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 neighbor 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 neighbor?" 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 traveling 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 neighbor 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."
+++ +++ +++
Just when? “Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus,” “Just then? Just when? that’s a peculiar way to begin a gospel story.
But no, it is not, it’s not peculiar, and it’s not the beginning of the story; it’s just what happens because on Sunday mornings we read dots and tittles, bits and snippets of the Bible. What’s going on is that, from Luke 9:51 Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem,” and it’s a long journey, ten chapters from Luke 9:51 to Luke 19 verse 28, look it up later if you care. So he’s on his way to Jerusalem, and we all know what that means. And besides, Luke does not begin this little story (scholars call it a “pericope”, or a “tradition) Luke does not begin it with “Just then,” he begins it with the wonderful Greek word “ἰδοὺ” that Luke likes, and that I like, he begins it καὶ ἰδοὺ, which means “and behold!” as though, “Hey, listen to this, man, you’re not gonna believe this,” and then, setting up some lawyer as the fool, the straight man of the gospel, he launches into the Good Samaritan. And by the way, this is worth an ἰδοὺ, because this wonderful old Sunday School Bible Story is only remembered in Luke’s gospel on the road to Jerusalem: The Good Samaritan.
There is a story of the Episcopal bishop who takes a group of Episcopalians on a tour of the Holy Land. So one morning the bus sets out, with driver and tour guide as usual, and after driving thirty or forty minutes on a dusty dirt road way out into the countryside between Jerusalem and Jericho, the bus pulls up to a stop at an intersection. The tour guide points over across the way to the tumbled down old ruins of a building, and says, “This was the inn where the good Samaritan took the man who fell among robbers, and paid the innkeeper to look after him.”
The bishop stands up on the bus and protests, “Wait a minute! That did not really happen, it was just a story Jesus told to show us who is our neighbor.” To which the unphased tour guide says, “Well, if it had really happened, this is where he would have brought him.”
In my churches, and always minding the leeway that the PrayerBook rubrics give us in preparing our worship service, the divine liturgy, I used to try and take advantage of opportunities to leave out stuff. We have four lessons, for example, Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament and Gospel, but the rubrics only require us to read one lesson (if there’s Holy Communion, we are required to read the gospel lesson). So my practice was to read one lesson and the gospel — in fact, after Amos this morning we omitted the psalm and paused a moment of silence before going on to be baffled with a snippet from Colossians.
The rubrics also say, “on occasion the Confession of Sin may be omitted,” and I always did that during the Easter Season when confession and absolution are redundant to the Cross and Empty Tomb; and I thought of omitting the Confession this morning. But the gospel story is about our blind oblivion to what it means, Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor, to love one another as God loves us. Mark 12, “The first commandment is this: Shema, Yisrael, Adonai elehenu, Adonai echod, Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your soul, and with all your strength; and the second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We live in a horrible, gruesome age of unkindness and unspeakable cruelty, hatred, retribution and revenge, that any but the most obtuse populist politician can see why it has come upon us and the world: we have not loved our neighbor, stirring the cycle of hatred and vengeance. Read history, or worse, live history, that has set humanity against ourselves on a course of self-immolation, with the most innocent among us suffering the terrible cost. A person I’ve loved most in life turns eighty years old today, and in a world of Amos the Prophet redivivus, it’s a timely era in which Linda and I have lived in a brief age of peace and now standing on the promises of God. Kyrie eleison, Lord, have mercy.
Who is my neighbor? If Jesus is logos, the Word of God, if we are to believe this, if we are to take onboard this outrageous story of the Good Samaritan, then the person, the tribe, the race, the nation, the movement, the enemy I hate and fear most is my neighbor, and Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” Matthew 5:43, again the Lord Jesus himself speaking, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you,” the gospel is outrageous, who can do it, who can live it? and in this violent day and age.
Preparing the liturgy, this morning’s worship, with this gospel love your neighbor laid upon us by Jesus Christ, there was no way under heaven I could follow my nature and omit the Confession of Sin, because we have not loved God with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as our selves. And we are not truly sorry, and we do not humbly repent, and there is no health in us, miserable offenders. How does God stand us, sons of Adam, daughters of Eve, children of Noah the last righteous man
We shall say the Confession. And as your priest this morning I shall pronounce an Absolution. But you cannot Confess, and I cannot Absolve with a + wave of my hand, the sins of the world. Nothing but the Blood. Nothing but the Blood of Jesus. This very morning, as the Holy Communion wafer, offered to you as the Body of Christ — and as the red wine in the chalice, offered to you as the Blood of Christ, as these sacramental elements touch your lips, may the sins of the world, already paid on Calvary, begin to dissipate, may the clouds of darkness begin to pass on over, and may the peace of God begin to dawn.
idou: behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. I bid you come.
+++ +++ +++
Sermon in Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Panama City, Florida on July 10, 2016, Proper 10C. The Rev. Tom Weller. Text: Luke 1:25-37. Parable: the Good Samaritan. Printed as a commitment to a dear friend.