8th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 10:25-37 Sermon
July 22, 2007
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
397 “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”
568 “If Thou But Suffer God To Guide Thee”
379 “Rock Of Ages”
478 “He Leadeth Me”
BEING A GOOD NEIGHBOR
TEXT (vs. 25-28): “On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’ He answered: '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, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’”
This morning, I’d like to share a personal “Good Samaritan” story with you. I’m not doing this to brag or to make myself look good; rather it is one of those situations that make me thankful that I was at the right place at the right time.
When I lived in Australia, the two main congregations I was serving were 163 miles apart. I would make the drive back and forth between them frequently. The Bruce highway which ran between was a good one, but it was heavily traveled. I also had to cross the Gunalda range, which was a very small mountain in between.
A little over 60 miles from Maryborough where I lived, there was the old gold mining town of Gympie. When I got to Gympie, I had a choice to make. I could either go straight, over the Gunalda range, to get to Maryborough; or I could turn east and take a much less traveled road which ran through a forestry preserve. The forestry road was a bit longer; but it was completely straight and flat and there was very little traffic to encounter. It made for a lot less stress if there was heavy traffic on the Bruce Highway.
This one night it was a bit after midnight when I was going through Gympie. It had been drizzling rain the whole trip. I was going to go straight, but something told me that I should take the forestry road instead. So I headed myself in that direction.
It was a good choice, I thought. I was driving with my high beams, which meant I hadn’t met a single vehicle on the road. Definitely a more peaceful and relaxing trip.
I had gone maybe 40 miles or so, and I passed the T-intersection with the road going to the little town of Tuan. All of a sudden, I saw this young guy crawl out of the ditch by the side of the road, and he began waving at me with both arms. Almost without thinking, I stopped—of course it was a little ways beyond him.
As I was backing up to where he was, a lot of things suddenly went through my mind. This road was essentially deserted. Was he going to rob me? He wouldn’t get much. Did he want to beat me up, or torture me, or do unspeakable things to me? But it looked like he was all muddy and maybe hurt; I guess I should probably stop.
When I got there, I discovered that there was an older Kingswood off in the ditch, well out of the sight of anyone passing by. The occupants were young, probably early 20’s; and there was the guy that stopped me, another guy, and a young woman in the car. Of course they had been drinking. They had been going way too fast for the wet conditions; so when they turned the corner from the Tuan road on to the highway, they hydroplaned and slid off into the ditch.
The two guys were shaken up a bit, but not seriously hurt. The girl however was in more serious condition. She had broken bones and who knows what else, and needed immediate medical care.
I had to do some fast thinking. Paramedics, EMT’s, rescue equipment, and an ambulance would have been very helpful about now. But none of that was available. Cell phones were only just starting to become popular, and I didn’t have one. Dare I try to move her? What about lawsuits and other repercussions from my inexperience? Could I do her more damage? And how do I get her from the car at the bottom of the ditch up to where my van was parked? I could barely get myself down to where the car was; how in the world would I ever get her out of there?
Then I hit upon an idea. I had the two guys pull the bottom of the back seat out of the car. They then slid her out of the car onto the seat, which we used as a stretcher. I had all my seats in the van folded flat, so we just slid her, car seat and all, right into the van and we headed into Maryborough to the hospital.
When we got there, the triage nurse happened to be the sister of one of our church members, and I explained the situation to her. I made sure that they were taken care of, and told her to call me if anything else was needed from me.
That’s my own personal “Good Samaritan” story. And do you know something? I’m not really all that proud of it either. Do you want to know why? It’s because of all those negative things that were going through my mind. What if this, or what if that? And what really shakes me is how very close I came to acting like the Priest and the Levite in our Gospel lesson today. It would have been so easy to just keep on driving, and ignored this drunk waving his arms along the side of the road. He was a DUI, and he deserved what he got, right? But then there’s the other “what if”—what if I wouldn’t have stopped? What would have happened to that girl? That’s the part that’s really scary to think about.
Our Gospel lesson for today is the very familiar Parable of the Good Samaritan. This is probably one of the most well known of Jesus’ parables. It is so well known in fact, that the term “Good Samaritan” is regularly used by our society to describe someone who stops and helps someone else. And there are literally tons of Good Samaritan stories out there.
As we look at our text for today, Jesus is being questioned by a Jewish expert in the law—perhaps the equivalent of an attorney today. Imagine that Jesus is being cross examined in a court of law with the questions being asked of him. So he asks, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s a simple enough question, but there were ulterior motives connected with it. He was trying to trap Jesus.
Jesus turns it back on him by asking, “What is written in the Law?...How do you read it?” And he responds with the correct summary of God’s law: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s all well and good.
But now it’s time for the lawyer to try to turn the tables. He asks what would appear to be a very subjective question of Jesus. “And who is my neighbor?” That’s when Jesus responds with this parable of the Good Samaritan.
The characters in this story are the object of special consideration because of who they are. The Priest and the Levite—both upright Jews, and both supposedly being Godly people. Why did they pass by?
The road between Jerusalem and Jericho was notorious for people getting beaten up and robbed. To see someone injured and lying on the side of the road was probably a common sight. The Priest and the Levite had most likely become accustomed to seeing this, so it didn’t phase them too much. Besides, if they had stopped to help him, they would have had to touch him, thereby defiling themselves and making themselves ceremonially unclean. They would have had to undergo a purification rite which would have been too much bother.
But then the Samaritan comes along. A Samaritan was a half-breed Jew and Gentile, and a person who was hated and despised by the Jews. He tends to the man who was beaten and robbed, takes him to an inn, and sees to his care. Even if the man who was beaten and robbed was a Jew himself, and really didn’t want the help of a Samaritan, he got it anyway. That’s the type of compassion this Samaritan had.
Then Jesus asks the lawyer the key question: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The lawyer answers, “The one who had mercy on him…” Now you notice that the lawyer can’t even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan.” He still despises the Samaritans, but he had to give a correct answer. So he does it in a round about way.
From this story, we can focus on two major points. First of all, who is my neighbor? We can easily see that Jesus means more than just the person next door or across the street or down the road. When Jesus talks about our neighbor in the Biblical sense, he means everyone with whom we share this earth. The whole world is our neighborhood.
And secondly, we again see how Jesus eradicates the old lines between ethnicity and race. Humanity in its entirety is loved equally by God, and Jesus is everybody’s Saviour. Jesus makes the point that the Priest and the Levite were no better than the Samaritan; in fact the Samaritan lived his faith while the Priest and the Levite would only give it lip service.
I heard a story once about an incident that happened in a large seminary where future pastors receive their training. The students in one class were given an assignment to do a video presentation on the parable of the Good Samaritan. In order to do this, they had to go to another building across campus; and they didn’t have much time either.
The instructor had arranged for an actor to place himself in an alleyway. This actor, dressed in scruffy clothing portrayed someone who was in need of help. All of the students on their way to the video taping facility had to pass by this man.
About a week later, the class was supposed to meet and watch the video presentations they had done so they could be critiqued. The room darkened, and the video started. Instead of their presentations, the camera was focused upon this actor in the alleyway. One by one, the students passed by this man, ignoring him. In fact, one of the students even stepped over him. They were too busy trying to get to the studio to do their presentations on the Good Samaritan story!
The room was completely quiet. When the lights came back on, there stood the disheveled man in front of the class. The instructor spoke: “Class, I’d like to introduce you to John Doe, an actor I arranged to have in the alleyway here on campus. This was your video presentation of the Good Samaritan story. I think I’ve made my point.” And with that, he dismissed the class.
Talking about the Good Samaritan is easy; actually putting it into practice is a different matter. And when I ponder over what I was thinking when I came upon that accident, I can fully understand how easy it is to just ignore something, or pass by quietly, or to just do nothing.
We have taken the role of the Priest and the Levite far too many times. We have ignored when we should have helped. We have turned a deaf ear when we should have listened. We have taken an attitude of indifference when we should have cared. We have sinned.
We can look at ourselves as the one who has been beaten and robbed and left for dead. That’s what the devil has done to us. Our many sins have separated us from God, and have made us repugnant to others.
But Jesus acts the part of the Good Samaritan. He picks us up, heals our wounds, and makes us well. Furthermore, he promises he will never leave nor forsake us, regardless of what happens.
It is impossible for us to perfectly love God and love our neighbor, as Jesus says in our Gospel lesson. But it wasn’t impossible for Jesus to do that on our behalf. That’s why we come to him as we are, naked looking for dress, and helpless looking for grace. We come to him in faith, knowing that he loves us and forgives us. Through faith in Jesus alone, we have been made whole again, and the disease of sin has been completely removed.
As I look back at that accident in Australia, I know that if I hadn’t come along and helped, that girl might have died. I went to see her in hospital. She had to have major surgery to fix her leg, and she was a long time recovering. She thanked me for helping her, and her mother also telephoned me and thanked me too. It’s nice to be appreciated, but I was far more thankful that I had taken the road I did and stopped to help. God certainly knew what he was doing, and I thank him for it. And of course, none of my initial fears ever came true.
I heard a pastor say once that God uses whatever willing hands are available to do his work. He used the Samaritan in our Gospel for today, which taught a powerful lesson. He has used mine. And I’m sure that he has used yours too.
As forgiven and redeemed souls through the healing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we now have the opportunity to put our faith into practice. We have hands that can transmit the loving touch of our heavenly Father. May we always have them ready and willing for his use.