Saturday, July 9, 2016

Pentecost 8C 2016

The Good Samaritan

Fr. Dale Matson

We begin this week as we began last week. In a society, which has been led to believe that I’m OK and your OK, we now wonder if there is still a right and wrong. The Epistle lesson for last Sunday stated in part, “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”

Our opening collect for this week states in part, “O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them.”

Our Epistle lesson for this week also states, “For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work.

It seems obvious to me that God is leading us by our readings to the Gospel lesson for today. Good conduct is not optional for the Christian. The Christian must first know the proper conduct and then follow through. We are faced with moral decisions all of the time. Sometimes we do the wrong thing out of ignorance, that is, we don’t know any better or simply out of inattention. For example, how about jaywalking? Here is what California state code 21955 states, “…pedestrians shall not cross the roadway at any place except in a crosswalk.” How many folks knew that? How many folks know that and have done it anyway?

Our Gospel lesson is about the right thing to do but you will see that it is much more than that. “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?" 

I think this is not just a lawyerly question that he asked. It is the same question that we would ask. He wanted to know what the minimum requirement was so that he could honor only the letter of the law. He didn’t want to honor the spirit of the law, which went far beyond what he was willing to accept. It’s kind of like when I would be lecturing in a class and a student would ask me, “Will this be on the test?” My usual response was, “Why of course, everything I say may be on the test.” 

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. This is important to listen here since Jesus is saying that the man was naked and probably unconscious from the beating thus his nationality, social status or even that he is alive cannot be determined. 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.

First, let me explain the difference between a priest and a Levite. All priests are Levites but not all Levites are priests. Levites are temple assistants to the Priests. Priests were descendants of Aaron who was a Levite. Levites were the tribe that did not worship the Golden Calf.

So why did the priest and Levite pass by this man? It is possible that they believed that the man was dead and to touch him would have made them ritually unclean. They both knew the Law and neither deemed the man their neighbor.They, like the lawyer had lived by the letter of the law. This is an important point Jesus is always making that we must live by the spirit of the law.

Jesus emphasized the spirit of the law over the letter quite clearly in the Gospel of Mark when He criticized the Pharisees who believed that the money a man set aside as tithes for the temple could be withheld from his needy parents.

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." 

Jesus turns the lawyer’s question around. Which of these three was a neighbor. In this, He is putting the burden on the lawyer himself. In other words, He is asking the lawyer, “To whom are you a neighbor not who is your neighbor?”

Jesus was also shaming His fellow Jew by using a hated Samaritan as the one who was willing to take the risk of helping the injured man who could even have been a Jew himself.
Really, there were more reasons not to help the injured man than to help him. The Jews would not be blamed for passing by an enemy if he was a hated Samaritan. Remember, the Jews were very concerned about someone’s pedigree, their social standing. In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, when Philip told Nathanial that they had found the savior, Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanial said, “Can anything good come out Nazareth?”

The thieves were possibly still in the area and might attack someone else. Unfortunately it is only too easy to see us as the upstanding and proud Levite or Priest and not the Samaritan.
What Jesus is saying in this parable is that of the three men who encountered the injured man, only the Samaritan man was motivated by love. His love was merciful, nurturing, generous, sacrificial, courageous and unconditional.

Now I would like to examine the story of the Good Samaritan on a more symbolic level that I believe Jesus was intending also. The Parables are like a mine that continues to yield nuggets of gold. Like the parable of the prodigal, it is possible to see ourselves in any one of the three persons. In one sense we can be the prodigal and at another time we may be the older brother and finally we can be the father. In the Prodigal it is the older brother who did what was right but lived the letter of the law not the spirit. He was righteous, did what was expected of him but he was not gracious. The father is similar to the Good Samaritan. Both are benevolent and selfless.

So, who really is the Good Samaritan in this parable? I believe the Good Samaritan is Jesus referring to Himself. The Jews hate him, like the Samaritan. Who is the man the man robbed and beaten by thieves, lying naked and half dead along the road? That man is us. We are the ones rescued by the Good Samaritan Jesus. In the Gospel of John (10:10) Jesus states, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have [it] abundantly.” We have been nearly killed by Satan.

Whom do the priest and Levite represent? They are the proper people, the self-righteous, and the people who are religious but not spiritual. They are the ones who live by the letter of the law not the spirit of the law. They do the right thing but they do not love. This can be us too just as we can be the prodigals or the older brother depending on the day of the week. These are the people trying to remove the sliver from their neighbor’s eye but suffering from a stick in their own.

Let’s take the symbolism even further. The Samaritan used oil and wine to dress the man’s wounds. The oil represents the Holy Spirit and the wine represents the Blood of Christ. “By His stripes we were healed.” (1Peter 2:24) What is the inn? It is the church where we are cared for until His return. This of course is His return to earth. The innkeeper is the Holy Spirit who cares for the church and us until His return.

If we examine the story of the Good Samaritan today in light of the events in our nation and how we respond to them would there be people who would be unhappy that the tale of the Good Samaritan was not about justice also? The thieves beat and robbed the man. Jesus does not deal with the injustice of the crime and the fact that the thieves were not apprehended and punished. This is a story about love and neighbor not justice.

When I think about all the suffering in this world it is easy for us to get caught up in it, to dwell on it, to ruminate on it. It is important to stay informed but it is also important not to be overwhelmed by excessive reading, listening and watching what is going on in this fallen world today. I recommend not being immersed to the extent that you’re constantly fearful. Fear is bad for us. Fear causes us to internalize, to only think of ourselves and “awfulize”. Fear isolates us. It is when I am in the worry frame of mind that the Holy Spirit speaks to me.
The Holy Spirit asks me the usual questions. Are you sharing the beautiful? Do you have too much? (Red Hot Chili Peppers- “Give it away”) When is the last time you called your sister? Have you invited your son to lunch lately? Did you exercise today? Are you being a good steward of your body? Have you been productive? Is the world a better place because of your actions today? Have you offered a word of encouragement to the discouraged? Are you about your Father’s business? Dwell on the good! Dwell on the Good! Amen  


John said...

Thank you for sharing this. I really enjoyed reading it. Even though I have heard this parable all of my life, I hadn't dug into it like you have.

Dale Matson said...

HI John,
Thanks for the comment. I Looked into your profile. I'm on search and rescue also. Seeking the lost is what I do.
Dale Matson+

Dale Matson said...

"This is a story about love and neighbor not justice" Based on the recent California Supreme Court ruling against the ADSJ, we need to remember this part.