A sermon for St Mark’s Anglican Church, Casino on Sunday, 10 July 2022
This post is part of the ON THE WAY sermon series at St Mark’s Anglican Church, Casino July/October 2022
Last week as we started our journey to Jerusalem with Jesus, we focused on the significance of peace-making. We did not mention it at the time, but since then I have been conscious of the commendation found in Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. [Matthew 5:9]
Today we get to explore another aspect of peacemaking as people who cross the boundaries that keep us apart, and overcome the fear that stifles our capacity to love.
The parable that Jesus composes in response to a question from a religion scholar (scribe) is both familiar and very much alive in our culture today.
We call the hero of this parable the Good Samaritan, but that adjective is never applied to the anonymous third passerby in Luke’s Gospel. He is simply “a Samaritan …”
As an aside, this timeless spiritual classic is found only in Luke.
One of the benefits of having four gospels in the New Testament is that we hear from different circles within the earliest Jesus movement, and not just a single account approved (and censored) by later church authorities.
However, as essential background information, let’s note that for Jewish people in the time of Jesus there was no such thing as a “Good Samaritan.”
All Samaritans—and every Samaritan—were discounted as a failed religious community. That is part of the essential cultural context for this classic story. Suffice to note that for Jews at the time, Samaritans were seen as the despised enemy.
As the opening dialogue before the parable makes clear, this whole scene in Luke is about drawing boundaries: who is inside the circle of affection and who is beyond the circle of care.
A traveller goes from Jerusalem to Jericho …
That was a dangerous journey to make, and immediately Jesus set the scene for what will follow.
The images on the screen this morning may give you some idea of what was involved for anyone making that journey in either direction. It was journey people made in groups, where possible. There was safety in numbers.
[The following screenshots are from an excellent video from SatelliteBibleAtlas with aerial photography of the ancient route from Jericho to Jerusalem. In the parable, the victim is heading the opposite direction, while the three passersby are heading towards Jerusalem.]
This area continues to be a remote and secluded place, despite its proximity to Jerusalem. The ancient St George’s Monastery clings to the northern edge of the Wadi Qelt and is home to a small community of Greek Orthodox monks.
A friend in need …
We usually think about this parable as an invitation for us to be kind to other people.
That totally misses the radical point being made by Jesus.
This parable is not seeking to turn the world upside down by asking us to be nice to people when they are having a tough time.
Rather, this is a parable that invites us to—which demands that we—rethink the circle of affection and care within which we choose to live.
Let’s go back into the story.
It is a classic tale where three characters have an opportunity to meet the needs of the man lying in the ditch.
He has been attacked, robbed, and left for dead.
As he lies in the ditch beside the road three people come along the track. Each of them is heading in the other direction, but any of them could help this person in their distress.
So Jesus tells the story …
Now by chance a priest was going down that road;
and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. [Luke 10:31]
Can you imagine the reaction of Jesus’ audience?
Well, of course! Just what we would expect!
So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him,
passed by on the other side. [Luke 10:32]
And the crowd thinks … a Levite, a Deacon, an LLM, a seminarian, a PC member … typical!
But wait. There is a third character. As there always is in a story like this.
Who are the crowd expecting to be the third passerby. Who will be the hero of the story?
Of course, it will be someone like them. Not a priest. Not a Levite. But a regular Jewish person. A farmer perhaps, or a merchant …
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.’ [Luke 10:33–35]
That is not supposed to happen.
To express it in our terms …
Imagine a Jewish driver whose car has crashed, and he is rescued by a Palestinian …
Or a Ukrainian soldier who is rescued by a Russian …
Or coal miner who is rescued by a Climate Change activist …
Anyone but them …
The challenge of this parable is to imagine ourselves as the victim and then see the last person on earth from whom we ever wish to receive help come around the bend in the track, look at us, smile and then … worse still … come across to assist us!
We know that dynamic …
Who are the people from whom we are most estranged?
Can we be helpful to them? (This is the usual reading of this parable.)
Can we accept help from them? (This is the real challenge of this parable.)
In this town?
In our families?
Here in this church?
Do we really want to be peacemakers? Agents of Jesus?
Do we want to be Jesus people here in Casino?