Proper 10C; Luke 10:25-37
Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem. Every step he takes brings him closer to his arrest, trial, and execution. With every step he is choosing to follow the difficult path that leads to resurrection, but he must first pass through death. As the Palm Sunday Collect at the entrance to the church reads: Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified . . .
This is the path Jesus has chosen to walk. That same choice is ours as well. The Collect continues: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.
The choice is ours to walk that difficult path. For those who want to follow Jesus, you must remember that the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. For those answering the call of Jesus, you must not be delayed by worldly concerns. For those answering the call of Jesus, you must remember that his path lies in moving forward, not in looking back.
The choice to live into the kingdom of God is ours. The choice to walk in the shadow of the cross is ours. The choice to declare the peace of God is ours. The choice to provide hospitality to others is ours. These difficult choices are illustrated in today's gospel passage.
A lawyer stands up to test Jesus. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Rather than give an answer, Jesus fires back, “You tell me. What do you read in the law?” He answered, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
I don't know if there's a word for, “Bingo” in Hebrew, but I can imagine Jesus saying that. “Do this and you will live.” But then it gets tricky. “Who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asks.
The text says the lawyer asked this in order to justify himself. He wanted an assurance that what he was doing and who he was loving were the right answers. Loving his family? Probably. Loving his next door neighbor? Maybe, if they didn't light off fireworks until 1 am every holiday or blow leaves into his yard. Loving the checkout clerk at the grocery store? Hadn't thought about it, but he didn't hate them. So basically he was probably living like everyone else, or most everyone else, was living.
But doing or behaving like everyone else is not an option when following Jesus to Jerusalem. Jesus has made it very clear that discipleship requires hard choices. It requires us to put Jesus over and above everything else in our lives. What does this look like in a practical way? Jesus has a story for that.
A man is on his way to Jericho when he is assaulted, robbed, and left for dead. A priest sees him, but passes on by on the other side of the road. A deacon also sees him, but he does the same, passing by and leaving the man in the ditch. Then a Samaritan, a foreigner, comes across the man, cares for him, takes him to a place of comfort, and pays his expenses. Who is the neighbor? The answer is, “The one who showed him mercy.” Go and do likewise.
It's easy to be a good neighbor to those who are good neighbors to us. It's easy to be a good neighbor to those who have the same political ideas or like the same sports teams. It's easy to be a good neighbor to those who fit into our own particular echo chamber and who treats us the way we want to be treated. It's easy to be neighborly when we have the time and when it's convenient for us.
It's hard to be a neighbor to those who are different, to those who are inconvenient, and to those whom we feel deserve no mercy.
This all comes back to the Baptismal Covenant: Will you respect the dignity of every human being?
Will we treat with mercy the homeless individual who shows up for worship but who hasn't bathed in three weeks? Will we treat with mercy the person with dementia who disrupts the worship service? Will we treat with mercy the transgendered person who shows up because they heard this was a safe space? Knowing that people of color are more likely to have deadly encounters with police, will we stop and take the time to be a non-anxious witness when we see a black driver has been pulled over by the police?
I'll admit that I haven't always been the neighbor who shows mercy. I've removed homeless people from church property. I haven't stopped at accident scenes and justified that non-action by telling myself there are other people on scene who have it handled. I haven't stopped to help someone because I was late for an appointment, relying on others to do what I should have done. I didn't stay to witness a traffic stop because it looked like everything was fine. I'm sure there are others that I can't now remember, and these are actions and inactions which haunt me. All I can do now is try to do better next time.
But Jesus isn't asking us to do better next time, he is asking us to do better THIS time. By putting Jesus over and above everything else, by making Jesus and discipleship a priority in our lives, every next time is this time.
Jesus once told a parable about a sower who scattered seed on the ground. Some seed fell among the weeds, but the cares of the world choked them away and they bore no fruit. What worldly cares took the priest and deacon away from helping the injured man? Was it religious rules and regulations? Were they late for worship or an appointment? Did they think someone better equipped would stop to help?
What about the Samaritan? Was he missing an important meeting? Did he leave his wife wondering all day and night where he had disappeared to? Was he wealthy enough to pay for the injured man's care, or was that his last two cents?
More importantly, what was it about the Samaritan that allowed him to see another human being in need as the most important thing in his life that day?
If you want to talk about the narrow road that leads to life, this is it. It isn't looking for people to treat you as you want to be treated; it's in treating others as you wish for them to treat you. It's offering love, compassion, and mercy to all people. It's standing with those who are seen as less-than. It's speaking with a homeless person on the street and those who are seen as less-than by society. It's doing what is right in the face of inconvenience. It's respecting the dignity of every human being.
The parable of the Good Samaritan isn't a feel good story, it's a challenge to answer a call. It's a call to transfer the love God showers on us to all those with whom we come into contact. It's a call to put the will of God over and above everything else in our lives. It's a call to show mercy to other human beings regardless of how inconvenient that is to us personally.
May we go and do likewise.