15 Sunday C - Good Samaritan - Homilies

Thomas O’Loughlin,
Introduction to the Celebration

We live in the age of the sound bite: a snappy phrase that covers over a complex situation; and rarely in matters of faith is such a sound-bite possible. Yet today at our gathering to join the Lord at his table we are asked to recall one of the most famous sound bites of all time. A lawyer stands up to ask Jesus a question:

‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And as the good teacher Jesus does not just feed him the answer but draws it out from him: ‘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 neighbour as yourself.’ It sounds simple. But keeping both dimensions, loving God and loving neighbour is difficult; and an even bigger challenge is making sure that for us neighbour is more than the people we like, and so excludes all forms of sectarianism, racism, other barriers humans tend to set up between us and ‘them’.

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Sean Goan
Gospel  Notes

One of the best known stories of the gospel is presented to us today and that is perhaps why we need to pay more attention to it. It may be that we think that we know what the The Good Samaritan is all about. Jesus uses it to tell us to be caring and compassionate but, as often happens with the scriptures, the real meaning only comes through when we consider it in context. The lawyer asking the question is more interested in word games than the truth and we must remember that it is to him that the story is addressed. His narrow and sectarian worldview is exposed as the person he thinks most unlikely to be a neighbour, the ritually unclean Samaritan, is the only one who behaves in accordance with God’s will. The story is a call to examine our attitudes and our tendency to try and make God in our image and likeness, rather than let him restore his image and likeness in us. 

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Gospel Notes 

This section can be split into two parts: verses 25-28 (the lawyer’s question) and verses 29-37 (the story of ‘the Good Samaritan’). The first section is common to all the synoptics, but the story is only found in Luke and it is clear that he wanted the whole scene (today’s gospel reading) seen as a single piece. The opening section is the demand to have a rule of thumb that distills the whole law to its essence. The context demanded that the distillation be itself part of the law, and so Jesus’s answer is made up of a combination of two quotations: first, Dt 6:5 (‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might’); and, second, a part of Lev19:18 (‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’). However, Luke wants to show that this love of neighbour that Jesus preached was far more demanding than anything that was normally expected as part of the law. Luke knew that the whole verse of Lev 19:18 had a very restrictive meaning that would not sit at all well with the universalism of love that Jesus preached. The whole verse runs: ‘You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ The neighbour is the people in your own group, camp, area: it is a demand that exists to stop local strife and vendettas of one sort or another. So the new meaning of love that Jesus preached and the new extension of the domain of fraternal care that was part of the Christian message needed a question to draw out its implications. Hence, Luke gives us the lawyer’s question. The response is not a parable in the normal manner but a hypothetical case whose purpose is to elicit an awareness of the new Jesus-way of being a neighbour. However, there is a curious twist in the tail: it is not who we, the audience, think has acted in the new way of being a neighbour, but who would the one who had received help recognise as a neighbour. It is the action of love, not the boundaries of tribe, race, social status, or cult, which establish the boundaries in the kingdom. 

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Michel de Verteuil
General Textual Comments
 

The gospel text for the Sunday is taken mainly with the parable of the Good Samaritan, one of the most famous of all of Jesus’ parables.

A familiar text like this one poses problems for meditation, however – we know it so well that we tend to take for granted what it will be saying to us. You must make an effort to come to it as if for the first time.

As with all parables, enter into the movement until you recognise the specific moment which you can identify with, and then allow that moment to reveal something to you about life, about your relationship with God, and the work of his grace.

It is a complex story, with many themes woven into it. There is the fact that a Samaritan is involved; the contrast between him and the priest and Levite (vs.31 and 32); the double aspect of his response – compassion on the one hand (vs.33) and very practical steps on the other (vs. 34 and 35).

Understand where the priest and the Levite were coming from. According to Jewish law, touching a dead body made a person unclean (Numbers 19:11-13). If the man happened to be dead, the priest and the Levite, who were on their way to the temple in Jerusalem, could not have officiated at the temple; therefore they could not take the risk of helping the man.

The parable is set within a dialogue between Jesus and a lawyer (vs. 25 to 29, and 36 to 37). Feel free to focus on this dialogue, identifying with Jesus, the ideal spiritual guide, or with the lawyer, symbol of all of us when we come to God (or to people) seeking to justify ourselves. 

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Homily notes

1. The story of the Good Samaritan has become part of our overall culture: even people who reject Christianity or for whom the gospel is only a dim background noise can use the phrase’ a good Samaritan’ and simply mean someone who helps out someone when they are in need. So the story has become simply the message to give a hand to anyone you come across in a crisis. The story’s very familiarity hides its punch. And it is trying to get to its deeper challenge that is the task facing the preacher today: to take the familiar and show how little it is known.

2. We have several ideas in our minds about this scene and the story Jesus told to bring out in a concrete situation his teaching. The first is that the message of the Good Samaritan is that one should be a decent person and help anyone in need. This is a valid and important point but that is not the mes­sage here. Then, second, we think of the hypocrisy of the priest and the Levite who were the public face of religion, and hypocrisy in professional religious is especially loath­some, so it is a warning about preaching and not practising. Again, this is a valid and important point but that is not the message here. Then, third, we tend to make the message of Jesus here the same as that of the Golden Rule – ‘do as you would have others do onto you’ – which is the basis of many codes of morality and which is found in the gospels (e.g. Lk 6:31: ‘And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them’). Yet again, this is a valid and important point but that is not the message here.

3. The story is not about how to treat others in a passive sense; it is to draw out that the call to inherit eternal life is the call to love others. This is a deliberate act of reaching out to others in need. And the question then becomes how far can you ex­pect to reach out and from how far away can you accept the reach of love.

4. The priest and the Levite are both automatically insiders to the group: they should be obviously neighbours. They know the law and the prophets; they know they have a duty of ser­vice to the community of Israel. The Samaritan, by contrast, is the perfect outsider: by race for they were seen as half­breeds; they were invaders and thieves of land; and they were heretics.

5. Love of neighbour has to reach out beyond our bounds and accept love from beyond our barriers. It has to be greater than racism; it has to be greater than national boundaries and the hatreds that these produce; and it has to be greater than purity boundaries and the prejudices of religion and sectarianism.

6. Loving neighbour as self supposes that one can interchange one’s position with any other human being, and be willing to both give and receive love.

7. We tend to praise the Samaritan and say that he was a good neighbour – and indeed he was for he showed mercy. But look a little more closely at the end of the story. Who exactly has found a neighbour? It is the beaten up insider who has discovered a neighbour. Where? In the one who showed mercy – despite the fact that he is one of those wretched Samaritans?

8. It is worth reading over the story again so that the homily’s notes on the text can be fixed within the matrix of the story. The demands of loving God as a disciple of Jesus and so tak­ing his message to heart are a lot more radical than the proverbial willingness to loan a cup of sugar.

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Scripture Reflections

Lord, often in our prayer we ask you questions,
but deep down we want to justify ourselves
– our inertia, our self-righteousness, our secret racism or snobbishness.
We thank you that you continue to be Jesus for us,
entering into dialogue with us, letting us come to our own conclusions,
occasionally giving us a push by saying, “Go and do the same thing yourself.”

Lord, forgive us that as a Church we remain wrapped up in our concerns,
– changes in the liturgy,
– which are the most powerful prayers,
– who should be bishops,
– where parish boundaries should be set,
when all the while down the same road we are walking,
people have fallen into the hands of brigands
who have left them half-dead.

Love is a resurrection person scooping up the dust and chanting ‘live!’”    Emily Dickinson
Lord, we remember with gratitude a time in our lives when we felt beaten up,
half-dead at the side of the road.
Several people traveled down the same road and saw us
but passed by on the other side.
We thank you, Lord, for that person who came upon us,
saw us and was moved with compassion.
The person was a Samaritan but somehow that did not seem to matter.
All we knew was that our wounds were being bandaged
and oil and wine poured on them,
that we were being lifted up and carried to an inn,
were being looked after and no one was being inconvenienced.
Lord, thank you for that good Samaritan;
help us to do the same for others ourselves.

“We can get along, we’ve got to; let’s try to work it out.”   Rodney King, during the Los Angeles riots, May 1992
Lord, we remember societies torn apart
on the grounds of race, religion, culture or class,
– Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Sudan,
the ghettos of North America and Europe.
We thank you that in all these communities there are Samaritans,
quite unconcerned whether someone is a Jew or not,
just moved with compassion for a brother or sister
beaten and lying half-dead at the side of the road.
We pray that those who hear their stories will go and do the same themselves.

“I go to church and just relax with my God. I relax and gather my strength in the Lord.”    Emma Mashinimi, South African trade unionist, January 1992
Lord, prayer is feeling well and truly beaten
and lying half-dead on the side of the road,
seeing Church officials passing by on the other side,
then suddenly experiencing that you yourself are moved with compassion for us,
that our wounds are being bandaged, and oil and wine are being poured on them,
and knowing that we will be looked after not merely now but for the future.

“Your cloister must be the streets of the city and your chapel the parish church.” St. Vincent de Paul, founder of the first active order of religious
Lord, we thank you for the many religious
who serve you by traveling the roads
so that they come upon those lying on the side of the road,
bandage their wounds and pour oil and wine on them,
and inspire others to go and do the same themselves.

“We let ideas contend, but there must ultimately be an end to contention;
there comes a time for decisions.”  
West Indian Commission, Report on West Indian Unity, June 1992
Lord, our leaders spend time asking theoretical question,
often because they are anxious to justify themselves.
Send us people who will tell them about the Samaritans in our society
who care for those who have been beaten up and are lying half-dead on our roads,
and then challenge them to go and do the same themselves.

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From Connections:

THE WORD:

A lawyer’s question about who is -- and, by implication, who is not – one’s neighbor sets the stage for one of Jesus’ most beloved parables, the story of the Good Samaritan (found only in Luke’s Gospel).  Jesus stuns his hearers by making a Samaritan the hero of the story -- especially in light of the inhospitality of the Samaritans during their journey to Jerusalem (see notes above for the 13th Sunday of Year).  Jesus’ hearers would expect a Samaritan to be the villain of the story, not the hero.  While the two clerics do not help the man for fear of violating the Torah by being defiled by the dead, the compassionate Samaritan -- a man presumably with little concern for Jewish belief or morality -- is so moved by the plight of the poor man that he thinks nothing of stopping to help regardless of the cost of time or money. 

The Jews of Jesus’ time defined “neighbor” exclusively as other Jews, but Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan expands such a limited concept.  One of the most radical dimensions of Christianity is the principle that all men and women are “neighbors”: children of the same heavenly Father, brothers and sisters in Christ.  The Samaritan and the traveler illustrate that Jesus’ concept of “neighbor” is not limited to one’s own clan or community.  Christ-like compassion must be manifested in deeds of kindness; morality, in the light of the Gospel, cannot be guided by laws inscribed in stone but ultimately by the spirit of the heart.
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HOMILY POINTS:

The Good Samaritan is the Gospel prototype of Gospel charity, of service to our “neighbor.”  “Good Samaritans” are, quite simply, people who recognize every human being as their neighbor and then permit nothing – not prejudices, stereotypes, complications nor costs -- prevent them from hearing their cry for help and responding to their plight.

The parable of the Good Samaritan calls us to embrace a vision of faith that sees every man, woman and child -- regardless of whatever labels society has assigned to them -- as our “neighbors.”  Christ teaches us, his disciples, to look beyond what divides us from one another and focus on what unites us; to put aside our own needs and wants to embrace the needs and wants of others; to see our own wealth as a means to bring healing and hope into the lives who have little.

Every day, we encounter people who are in a ditch of discouragement, who have been beaten and bruised by the abuse and anger of others, who have been left near dead in frustrating hopelessness.  We don’t have to look very far to find such “victims” — and we can become Good Samaritans by extending to them compassion, understanding and a support. 

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HOMILIES: 

The Samaritan Impulse

One of the most prolific writers of his time, a genius blessed with a powerful brain, was the Englishman, G. K. Chesterton. He was a journalist, a poet, a novelist, radio broadcaster, public debater, and theologian. So great were the demands on his talents that he died at the age of 62 from heart fatigue and exhaustion. Such was his contribution to emerging Catholicism in England that the cause for his beatification is being promoted within the Church there. He once stated that the English secularised culture of his day retained, in spite of everything, values which were deep-rooted in Christianity. One such value must surely be that of the good Samaritan. In fact it was in England that the group called “The Samaritans” originated. The enduring impact of Jesus’ parable of the “Good Samaritan” is all the more extraordinary when we remember that for the Jews the Samaritans were anything but good. Instead they looked on them as being despicable renegades from the Jewish faith. They even accused Jesus himself of being a Samaritan and possessed by a devil (Jn 8:48).

We would do well to consider the significance of the parable for us here and now. What is certain is that Jesus used this unusual story to bring home to us in a dramatic way the most important, the most all-embracing quality he requires of his followers. The importance of Jesus’ parable lies in its context. It is the answer to a specific question – who is my neighbour to whom I must show as much love as to myself? The answer is brought home forcibly to the Jewish lawyer who put the question. Everyone without exception, even such as the despised Samaritan, must be regarded as a neighbour.

We could ask ourselves what the Samaritan had to gain personally from his act of charity. The answer, in material terms, is precisely nothing. The whole point is that love which is really and truly love, is disinterested. Indeed where is the merit in being good only to friends, who will obviously reward you in return, should the need arise? Christian love must embrace everyone. Secondly, if you do not show love to the neighbour whom you see, then no matter what commandments you keep, what ritual sacrifices you join in, as did the priest and Levite in the parable, you become incapable of loving God, whom you cannot see. This is something which St John reiterates again and again. If you want to join in the Eucharistic banquet and receive God’s Son into your heart, then you must first cleanse your heart of all hatred, bitterness, ill-will, because the God we receive in this sacrament is love. 

Communicating the Law of Love

A strong theme integrating these readings is the primacy of Jesus in the Father’s communication of the law of love. The passage from Deut. 30 is a fine example of how the people of Israel treasured the Mosaic Law, the Torah, as God’s clear and privileged communication of his will. This is a splendid set-up for observing the quantum leap that occurs in Christian consciousness when the post-Easter believers understand the person and the word of Jesus as fulfilling and even supplanting and surpassing the Torah. The gospel text presents a sample of that. Here, as in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:43-48), Jesus begins from, and then deepens profoundly, the Old Testament teaching of love. The Colossian reading – with its celebration of Jesus as image of the invisible God, head of the body, the locus of cosmic “fullness,” the reconciler of all – this supports the idea of Jesus as God’s most complete communication of himself.

But all this is in the background. Jesus’ teaching itself, the famous parable, will obviously be the centerpiece of any homily this weekend. The best service the preacher can do is to help the worshippers hear the story afresh. The key here is recovering the shock of the identity of the hero, a Samaritan. These people were the outcasts in first-century Palestine. Since they had intermarried with the occupying Assyrians in the 8th century B.C. they were considered a mongrel breed. And because they kept a separate tradition of the Torah and conducted a competing temple worship on Mount Gerizim (see Jn. 4:20-22), theirs was considered a corrupt form of Judaism. (See Sirach 50:25-26 for the traditional Hebrew attitude toward Samaritans.) For a Samaritan, a suspect stranger in Judea, to deal with an injured Jew would have been an act of unexplainable compassion and an unthinkable risk.

Some social analogy may help here. In his Cotton Patch Version of Luke and Acts: Jesus’ Doing and the Happenings, Clarence Jordan sets the scene in southern U.S.A. and retells the story as being about a black man aiding a white victim. Others have compared the situation of the Samaritan carrying the victim to the inn to that of a plains Indian in 1890 riding into a small town with a scalped cowboy on his horse. This catches the element of risk. Another analogy: a pastor working in the Middle East confessed that never once was he even tempted to tell Palestinians a story about a noble Israeli.

The point is to find a social parallel which will bring this story home to one’s own congregation. Note the significant shift between the lawyer’s question (Who is my neighbour?) and Jesus’ question (Which proved neighbour to the victim?). The lawyer wants a definition to comfortably limit his duty. Jesus cuts through word game: our neighbour is any human being in need. How this is specifically to be applied is up to the insight of the homilist and the listeners. Here God’s guiding Torah comes through the person and teaching of Jesus. 

What kind of people are these?

Newspapers and the other media tend to leave us with a rather depressing picture of human nature, which would seem bent on war, destruction, social and political injustice, and on all types and forms of immorality. That, of course, is what is seen as making news. But it should blind none of us from being more aware in our daily lives of the basic goodness of human nature, and of noting the many selfless and quite unnoticed acts of love and charity. And by being positive about our human nature and its capabilities for good, we become more aware of our own potential to love selflessly. This is what Jesus tries to help the lawyer to experience. Instead of giving him a dictionary definition of “neighbour,” he presents him with the parable about the Samaritan who acts not out of a sense of duty or of guilt, but out of sheer love and generosity. Though we are not told, we can hope that the lawyer is fired with enthusiasm to live in a similar manner.

We could, of course, concentrate on the negative elements of the parable – the brigands, the priest and the levite. But this would be to miss the point, and we end up falling into the trap of the press and the media.

The emphasis in the parable upon the positive capabilities of human nature – even in people not normally expected to display such characteristics – takes up the overall thrust of Deuteronomy.  Quite often, as Christians, we approach this book of the Old Testament with a certain lack of enthusiasm, noting its negative stipulations and its prohibitions. Yet to concentrate on this aspect would again lead to distortion. For Deuteronomy, expressed as a summary of Moses” instructions, is God’s teaching to Israel on how to live a life of love and charity. Deuteronomy repeatedly emphasises God’s undying and unchanging love for his people, and from this perspective urges its hearers to respond in kind, They are to live a life of love for God and for their neighbour, defined above all by the trio of the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. These were the people most in need of charity in the community of Israel, and the idea is that, if one is charitable to them, then one is charitable to all without exception.

Sometimes, as professing Christians, we get impatient with ourselves that we are not always living out the life of love demanded by Deuteronomy and in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and that the priest and the levite are still within us. Our impatience is fired by the type of societies in which most of us live, ones that demand quick results. We are conditioned by advertising techniques: we expect that the pain-killers we buy will work instantly, that a brand of washing powder will cleanse instantly of all stain, that fast foods will not only be fast but nutritious, and so on. Perfection in love is usually not so instant. We could do well to remember that the instructions of Deuteronomy were given while still on the way to the Promised Land, and that the parable of the Lord is told while the disciples are still making their way with him to Jerusalem. The “journey” element can remind us that love and charity are part of the journey of faith. And, as with many journeys, there are stops and even wrong turnins. It is when we get bogged down at such stages that we lose our sense of direction and our infinite capacity to love. 

Vertical and horizontal religion

This is a enriching gospel, containing the two great commandments, and an excellent story to illustrate exactly what the two commandments are about. To reflect on this gospel is to get to the core of the message.

Several days after the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic, a newspaper carried two pictures side by side. The first showed the side of the ship slashed open by a massive iceberg. The caption read “The weakness of man, the supremacy of nature.” The second picture showed a passenger giving up his place on a lifeboat to a woman with a child in her arms. The caption read “The weakness of nature, the supremacy of man.” Today’s gospel points to a balance between God and neighbour, between a vertical religion, that includes only God, and myself and a horizontal religion, which includes only my neighbour and me.

It is important to notice that the questioner was trying to catch Jesus, to see if he would say anything that was contrary to the law, which they held with such intensity. Jesus’ reply was “What does the law say?” Jesus is prepared to meet him on his own terms. The man quoted the law about loving God and loving neighbour, and Jesus said “Fair enough. Do that, and you’re on your way to heaven.” Later on, of course, Jesus would further refine the commandments to one new commandment: “Love one another as I love you.”

Jesus was a born teacher. He usually began with something that was quite familiar to his listeners, and he used that to bring them to a new insight into what he wanted them to learn. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was infamous for bandits and robbers, and any one who travelled that road on his own was certainly taking a great risk. He told a story about this road to highlight what he meant by love of one’s neighbour. A neighbour is not just someone who happens to live on the same block. It is someone who is regarded as one who should be friendly. A true neighbour can always be depended on. It is not a question of where the other lives. When I come into your presence I become your neighbour, and I am in a position to help, should such be needed.

One thing we must notice about the Samaritan in the story: When he began something, he saw it through. It is easy to throw a few coins into the hat of a beggar, and then pass on down the road. It is different when I share a compassion for the other, feel the pain and isolation, and I want to accompany the other to security and healing. That is love, which is more personal and “touching” than mere charity, which can be quite cosmetic and sanitised.

A good way of looking at my life is to check on the balance between the vertical and the horizontal, between how I approach and see God, and how I approach and see my neighbour. “Whatever you do to the least of these, that’s what you do unto me.” “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there you remember that someone has been hurt by you, go first, and be reconciled with that person, and then come and offer your gift.”

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ILLUSTRATIONS:

1.     Integrating Samaritans 

In 1967, Conway High School in South Carolina was ordered integrated by the Supreme Court.  The next fall, after years of fighting integration, the all-white high school finally took in its first black students.

Cheryl was one of five black teenagers assigned to Conway.  The day before classes were to begin, Cheryl cried and cried.  “I want to be with my own friends,” she pleaded with her parents.  “Please don’t make me go.  Please, please.”

But her Mom and Dad, both highly-respected public school teachers, embraced their daughter.  “Cheryl,” her dad said, “you’ve got to go, not only for your sake, but for the sake of your mother and father, and for the sake of your children that you will have someday.  Separate schools are not equal schools, Cheryl.  Go and try it for us.”

Cheryl finally agreed to go to the white school.  The first day the teachers were nice, but none of the other students said a word to her.  She could see from the corner of her eye the glares of the white teenagers.  The only white student who said anything to her called her a bad name.  It was a very lonely and painful time for Cheryl, but her parents encouraged her to keep trying.

To get to the school bus, neighborhood students crossed a white man’s yard.  There was never a problem.  At first, Cheryl avoided walking across the man’s yard; but all the other kids walked across the lawn, so one day she thought she’d take the short cut, too.  When the owner of the property saw her, he yelled “Get off my lawn, you black . . . “  You can imagine the rest.

That was it for Cheryl.  “They don’t want me there, and I don’t want to go there.”                    
Finally her parents agreed.  “OK, Cheryl, you’ve tried.  Finish the week and we’ll see about getting you transferred back to your own school.”

That made Cheryl happier than she had been in a long time.  She would only have to ride the school bus four more times.  But the next morning on the bus, a white girl named Cindy made a point of sitting next to her.  Tears were in her eyes. 

“Cheryl,” she said, “I’m real sorry that old man yelled at you for walking across his nasty old yard.”

Cheryl and Cindy began a long conversation that lasted all day at school and continued when they rode the bus home that afternoon.  They became good friends — and still are.  Cheryl decided to stay at Conway High School, making all As and Bs, and went on to the University of South Carolina.  Today, Cheryl and her husband are pillars of the Conway community — the white and black Conway community.

[From a sermon by the Rev. Canon William Barnwell at Washington National Cathedral, July 15, 2007.] 

Who is my neighbor?  The Good Samaritans who cross over to the other side to bring healing and hope . . . the Cheryls who have the courage to put aside their own fears and anguish to bring about what is best for the community . . . the Cindys who stand up for those who are put down . . . the people of a community who struggle to learn the lessons of justice and compassion "taught" by Cheryl and Cindy and the many other Good Samaritans in our midst.  “My neighbor” is every one of us who sees one another with the eyes of Christ: as sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters in the Risen One.  
 
The parable of the Good Samaritan arises out of a discussion between Jesus and a Pharisee. Here is a religious lawyer and he is asking a question on the nature of the law. The stage is set by Luke with these words: "Behold a lawyer stood up to put him to the test." Well, it's not the first time and probably won't be the last time that a lawyer phrased a trick question. It was the kind of question in which any kind of an answer would pose still further problems. It was a test question: "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life." Now right away we know that this man was a Pharisee, because the Pharisees believed in eternal life and the Sadducees did not. Jesus could tell that this man was an astute student of the law so he asked him: "What is written?" In other words, use your own mind to discern the essence of the law. Jesus, like a good discussion leader, throws the question right back in his lap.  

The lawyer had a good answer. He said: "You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and mind and strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." This was a direct quote from Deuteronomy 6. It was part of the Shema, a confession regularly made in Jewish worship. Jesus says: "Excellent. You are correct." If he were a teacher I suppose he would have said: "You get A+." I have no complaint with this says Jesus. Do this and you shall live. You have not only penetrated to the essence of the law but you have worded it succinctly.  

The question had been asked and the answer given. You would think that the man would be pleased and go home. But lawyers are never happy. A lawyer's responsibility is to define the limits of liability. "But he, desiring to justify himself, asked 'Who is my neighbor.'" In other words, where does my responsibility stop? Who exactly am I responsible for?" 

At this point, instead of further defining the question, Jesus tells a story. A way of indirect teaching.

A certain rich man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho...
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2.     "Mister Rogers," anyone?  

With his zippered cardigans, canvas sneakers, and handmade puppets (before there were cool "Muppets"), "Mister Rogers" was a pioneer in the early days of educational television for young children. Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister from Pittsburgh, started developing the characters and themes of his program in the mid-1950's. But it wasn't until 1967 that "Mister Roger's Neighborhood" took its final form and appeared on PBS stations across the country.   

This sweet, sappy, smart program stayed in production until 2001, and remained on all PBS stations until 2008. It is probably safe to say that there are very few of you listening today who couldn't sing along with the song that opened every new show - "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood..." [If you can get your choir to sing this with you, as you lead the congregation in a short refrain, all the better]. 

As he finished tying his sneakers and zipping his cardigan, Fred Rogers would sing, "Won't you be...Won't you be... Won't you be my neighbor?"  

The concept of "neighborliness" has changed over the years. It used to be your "neighbor" was a geographic designation. In early American rural communities your nearest "neighbor" might be miles away. But those neighbors would still gather together for barn-raisings, quilting bees, and harvest times.  

In the urban environments, "neighborhoods" were composed of thousands of residents. But these "hoods" were drawn together and defined along ethnic lines - "Little Italy," "Chinatown," "the Borscht Belt." You might never meet your "neighbors," but your common ethnic identities helped create a communal, comforting environment.  

In the aftermath of the "baby boom" the suburbs were born. "Neighbors" became the people just over the fence, those circling station wagons in the same cul-de-sac. But often times these suburban "neighbors" were unknown and unconnected. Physical closeness led to the erection of psychological and emotional barriers, with no front porches, only back patios and private decks. "Pre-fabricated" neighborhoods could be very lonely places. 

In today's gospel text Jesus is confronted by a legal expert, sent specifically to "test" him on the orthodoxy of his views.
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3.     Grace Is What Lifts Us 

 Jesus is saying not only that when it comes right down to it, everyone in the whole world is your neighbor. He is saying that, too. But if, as Eugene Peterson says, parables are narrative time bombs designed to explode people into new awareness, then in this case one of the pieces of shrapnel is designed to tear into the idea that the law will ever save anybody. Jesus is exposing the futility of the law as a way to inherit eternal life. After all, the Samaritan who finally reached out did so not as a result of law but of grace. The finer points of the law left the man half-dead in the ditch. It leaves us all there. Grace is what lifts the man out. Grace it what lifts all of us out. If God had not been gracious with us, we'd all still be dead.

Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations
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4.     Jesus Took the Man by the Hand 

A man fell into a pit and couldn't get himself out. A subjective person came along and said, "I feel for you down there." An objective person came along and said, "It's logical that someone would fall down there." A Pharisee said, "Only bad people fall into a pit." A mathematician calculated how he fell into the pit. A news reporter wanted an exclusive story on his pit. A fundamentalist said, "You deserve your pit." An IRS man asked if he was paying taxes on the pit. A self-pitying person said, "You haven't seen anything until you've seen my pit." A charismatic said, "Just confess that you're not in a pit." An optimist said, "Things could be worse." A pessimist said, "Things will get worse." Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the pit! (from Barbara Johnson, Ecunet, Homiletics) 

Keith Wagner, No Simple Task, quoting Barbara Johnson
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5.     Rising to the Occasion

Have you heard the story about the elderly woman who lived in a small town in East Texas... who had car trouble on the way to the supermarket one morning? Her car stalled at a stop sign... she tried everything to get her car started again, but no luck. Suddenly, a man in a pick-up truck came up behind her and with obvious agitation he started honking his horn at her impatiently. She doubled her efforts to get her car going. She pumped the gas, turned the ignition, but still no luck... the man in the pick-up truck continued to honk his horn constantly and loudly. I love what the elderly woman did. Very calmly she got out of her car, walked back to the pick-up and motioned for the man to lower his window and then politely she said: "I'll make a deal with you. If you will start my car for me I'll be happy to honk your horn for you!"

Now, that is what you call "Rising to the occasion!" and that is precisely what Jesus does here in Luke 10. The lawyer was "testing" Jesus... honking his horn loudly. He was trying to trap Jesus and trip Him up with a loaded question... but Jesus (as He so often did) rose to the occasion and passed the test with flying colors... and in so doing... He reminded the people back then (and us today) of what is the main thing in the Christian faith.  

James W. Moore, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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6.     I Certainly Don't Recommend Christianity  

I have an elderly acquaintance of about eighty, who has lived a life of unbroken selfishness and self-admiration from the earliest years, and is, more or less, I regret to say, one of the happiest men I know. From the moral point of view it is very difficult! As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity.

C.S. Lewis, "God in the Dock, Essays on Theology and Ethics," Grand Rapids, Eerdmans 1970, pp.58-59.
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7.     Love for the Enemy 

The love for equals is a human thing--of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles.

The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing--the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world. 

The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing--to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints.

And then there is the love for the enemy--love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured's love for the torturer. This is God's love. It conquers the world. 

Frederick Buechner in his book: The Magnificent Defeat.
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8.     Chip It Away 

There is a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He grew weary of this big, unattractive stone in the center of his lawn, so he decided to take advantage of it and turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he finished, it was gorgeous, breath-taking. 

A neighbor asked, "How did you ever carve such a marvelous likeness of an elephant?"
The man answered, "I just chipped away everything that didn't look like an elephant!"

If you have anything in your life right now that doesn't look like love, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have anything in your life that doesn't look like compassion or mercy or empathy, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have hatred or prejudice or vengeance or envy in your heart, for God's sake, and the for the other person's sake, and for your sake, get rid of it! Let God chip everything out of your life that doesn't look like tenderheartedness. 

James W. Moore, Some Things Are Too Good Not To Be True
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 By loving the unlovable, You made me lovable. 

Augustine to God
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9.     The Shocking Samaritan 

Biblical scholar Kenneth Bailey paints the picture of what it meant for the Good Samaritan to take the wounded man on his own donkey, ride into town, put him up at the inn, and care for him. There's an unwritten shock in the parable of Jesus, a shock only heard by people living in the context of the story, a shock lost on us, but when Bailey changes the location and races of the characters, we today might have a better sense of the impact Jesus meant to have with this parable.

Bailey writes that the Good Samaritan is like "a Plains Indian in 1875 walking into Dodge City with a scalped cowboy on his horse, checking into a room over the local saloon, and staying the night to take care of him. Any Indian so brave would be fortunate to get out of the city alive even if he had saved the cowboy's life."

Ben Squires, Walking Into Enemy Territory with a Wounded Man on Your Horse
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10.  The Secret of Our Power to Love 

Legend has it that a wealthy merchant traveling through the Mediterranean world looking for the distinguished Pharisee, Paul, encountered Timothy, who arranged a visit. Paul was, at the time, a prisoner in Rome. Stepping inside the cell, the merchant was surprised to find a rather old man, physically frail, but whose serenity and magnetism challenged the visitor. They talked for hours. Finally the merchant left with Paul's blessing. Outside the prison, the concerned man inquired, "What is the secret of this man's power? I have never seen anything like it before."

Did you not guess?" replied Timothy. "Paul is in love."
The merchant looked bewildered. "In Love?"
"Yes," the missionary answered, "Paul is in love with Jesus Christ."
The merchant looked even more bewildered. "Is that all?"
Smiling, Timothy replied, "Sir, that is everything." 

G. Curtis Jones, Illustrations For Preaching And Teaching, Nashville: Broadman, 1986, p. 225.
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11.  A Prayer 

Help me, O Lord, to be more loving. Help me O Lord, not to be afraid to love the outcast, the leper, the unmarried pregnant woman, the traitor to the State, the man out of prison. Help me by my love to restore the faith of the disillusioned, the disappointed, the early bereaved. Help me by my love to be the witness of your love. And may I this coming day be able to do some work of peace for you.

Alan Paton, a South African writer, author of "Cry the Beloved Country" who made a courageous stand against racism.
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12.  My Friend 

Frederick Douglass approached the front door of the White House, seeking admission into Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Ball. Just as Douglass was about to knock on the door, two policemen seized him, barring the black man's entrance. Douglass, a large, powerful man, brushed the officers aside and stepped into the foyer. Once inside, two more officers grabbed the uninvited guest, all the while uttering racial slurs.

As Douglass was being dragged from the hall, he cried to a nearby patron, "Just say to Mr. Lincoln that Fred Douglass is at the door!" Confusion ensued. Then suddenly the officers received orders to usher Douglass into the East Room. In that beautiful room, the great abolitionist stood in the presence of the esteemed President. The place quieted as Lincoln approached his newly arrived guest, hand outstretched in greeting, and speaking in a voice loud enough so none could mistake his intent, the President announced, "Here comes my friend Douglass." 

The President had called Frederick Douglass friend. Who dared demean Douglass if he was a friend of the President? 

Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe, has called us his brothers and his sisters. God has called us His own children. But not only us. Also the person who lies stripped and beaten by the side of the road. He " or she " is our friend, our neighbor. So we pause and we help, because once there was a man who paused on a cross for us.

Ronald Love
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13.  The Nearest Willing Hand 

Two women were sitting in church. One woman said to the other, "I've always wished that God would touch me, but I suppose that's too much to ask."

The other woman replied, "That sounds like a reasonable desire. Have you prayed about it?"
"Well, no. Of course not."
"Why not? There's certainly nothing wrong with a prayer like that. You should pray about it."
"All right. Maybe I will sometime."
"Not sometime. Now. What better place to pray than here in the Lord's house?"

Thus persuaded, the woman reluctantly folded her hands, bowed her head and closed her eyes in prayer, asking that God would touch her. About ten seconds later the other woman gently laid her hand on the folded hands of the friend at prayer. She responded as most of us would do. She jumped and said, "He did it! He touched me." Then, after a moment’s thought "But that felt an awful lot like your hand."
"It was my hand," her friend replied.

Disappointment was on the other face. "And I thought God had touched me."
"He did touch you. How do you think God touches people? That he comes down like a fog blanket or a pillar of fire? When God touches people he takes the nearest hand and uses that."

That sounds good, doesn’t it? And it’s almost right. Almost, but not quite. She left out one word. When God touches people he takes the nearest WILLING hand and uses that. The Gospel for today is a case in point.

Carveth Mitchell, The Sign in the Subway, CSS Publishing Company.
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14.  From Father Tony Kadavil’s Collection: 

a.     Arms and legs for others:  

Bob Butler lost his legs in a 1965 landmine explosion in Vietnam.  He returned home a war hero.  Twenty years later, he proved once again that heroism comes from the heart. Butler was working in his garage in a small town in Arizona on a hot summer day when he heard a woman's screams coming from a nearby house.  He began rolling his wheelchair toward the house but the dense shrubbery wouldn't allow him access to the back door.  So he got out of his chair and started to crawl through the dirt and bushes.  “I had to get there,” he says. “It didn't matter how much it hurt.”  When Butler arrived at the pool there was a three-year-old girl named Stephanie Hanes lying at the bottom.  She had been born without arms and had fallen into the water and couldn't swim.  Her mother stood over her baby screaming frantically.  Butler dove to the bottom of the pool and brought little Stephanie up to the deck. Her face was blue; she had no pulse and was not breathing. Butler immediately went to work performing CPR to revive her, while Stephanie's mother telephoned the fire department.  She was told the paramedics were already out on a call.  Helplessly she sobbed and hugged Butler's shoulder. As Butler continued with his CPR, he calmly reassured her. “Don't worry,” he said, “I was her arms to get out of the pool.  It'll be okay.  I am now her lungs.  Together we can make it.” Seconds later the little girl coughed, regained consciousness, and began to cry.  As they hugged and rejoiced together, the mother asked Butler how he knew it would be okay.  “The truth is, I didn't know,” he told her.  “But when my legs were blown off in the war, I was all alone in a field.  No one was there to help except a little Vietnamese girl.  As she struggled to drag me into her village, she whispered in broken English, ‘It okay. You can live.  I will be your legs.  Together we make it.’ Her kind words brought hope to my soul and I wanted to do the same for Stephanie.” There are simply those times when we cannot stand alone.  There are those times when we need we need a Good Samaritan, someone to be our legs, our arms, our friend. (Dan Clark) (http://www.geocities.com/guysworldtx/vetday.html) 

b.     Operation Smile:   

I was reading sometime back about Dr. William Magee Jr., a plastic surgeon in Norfolk, Va. In 1981, Dr. Magee traveled to the Philippines to operate on children with cleft lips and other facial deformities. Unfortunately, there were so many children with this deformity, a deformity that can render it impossible for them to speak or eat, that hundreds had to be turned away. This caused Dr. Magee and his wife to found an organization called Operation Smile. Operation Smile sends volunteer doctors to perform reconstructive facial surgery for children worldwide. “It wasn’t a strategic plan,” said Magee. “It was just a matter of emotion and passion to make sure children didn’t have to live this way.” The group, which already has treated 50,000 children worldwide, also trains doctors in other nations to perform the procedure. Magee hopes to use satellite technology in the future, so he can teach a greater number of medical professionals the necessary techniques. (The Associated Press.) Dr. Magee didn’t have to do that. He could have justified himself. “What’s in it for me? There are so many children in my own city whose parents or whose insurance company could pay for this surgery. I’m a busy doctor here. I don’t have to go halfway around the world and minister to indigent children. Not my problem.” I doubt if Dr. Magee even wondered if this act of service would get him into heaven. He simply saw a need and filled it. He became a good Samaritan encouraging fellow surgeons to become good Samaritans. 

c.     “You owe this debt to any stranger who comes  to you  in need:”  

V. P. Menon was a significant political figure in India during its struggle for independence from Britain after World War II. Menon had a splendid reputation for personal charity. His daughter explained the background of this trait after he died. When Menon arrived in Delhi to seek a job in government, all his possessions, including his money and I.D., were stolen at the railway station. He would have to return home on foot, defeated. In desperation he turned to an elderly Sikh, explained his troubles, and asked for a temporary loan of fifteen rupees to tide him over until he could get a job. The Sikh gave him the money. When Menon asked for his address so that he could repay the man, the Sikh said that Menon owed the debt not to him but to any stranger who came to him in need, as long as he lived. The help came from a stranger and was to be repaid to a stranger. Menon never forgot that debt. His daughter said that the day before Menon died, a beggar came to the family home in Bangalore asking for help to buy new sandals, for his feet were covered with sores. Menon asked his daughter to take fifteen rupees out of his wallet to give to the man. It was Menon's last conscious act. Menon ministered to strangers because a stranger had ministered to him. [Robert A. Fulgham, All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten (New York: Villard Books, 1988).]  

Why have Christians been historically so charitable, so caring? It is because once we were lying beside the road broken, and bleeding, nail-scarred hands reached down to us and ministered to us in our need. While we were unworthy, Christ the Divine Good Samaritan died for us.