Luke 10:25-37 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.” *****************************************************************************************************
The question comes from a lawyer: "What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?" The question is meant to test Jesus… to find out which side of the socio-political-religious fence he sits on. Is Jesus a bleeding heart liberal as everyone has described, or could he be a team player for those in power?
This particular lawyer resonates with me. He is an expert. He is trained... he knows what it means to follow the law; knows the consequences of breaking it, and knows how to get around/break it... to bend it... to manipulate it for his own gain, or for the gain of those on his team. The lawyer resonates with me because I am also an expert in breaking and bending.. in judging right from wrong, especially in others... I'm proficient at interpreting the law for my own convenience, or based on my own prejudices, biases, love or hatred of others. He resonates with me because I also understand a system where interpreting and bending and manipulation of the law works to oppress some and empower others... to imprison some and free others, regardless of guilt. I live within that system... we all do.
"What do I have to do to gain eternal life? How can I possibly live and work and function in this system of corruption- and still come out ok? With something for me?"
Jesus answers his question with a question- ‘Tell me what the law says’ “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.” He knows it word for word... he knows the law... to the letter... And Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
Here is where most of us would have walked away... and do walk away. We've memorized the commandment- we can spew it out word for word as it is written. That one command, and so many other laws and edicts we know how to work for our benefit.. like, "You have a right to bear arms"... "Stand your ground..." But we never really go much further... who needs it?
But this lawyer asks a clarifying question in order to justify himself. (The word "justify" means acquittal., by the way) He asks: "And who is my neighbor?”
The lawyer wants Jesus to give an answer that he could live with- “Who is my neighbor? Who is included and who does it not apply to? Come on, Jesus, you and I both know the laws are for our people... to keep the power where it is... That's how I've been living... its how I make my living... now tell me I'm "cleared of all charges" and that I'm "free to go"... I just want to hear you say it.”
Jesus sees through him. I guess that's my favorite part. He doesn't give him a straight answer- it would probably be lost anyway... and when we hear something spelled out in black and white we usually don't pay attention... we are too ingrained in our own opinion and self involved to hear the truth. But take heart... Jesus sees through us... And Jesus gives him instead, something to think about... a riddle, a parable…
Jesus picks something familiar- "One day a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho" The road to Jericho was known in the first century for being hugely dangerous- it went from mountain terrain to well below sea level in just a few miles. It was also twisty and that lent ripe for robbers. This would have been well known to the hearers- like us hearing about crime in a dangerous neighborhood- we would shake our heads and go, 'of course.' So perhaps in our context, instead of "One day a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho", it might sound like, "One night a young man went out for some skittles... "
Jesus continues: "and he was robbed and beaten and left on the side of the road for dead... "
What do we know about this guy who is robbed? 1. He had to have something that was worth robbing... presumably... maybe it was just the way he looked... or what he was saying on his cell phone... the way his hands fell rested in the pockets of his hoodie... but there was something about him that those who attacked him wanted- if only his right to walk down the road... 2. Even if had tried to fight back, he was eventually overpowered by the ones who took from him. The beat him... they won 3. He was abandoned.
But this isn't the end... the community has a chance to respond. And Jesus gives us two examples of people who we would expect to help, but don't. A priest and a Levite- symbolizing those in power in the community- ones who are not only religious, but educated; high ranking officials who knew the moral codes and laws. The priest officiated in the temple at ceremonies of worship and clean/unclean. Levites emphasized keeping the Jewish nation pure. But neither wanted to get their hands dirty.
But the third example Jesus gives is a Samaritan. Samaritans were the second class, marginalized citizens of the day. They were technically Jewish,( or so they claimed), but they accepted and adopted customs not sanctioned by the "church." They did radical things like marrying the wrong people... and that compromised Jewish nation’s purity! Naturally, they were looked down on, excluded... avoided. Because of their radical inclusivity, allowing those sinful "others" into their community of faith, they were ostracized by the mainline religious community.
For the lawyer to hear that the Samaritan is the hero would have been more than a surprise- it would have been an affront. To have help come from the oppressed and not from the powerful spoke to the corruption inherent in the system... the system in which the lawyer and most of the hearers perpetuated. And after Jesus describes the hero dressing the victims wounds and taking him to a place of safety, he turns back to the shocked lawyer and asks him… “Which one of these three was the neighbor to the man in the ditch?” And there is only one right answer… "The one who showed mercy."
I can't imagine him saying those words. Or receiving the final instruction from Jesus... "Go and do likewise."
I understand what it means from the Samaritans vantage point. That those who are marginalized; those who have been cast out, looked down upon, oppressed and slighted now have the responsibility to reach out and minister to the ones in the ditch... regardless of who they are; whether a boy in a hoodie or a man in a uniform... because (surprise)- they are both our neighbor. And that is tough to swallow... after all, we've been hurt... and besides, God is supposed to be doing that isn't he? Reconciling the world and bringing about shalom? True enough- except God does it through you and I allowing ourselves to be agents of justice and peace and shalom... we are the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
But for the non-Samaritan... these words act like a mirror. Because like it or not, and whether we admit it or not, when it suits us, we can quickly find and put on a uniform; one that makes us think we have the right do whatever we want- take from whomever we please- rob anyone we deem suspicious who many be walking down the road to Jericho. We put our smoking gun back in our holster and walk away, leaving others on the road for dead.... and then we go about the work of breaking and bending... looking for ways to justify our behavior. And we've built our systems and institutions to help us do just that.
It's difficult to hear. But until we own up to who we are, and get angry about who we have become; acknowledge who we have allowed to be robbed on the road, we are helpless to make change. Our once bright future as a people, now lies in a ditch on the side of the road with a bag of candy in his pocket- and we've been active contributors to it's demise- and we've done it in the name of prosperity, and security, and global prowess. Jesus came to help us see that these systems we have created and perpetuate are corrupt; these 'powers and principalities,' as Paul names them, need to be dismantled or they will continue to be our undoing...
Can we surprise ourselves by answering the call of Christ- by being the 'unexpected' one who will stop what we are doing, reach down into the ditch and minister, not just to the individual, but to a whole society lying beaten and bloody? Or will we too walk by and leave it for dead?