A reflection on Luke 10:25-37 for Sunday, February 12, 2023 at Mosaic Baptist Church, Gungahlin.
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 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 neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
Luke 10:25-37 (NRSVA)
Today we continue our series entitled: ‘Empowering for the Extraordinary’. We are looking, once again, at our church Mission statement. As a reminder, it reads: ‘Empowering Ordinary People for God’s Extraordinary Mission’. Of course, we are not claiming to have arrived in this place, but are a community setting a direction.
Last week we looked at the first value that we aspire to, that is, that we would be a community unashamedly built on the words, works, and ways of Jesus. A community placing, like the first fishermen-come-disciples, ’Jesus Front and Centre’.
This week we are asking what the implications of our second value might be. We seek to be a community that is ‘All About the Other’.
It reminds me of William Temple’s radical and remembered claim: ‘The church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.’ His words seem so universal, dangerous, inclusive, and alarmingly vast.
We are here to serve others.
In the same way, there is something dangerous – and perhaps universal – about trying to justify ourselves as we gravitate to a kingdom-of-God-denying narrowing of the call to ‘love your neighbour’.
In our passage above, Jesus’ affirmation of the lawyer’s answer to his own question put him in a difficult situation. He easily affirms his call to love God with ‘heart’, ‘soul’, ‘mind’, and ‘strength’ and neighbour ‘as yourself’.
Yet, our lawyer seems disarmed by the Jesus’ simplicity: ‘You have given the right answer; do this and you will live’. It does exactly nothing to narrow the broad requirement to love. Jesus leaves it as wide – and confronting – as ever.
We may be sympathetic with the lawyer’s predicament. After all, who can claim to have always loved so perfectly? So generously? So fully? So widely?
But rather than admit a shortfall our lawyer seeks a definition. He wants fences and limits. He asks, ‘And who is my neighbour?’
Jesus’ parable opens with a naked, beaten, and ‘half-dead’ traveller. Clothes may give an inkling of culture or class. Given his condition – and his silence throughout the story – Jesus drops no hint at an identity through language. Perhaps the location offers a clue that this one is Jewish, but it is far from certain give that a Samaritan will pass the same way. Some have speculated that a naked man would be identifiable as Jewish due to the rite of circumcision. If this is that case, Jesus, the author of this fictional story, offers nothing to even hint in this direction.
And so, the scene is set: an unknown man is in need on a dangerous road. We know nothing more.
This anonymity is lost on neither Levite nor priest. Both respond in exactly the same way: they ‘saw him’ and ‘passed by on the other side’. They are scared of one so completely unknown surrounded by unknown danger. .
Jesus, however, places another character on this road. After the passing of the honored and respectable, a ‘Samaritan’ takes centre stage. It is a shocking development. This half-cast race – neither Jew nor gentile – may have been the most despised of all.
But it is this man who is ‘moved with pity’. He is shares, gives, cares, and puts himself in danger. Plans are selflessly put on hold. It looks like it costs two day’s wages – plus whatever additional charges the innkeeper may choose.
By any standard this is an act of extravagant generosity.
And only now does Jesus request the lawyer’s judgment: ‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The obvious answer is: ‘The Samaritan’. The given one: ‘The one who showed him mercy’. Our lawyer, unlike Jesus, avoids even saying the name of this race.
And yet he has clearly understood. Jesus does not define, as requested, who is validly considered a neighbour. He simply defines the actions of one who is a generous – even loving – neighbour.
And it is all, alarmingly, couched in a Jesus-constructed story that makes a hero out of one towards whom hatred had been widely justified.
Our lawyer must have wondered where it all went wrong.
After all it started with the simplest of questions: ‘Teacher, what must I do the inherit eternal life?’
What do you think it would look like for you to move further down the path of being a ‘all about the other’? What merciful actions might you become known for?
What do you think it would look like for Mosaic Baptist Church to move further down the same path? What merciful actions might we become known for?