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Sermon for Ordinary 15

Sermon for Ordinary 15 Year C The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

An extraordinary encounter

The story of the Good Samaritan is a familiar bible story.  It’s a story and a concept that most people on the streets know even if they can’t quite remember the context, or even that it’s from the bible.

It’s a story that only appears on the gospel of Luke and probably really beings several verses earlier. 

We’ve just been told by Luke that Jesus has resolutely turned His face towards Jerusalem Lk 9 v 51, as ‘…the days were being accomplished’. 

His Galilean ministry is over and it’s time to draw things to a close.  The structure of the next chapters will echo many of the themes of Deuteronomy and today’s reading is an example of one of those distant resonances with its farewell address reminiscent of Moses, and proclamation about the nature of God.

He sent messengers ahead of Him and we’re told they went into a Samaritan village to make preparations for Him, but the people would not receive Him specifically because He was on his way to Jerusalem. 

As He sets out for Jerusalem the division between the faithful Jews on their way to the Passover at Jerusalem, and the Samaritans is made clear.  As he travels on His way He then sends out the seventy two disciples who bear witness to what they have seen and come back rejoicing.

And then we come to the story of the Good Samaritan and the great Commandment, echoes again of Moses.

We’re told a lawyer, i.e. a person of the law, stands up to challenge and test Jesus.  ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’  Jesus simply gets the lawyer to repeat what he knows to be the law and then says, do this and life is yours.

But the lawyer is anxious to justify himself and effectively asks, ‘But what bounds do I draw around my acceptance of others as my neighbour’, a very Jewish question.  Much came to be written about the explanation of the law and Jewish writings in books such as the Talmud, composed of the Mishnah and Gemara which would appear about 500 years later.

But rather than get dragged into a religious debate Jesus replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  A parable where the scene has already been set for us by Luke a few verses earlier.

It was to prove a more insightful understanding of the law than the lawyer and those who were witnessing the exchange would ever have expected.

As the drama of the story unfolds we meet lots of different characters……We’ve already met the lawyer and now it’s time for us to meet some more.

The man who was attacked had set out on a dangerous road alone.  He’d got himself into a difficult situation that perhaps he should have foreseen and travelled with others. What was he doing in the first place people would have wondered?  It was well known that bandits often prowled the road.

He was beaten within an inch of his life, possibly left for dead with all his possessions taken from Him.

Then along comes the Priest and the Levite.  Perhaps being on the way to Jerusalem they did not want to be made unclean by coming into contact with what appeared to be a dead body so pass by on the other side of the road. 

Perhaps they felt it was a trap, a set-up, that as soon as they knelt down to the person, who was perhaps a stooge, they would be attacked and robbed.  Perhaps they misread the situation and made assumptions based on previous experience or stories they had heard.  Or perhaps just full of their own concerns missed or forgot about concern for others.

Then the Samaritan himself appears on the scene.  Based on their history it was the Samaritans that had rejected Jesus as He started on His way to Jerusalem, but this one was about to re-write history based on his compassion and love.

He was moved with compassion, wrenched in the gut, the same word that is used when Jesus is filled with compassion for example when he raised the widow of Nain’s son in an earlier chapter of Luke (Lk 7 v 12 – 15)

He was driven by love, not by the strictures of the law.  His seeing was flowed by action, costly in terms of the risk to his safety, costly in terms of the bandages, oil and wine he treated to wounds with, and costly in terms of his financial provision as he left him at the inn.

We’re not told what the beaten up traveller might have thought about being treated by a Samaritan, probably just grateful someone had stopped and saved his life.

But for the Jews, they would not miss that salvation and healing had come from a source they did not expect, something they would see too on the cross when Jesus’ own journey would come to an end.

And then we have the innkeeper himself.  Astonishingly he trusted the Samaritan and joined in with the story of healing and reconciliation.  He welcomed a foreigner and a stranger, extending hospitality to someone he might normally turn away and seemingly not troubled with someone who had been badly beaten and might be a burden on him for some time.

After telling the story Jesus doesn’t say, who is my neighbour, but who was the beaten man’s neighbour to which the lawyer replies, the Samaritan, the one who showed pity and compassion and took action rather than just walk by on the other side.

The Samaritan, rather than being the object of pity and sympathy, the person on the outside, the marginalised, was the source of source of pity and compassion and ministry to the marginalised and the overlooked.

The Kingdom of God that Jesus heralded was not based on any rigorous or self-righteous adherence to the law, but on love and compassion to all, including those others passed by, the marginalised, those we have had long held differences with and those who don’t see things as we do.

The story is no less penetrating because there are elements of all of the characters in each one of us.

We are all part lawyers.  It’s easy to see us as part of the in crowd, the informed, as we go to church and express our faith but sometimes seeking to put limits and bounds on what we think should be expected of us.  Not that we should just do everything and let ourselves be put upon, but as we read this story it’s a reminder to check out motives and make sure our hearts are always open to the gently prompting of God.

We are all part travellers, doing something we didn’t quite think through, getting ourselves into the occasional mess and difficult situation and having to swallow our pride and accept help, sometimes from the most unlikely of sources and people.

We’re all part Priests and Levites, choosing to turn a blind eye to something, perhaps full of our own concerns or being trapped by history or previous experiences or even stories we have been told or assumptions which can be misplaced.  Worried about what might happen and wtat the repercussions might be, how we might look if we take a certain course of action.

We’re all part Samaritan, reaching out to someone in dire need, speaking and acting for them when they are in no position to do it for themselves.

We’re all part innkeepers, offering hospitality and welcome, sometimes to those who are very different to ourselves, joining in with a story that’s already happening.  But whatever part we are playing, and it probably changes day by day, the message of the passage is clear.  There are no limits to God’s love in the Kingdom that Jesus inaugurated.  The lawyer, not the Priest or Levite) are condemned, just shown the story of God’s love for his world in a new way.

It’s a way that those in our world need to see and experience God’s limitless love in action and a world and a people, healed, and transformed beyond expectations, whatever our history and experience has been.