Summary: A sermon on the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
How many times a day or a week do you hear the expression, "That person was being a 'Good Samaritan'?"
Even news reporters use this term in their stories to describe someone who helps another out of a burning building, jumps in a lake to save someone who is drowning or calls the police when they see someone breaking into a neighbor's home.
"The Good Samaritan" has passed into folklore, and has succeeded in changing the meaning of the word "Samaritan" itself in modern English.
In Jesus' time, calling someone a "Good Samaritan," at least from a Jewish stand-point, would have been an oxi-moron.
There was no such thing, in their eyes.
The hatred between the Jews and Samaritans had gone on for hundreds of years--and it's still reflected, tragically, in the smoldering tension between Israel and Palestine today.
Both sides claim to be the true inheritors of the promises to Abraham and Moses; both sides regard themselves as the rightful possessors of the land.
And they are always on the brink of war.
So, the parable of the Good Samaritan has indeed become a bit of a clich'e; most of us think of a Good Samaritan as anyone who comes to the aid of anyone else.
And don't get me wrong, this is a great thing!!!
But Jesus' parable goes much deeper than this.
It goes to the very heart of the Gospel itself and what it means to follow what Jesus called the "Greatest Commandment":
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind...
...And love your neighbor as yourself."
Jesus said that "All the Law and the Prophets"--in other words, EVERTHING--"hang on these two commandments."
So, it is important for all of us to get to the meat of what Jesus is really talking about here if we are to live as Jesus has called us to live.
In our Gospel Lesson for this morning, Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem.
Jesus is on His way to His death, when He meets a lawyer who wants to know how to move toward life, or is at least testing to see if Jesus knows.
"Teacher,' he asked, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?'"
And since this guy is a lawyer or an expert in Jewish religious law, Jesus turns the question around on him: "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?"
And the man quotes to Jesus what is written in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18: "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, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
Jesus tells the lawyer that he has answered the question correctly.
"Do this and you will live," Jesus tells him.
But then the lawyer has a follow-up question: "And who is my neighbor?"
And we are told that the lawyer asked Jesus this question because he wanted to "justify himself."
And in this context it means that the lawyer wanted to limit who rightly qualifies as his neighbor, to divide out exactly which people he is called to love.
In other words, the Law obviously couldn't be instructing this man that he must love people who are non-Jews.
The Law must not be instructing this man that he must love people who are of a different race, or people who think differently than him, act differently, worship differently.
The Law certainly is not teaching this man to love his enemies.
Sometimes Mary Ellen will sit with me as I do my morning devotions.
I'll read the Bible to her, and the Upper Room and then I'll pray.
Part of the prayer I have prayed for as long as I remember goes like this: "God bless my friends, family, relatives, enemies and the whole world."
One time, after praying this, Mary Ellen asked me why I "prayed for my enemies."
And I told her that Jesus has instructed us to pray for our enemies.
And then Mary Ellen said, "But you don't have any enemies."
I let that one go, but I thought to myself: "I think you'd be surprised."
Anyhow, the Jews and the Samaritans were enemies, and the contempt was mutual.
Jesus even experienced this contempt as a Jew.
In Luke Chapter 9 Jesus went into a Samaritan town that refused to welcome Jesus.
And James and John wanted Jesus to call down fire from heaven and burn those terrible people up.
But Jesus sharply reprimanded them!!!
Violence and hatred is not what Jesus is about.
Revenge is not what Jesus is about.
We do well to remember this at all times, as those who seek to follow Jesus Christ.