and became a “good” neighbor.

It’s a surprising story, especially to a Jewish ear, because to the Jews of that time Samaritans were hardly considered neighbors. In fact, they were worse than enemies; they were traitors and infidels. And there was no love-loss in the other direction either, the Samaritan for the Jew.

So let’s assume that the Samaritan was just as surprised by his initial response to the half-dead man as was the lawyer and the other Jews listening to Jesus tell this story.

The important point is that the Samaritan didn’t do it out of obligation or obedience to the law or even moral conscience. He did it because it needed to be done, without thinking twice, without thinking once, about why or who he was helping, or, if it was deserved—if the situation or the man merited his assistance.

Grace happens! Grace exists! The Holy Spirit surrounds us and can surprise us when we least expect it—if we will open ourselves to the workings of that Spirit.

The Samaritan’s ability to respond and to extend himself was not convenient; it wasn’t smart by the socio-political standards of his time; it wasn’t rational. But it was right. It was a good and grace-full act. & Human nature alone can’t explain his authentic compassion.

From this perspective the Parable of the Good Samaritan points, profoundly, to the existence of God—an event that can be explained only by one greater than ourselves. It’s interesting to imagine the Samaritan several days later, reflecting on this experience and wondering just where his humanity ended and God’s grace took over.

But listen to me. Because I want you hear this. If we understand this parable as telling us that we are to be Good Samaritans at all times in our daily lives, we miss the whole point. If the Samaritan’s actions alone were a measure of what it means to be a good neighbor, there wouldn’t be a lot of joy in our lives, because there would always be another crisis demanding our attention.

We would be self-conscious if not self-righteous, and terribly serious, terribly unhappy, and constantly running to find some other crisis that we could make better. That’s not the mission.

The Samaritan’s unique quality—and Jesus’ point with this story—was his ability to focus his attention and give of himself at an unlikely time for an unlikely person, and then return to his original journey. Just like Jesus did, just as Jesus expects us to do.

Not sticking around for praise or further obligation or to make sure everything gets taken care of the right way—the way he would have done it. The Samaritan didn’t lose himself in the process of giving. In fact, he assumed the best: that the situation would care for itself, that others would do their part, that healing happens and life goes on.
The Samaritan was never afraid or tentative, never cynical but optimistic. He seemed confident that God was in control.

So, what are our Good Samaritan experiences? When have we been compelled to do what needed to be done by a power greater than ourselves? When have we been sustained by an irrational knowledge that we are loved and called to serve? When have we been served or attended to by someone unexpectedly? Someone who owes us nothing?

These are moments of grace when, as we hear in today’s psalm, God is indeed showing us the ways of truth and salvation, the paths of love and faithfulness.

There is a story told about two brothers who owned a farm together. They each had a house and a barn. They operated a granary and split what they harvested equally. One of the brothers was single. The other brother was married and had a house full of kids.

One day the single brother said to himself, “It’s not fair that we divide everything equally. I’m just one person and my brother has all those mouths to feed. I know what I’ll do. Every night after dark, I’ll take one of my bags of grain and put it in my brother’s barn.” And so he did.

About the same time the married brother was doing some thinking of his own. “It’s not fair that my brother and I divide the crops equally. I have my children to look after me when I grow old, but he’s all alone. I know what I’ll do. I’ll take a sack of grain from my barn every night and put it in my brother’s barn.” And he did.

After a time, the brothers were amazed to discover that even though they were removing a sack of grain from their barns every night, their own supply was never diminished.

One evening the two brothers met on the pathway between their barns, each carrying a sack of grain. Then they understood the mystery. And they embraced, and loved each other deeply.

There is a legend that says God looked down from heaven, saw the two brothers embracing, and said, “I declare this to be a holy place, for I have witnessed extraordinary love here.” It is also said that it was on that spot that Solomon built the first temple.

I hope that this is a place that God can look down on and declare to be holy, because of the extraordinary love shared between and among his people here. And not just here, but as we go out into the world in the name of, and in the service of, and with the grace of Jesus Christ.

It’s pretty easy to be religious, to do the right thing, to live by the rules. It’s a lot harder to be faithful, to truly love God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

We learn to love our neighbor, our brother, our sister, by opening ourselves to the mercy and wisdom and grace of God.

Jesus said to the lawyer, ‘”Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “[Then] Go, and do likewise.”‘

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.