Acknowledgements: The Rev. Ken Kessefus & The Rev Danae Ashley
Today we have before us what is perhaps the most familiar story Jesus ever told: the parable of the Good Samaritan. Hearing it again might cause us to wonder, is there anything new in this story that we haven't already thought about or heard about. It's been around a long time. Do you suppose that the parable has lost some of its power to teach us because we know it so well?
After all, hasn't the parable of the Good Samaritan become a cliche in our culture? We have Good Samaritan laws and Good Samaritan hospitals. We live with a common concept that any charitable act makes us Good Samaritans. But then, the parable means much more than that, of course.
Sermons on this parable often focus on those who encountered the beaten man on the road to Jericho--the two who passed by and one who stopped to help. What one do you put yourself in. Well, I know where I am, I was driving to Bible School last Tuesday morning, when I saw a woman walking across the road in front of me and she was headed for the white pickup across the street. At the white pickup a man was standing by it with his hands on his hips looking at the door, like he wanted to get in but couldn't.
Anyway, instead of stopping to see if they needed help, I just drove by. Sure was concerned wasn't I. ... It would have taken just a few minutes for me to ask if they needed help or whatever. Makes me wonder what is really going on in my head and my heart. I know about the Good Samaritan, but what good did it do me??? Well, it got me to thinking anyway.
In greater and lesser ways, aren't we sometimes as helpless as the victim in Jesus' parable? Do we not also pray for mercy? Does not each of us come as a beggar to the Lord's altar with cupped hands seeking the true bread that gives life and saves us from desolation and despair?
While we are identifying with the victim, what do we make of it? Was the beaten deserving of help from the Samaritan? What did he do to merit an enemy's taking a serious risk and sacrificing his time and substance to save him, loving him with no strings attached and with no hope of gaining anything in return? Maybe nothing. Maybe the victim was undeserving. Was he not foolish to have traveled on such a dangerous road alone?
The point is, of course, that it did not matter. The Samaritan helped him unconditionally. He showed mercy as God shows mercy to his children. Are we deserving of the love and forgiveness that God gives us? It doesn't matter, either. This is the primary message of this parable. It illustrates the truth of God's mercy--God's love poured out for us unconditionally, with no strings attached. Without our being deserving, God cares for us in this extraordinary way.
If we can feel the grace that the beaten man experienced when he was helped by an enemy, we will know what God intends for all his children. Not only will we know how God cares for us when we are hurt, we will see the love that fills us in a new light. As the love continues to flow in us, it can overflow to others as we become the Good Samaritan in response.
This powerful and rich parable reminds us of the essentials of our faith. It is a foundation of Christian ethical and moral values. It includes the familiar themes, that Christians are called to avoid the faithless idolatry of those who pass by on the other side, take risks for the sake of the gospel, care for our neighbors, recognize that "neighbor" includes everyone, everywhere, affirm the calling to give ourselves away for the good of others, give with no strings attached, provide for those in need without regard for whether they are deserving or not, love even those different from ourselves, whom we may even despise, and whom we consider unlovable and undeserving.
We are asked in our Baptismal Covenant. "Will you proclaim by word and example the good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect neighbor as yourself. Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? The answer is always, "I will with God's help."
What is surprising to how difficult it is to show mercy to those who do not fit in our boundaries, despite what we know Jesus is asking of us. Living merciful life is not defined as helping someone once. Instead, it is a life in which a person's character is formed by the basic premise that they love God, love their neighbor, and love themselves. To put it another way, Mahatma Gandhi was once quoted as saying - "Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny."
The call to go and do likewise is challenging and transforming. Living out mercy changes us as a people. May we be blessed with God's own mercy and grace as we strive to walk worthy of God's calling in our own lives and communities. Amen