By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 7, 2022
Luke 10:25–37 (ESV)
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
There are a few passages from scripture that almost everyone knows. Today we have read one of those stories. Most of us could tell this story to anyone at a moments notice. Most of us could explain the meaning within this story to anyone we meet. We know this story but most of us would say that we cannot share our faith because we do not know enough scripture.
I want us to think about this for a moment. I want us to think about the purpose of scripture, and why God inspired it. I want us to consider why after thousands of years we still read this book, why we translate it into nearly every language across the planet, and why we think it is important.
I have said on multiple occasions that I love studying scripture. I remember one summer afternoon while sitting at McDonald’s in Odessa Ukraine talking with some students and other friends of mine while we ate a chocolate ice cream sundae. One of our students asked us what our dream job would be. This was twenty-two years ago, and I remember it as if it were yesterday. This was twenty-two years ago, and I thought I had my entire life figured out. I was going to go into genetic research, I was going to work for a seed company and was going to make more nutritious crops that could be grown in arid places of the world. I thought this because I lived and worked on a dryland farm. There were not many options for our farmers. We grew wheat and grain sorghum, and when I was coming out of Highschool and going into college genetic engineering of crops was just beginning. This new scientific discovery was opening the dryland farms of Kansas to corn and soybean production. These discoveries were making rice that had greater nutritional content that could be grown in areas that previously could not. It was an exciting time for those that produce food. I know that some of you might think this is crazy and you may not want to eat those products, but for a farmer this is great. Farmers want to produce products that will feed people. Their livelihood and their lifestyle are to raise food so others can eat with the hope that they will also be able to feed their own family. That was my hope and my dream as I left high school and entered college. I thought that God had given me a gift of knowledge and curiosity so that I could use that knowledge to feed the world.
But on that summer afternoon while eating ice cream someone asked me a question, what is your dream job. And in that moment my mind and my mouth seemed to be disconnected. I spent the entire summer talking with students about science and faith. I had conversations with young adults that had just started their career in the Ministry of Agriculture in Ukraine, I had visited the home of a student and spoke to their grandfather who was an agricultural researcher in the Soviet Union, and he took me around Ukraine, and we looked at the fields. Acres and acres of wheat and sunflowers. I even had an interview for a job in Odessa. They wanted me to stay in their country and help them make their agricultural economy more like that of Kansas. But when that student asked that question, I did not say what I expected to say. Instead, I said, “I would like to sit around eating ice cream and talking about scripture.”
As soon as those words came out of my mouth, I was terrified. What had I just said? Had I just lost my mind? I quickly recovered and played it off as I really liked ice cream, which I do, and everyone laughed. They knew I loved ice cream and all of us that went to Ukraine to teach English did, because we would eat all the ice cream out of their coolers within two days. Ukraine had some of the best ice cream in the world. But the second part of the statement stuck with me. It scared me, because if this was true, I had been pursuing the wrong life and lifestyle. Everything I thought I knew was turning upside down. I had one semester left before my degree was finished and was, I seriously going to pursue a different path.
That summer in Ukraine taught me something. I did not have an education in biblical studies. Yet I would sit down with students, and we would talk, we would open scripture and read a passage and discuss it, and I found that the quiet farm kid that would rarely speak began to talk. And when we had these discussions those around me would talk, and soon we were telling each other how we should change aspects of our lives and began encouraging each other. So often I regarded the scripture as a book of law, as the source of answers for moral problems. But in that summer, I realized that scripture is a conversation. It is God speaking with us and as we listen, consider, and respond we leave the conversation changed.
I tell this story, because this is what Jesus taught. We often wonder why Jesus spoke in parables, and the reason is because scripture, even the books we often refer to as the books of the law, are stories and conversations. They are case studies to prompt us to think and reconsider how we live with each other and with God.
“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” I want us to consider this scene, imagine it in your mind. In ancient times, when a rabbi or a teacher was speaking to their students or disciples, they would gather around and sit together. When someone wanted to ask a question, they would stand up. Today we raise our hands to get permission to speak, back then they stood up. This lawyer was sitting with the disciples of Jesus, he was listening to Jesus teach, and was interested in what Jesus had to say. He was eager to learn. How often do we imagine the various scenarios of Jesus’s confrontations with religious leaders like this? Do we realize that they were eager to learn just as much as the everyone else?
This lawyer stands and he asks his question. But there is something here that we might miss. When we see the word lawyer, we assume things. The word that Luke uses for Lawyer is important. He uses a different term here than the other gospel writers; it is a word that means an expert of the law. This is a man that most would regard as an equal to if not greater than Jesus in knowledge. Meaning that he is not only one that can bring clarity to the law but is authorized to teach it. He is a master professor, a doctor in his field. I bring this up because it brings clarity to Jesus’s response. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” This second question Jesus asks this man could be rendered not only as read, but how would you teach and explain it.
Jesus does not simply give information; he invites the man into a conversation. The man is given permission to explain his own understanding of what scripture says, before Jesus speaks. And he answered, “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.” This is the Shema, a prayer or confession that was encouraged to be spoken twice a day to remind the people of Israel of who they are. We often think that Jesus gave a new teaching but everything that he taught is rooted in the teachings that had been around since Moses. This teaching of which the lawyer speaks is from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. This is from the very core of the teaching of Israel that is accepted across all branches of their faith. And Jesus responds to the lawyer, “you have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
This is the core of our faith even to this day. The law that we are to live by is to love God with everything we are and all that we have, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The word for love in this sense is the same, there is no hierarchy to it. Love of God is to be equal to love of neighbor, and it should be equal to the love that we have for ourselves. It is telling us that everything should be in balance. We cannot love God more than we love our neighbor, because this would lead to neglect, and we cannot love our neighbor without loving God, because this would also throw things out of balance because we would then be worshiping our community more than God. And the hardest part is loving our neighbor as ourselves. We so often get this wrong because we want to be humble. So, we neglect ourselves and give to others, or we justify doing special things for ourselves because we are to love ourselves, and if we regard ourselves too highly, we become self-centered and selfish. There needs to be a balance between all three aspects.
We struggle with this balance. If you do not struggle with this, please talk with me after service because I would love to know your secret to success. We must constantly examine ourselves and at times we need to listen to others because we might be blind to our own actions, because we have justified them in our own minds. And this is exactly where we find this man. “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor.’”
This man is calculating, he is looking into his life and his actions, he is making his list within his mind and trying to determine just how much he must invest and where he can draw lines of exemption. He wants to have eternal life, and he realizes that his understanding of this differs from what Jesus teaches. For so long he believed that simply because he was born an Israelite he was safely and secure in the kingdom of God. And the manner in which Jesus responded to him, brings things into question. Is there something more? Could his calculations be in error? All I must do is love that is it? What about all the other laws? And he quickly notices that there is this big hole in his thinking, who is included in this love?
Now we get into the story that we all know. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” To get a better picture of this scene it is important to understand the geography a bit. Jerusalem is up in the mountains, and Jericho is in a valley. The two cities are about eighteen miles apart but there is around a three-thousand-foot change in elevation between the two, because of this the road twists and turns. It snakes through the hills giving the most level and easiest path avoiding the shear ledges. This makes the terrain pretty perilous, and to make everything worse there were zealots that hid in the hills. We are told that they are robbers, but what scholars believe is that surrounding the holy city were freedom fighters or religiously minded zealots. These men were those that sought to liberate Israel from the rule of Rome, and they justified their violence with self-righteous thought. They were purifying the land, they were making the nation fit for the Messiah, they were acting out of righteous devotion, but in reality, they were filling their pockets with ill gotten gains and were simply terrorists and gangsters. They preyed upon travelers to fund their campaigns. They extorted money and justified the killing of those that opposed them. They hung out on this road for a reason, Jericho was an important city of commerce. The taxes or tolls were collected in Jericho and basically everything that entered the holy city had to be processed in Jericho before it entered Jerusalem. There was money on this road. And the man that was traveling in this story must not have been keen on supporting their righteous cause, so they took their tribute by force.
“Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.” Again, imagine a mountain road, with steep walls on each side. On one side a person would have to climb up a cliff, and the other the ground dropped off into a void. To pass by on the other side is not something one would do with ease. We are often told that the priest might have avoided the man because it would have caused him to become ritually unclean. This would be important because priest that served in the temple only served two times a year for a week and many of them lived in Jericho. If we were to look up the law surrounding touching the dead, they would be unclean for a week, so we can see the justification of this priest avoiding the man. But there is more to the law. If one came across a dead man and no one else was around it was their responsibility to bury the dead. If anyone found out that this priest avoided the duty it would be just as taboo if not worse than being ritually unclean.
We are to honor humanity, because they were created in the image of God. The priest dishonored the man, and dishonored God. And so did the Levite. Both men took extra effort to avoid the man. They went out of their way to avoid. They exerted extra energy to get out of doing the right thing, and they justified their actions just as the robbers did.
Then a third man came upon the body. If we were hearing this live, we would have noticed that Jesus used a Priest and then a Levite, those were the clerical or the religious class within Israel, so our mind would assume that the third person that came would have been one of the people of Israel. Jesus knew that this would be the anticipated conclusion to the story, but he does not go in that direction. The third man was a Samaritan. If we were there live, we would hear the crowd gasp. Samaritans were unclean. They were worse than Gentiles. They claimed to be of Israel, and yet they did not worship at the temple, and they did not have pure blood lines. They were the enemies of God; they were the ones that turned away and worshiped false gods.
This Samaritan saw the man lying there, and he rushed up to him. He bound up his wounds and poured oil and wine on the bandages to provide a healing compress. He then lifted the man onto his own animal. Some say it was a donkey, but it could have been any beast of burden, a donkey, camel, maybe even an ox. And he took the man to an inn. He gave the inn keeper two denarii to care for the man. As I was studying, I wondered why Luke felt it was important to mention just how much money he spent. And I found that an inn would often cost one twelfth of a denarius, so he basically paid in advance for twenty-four days lodging. Samaria is around seventy-four miles from Jericho, and if a person would walk ten miles a day, he could be back to Jericho in about fourteen days, but he would have to spend some time gathering goods, so the Samaritan covered the lodging for the man, up to the point that he would be back in town. This Samaritan man was taking responsibility for him. He was making sure he not only had his wounds bound, but they he would have food, and a place to rest until he was able to come back to him. He went above and beyond what was necessary, or even wise.
Jesus ends this story by asking one final question, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The crowd is in shock. They are staring at Jesus in horror. In this story the righteous failed to respect the humanity of the individual, and the one regarded as unrighteous became the hero. The lawyer hesitates to even speak. He cannot even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan.” And he replies, “the one who showed him mercy.”
Why did he hesitate? We have no problem saying the word Samaritan. We even make laws called Good Samaritan Laws that require us to help those who have been in accidents and protect them from lawsuits if something happens. Why could this man not even bring himself to speak the word? Because the Samaritans were the enemy. They were always regarded as less human than the people of Judah. They were not counted among God’s people. And he knew what Jesus was implying.
Love has no borders, it has no race, or nationality. We cannot in any way have prejudice in justice and regard ourselves as righteous. If we are to say that we love God, but fail to love the individual from Mexico, Russia, or Iraq we are not honoring the image of God. If we close a door of opportunity based on anything that is not of and individual’s control, we are not treating them as an individual loved by God and a fellow image bearer of his image. The man acknowledges that the man that showed mercy was the neighbor. And Jesus says to him. “You go and do likewise.”
We are not told if the lawyer responded to this story in a positive or negative way. Luke often writes in this manner. He leaves the resolution of the story open, and this causes whoever reads it to wrestle with the implications. I say that Luke did this, but I actually think that Jesus wanted this to happen. He does not give a straight answer but causes us to think and stew. He wants us to place ourselves within the story and see where we might fall. We have each heard this story countless times, but have we thought deeply about it? Have we made justifications within our minds that would dishonor the humanity of others because they were not us? Have we rationalized in our minds acts of callousness?
When Friends first emerged the major driving force behind their movement was that their words and actions resembled each other. They would not use sacraments or means of grace because they felt that all of life was a holy to God and that every moment we lived and every word that we spoke should give glory to God and encouragement to those around us. This is one of the reasons I love our religious society. I feel our name is not only important, but a reality. We are Friends, and we will encourage and treat everyone as such. But do we really believe this? Do we really take the word that God inspired and live them out, or do we, like the lawyer, make justifications for our lack of action? To be a neighbor is action, it is our ministry and our mission. It is something that we each are required to participate in, not just the priests, or the clergy, but each one of us in our own way. How will we respond? The resolution of the story is left open so that each of us can participate in the conversation, and the response Jesus gives apples to everyone, “You go, and do likewise.”
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