Faithful Discipleship: When the Right Thing is Hard to Do

A sermon, based on Luke 10.25-37, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, July 14, 2019


Life, involving a never-ending succession of decisions, every moment demanding our choices between this or that, can be difficult.

Some choices are routine. Relatively inconsequential. When Pontheolla and I dine out, we choose among several of our favorite restaurants. Sometimes, depending on appetite and taste, schedule and convenience, our decisions are quick, easy.

Other choices are significant. Critical. Three years ago, when I faced major surgery, the decisions on which surgeon and which hospital were deliberate and detailed.

And sometimes our choices occasion a collision of our values. In more instances than I care to recount, a circumstance, most uncomfortable, presented itself that called for me to consider choosing between loving another unconditionally, my chiefest value, and, also important, preserving my personal safety; when choosing either might have violated the other.

Life, involving a never-ending succession of decisions, every moment demanding our choices between this or that, sometimes is difficult.

Two Sundays ago, under the title, Faithful Discipleship: The Struggle is Real, I preached about Jesus’ struggle to be faithful to God’s call that involved a destiny of death on a cross, and our struggle to be faithful to Jesus’ either-or, not both-and call to be his disciples. Today, a second installment, Faithful Discipleship: When the Right Thing is Hard to Do.

A priest and a Levite are on their way to Jerusalem to perform their religious duties at the temple. They see an injured man. If they touch him, they will be ritually unclean and unable to fulfill their obligations.(1) Faced with a difficult choice between being faithful in answering their call of responsibility to a person, a neighbor in need and to the institution and, therefore, the community they serve, they “passed by on the other side.”

A Samaritan, given the historic ethnic enmity between Samaritans and Jews, could have, would have passed by. But he was faithful when, because of his prejudice, the right thing – loving his neighbor, seeing his enemy as a neighbor – was a hard thing, indeed, the hardest thing to do.

Now, if this morning’s message is that being faithful is hard to do even when we know what’s right and that sometimes we are faithful and sometimes we aren’t, that we already know!

But I believe that Jesus reminds us of who we are, which, although also obvious, in our remembrance can make a difference in our daily choices in the concrete circumstances of our lives. And he does it, in a way that’s not so obvious, by telling us what the Samaritan did.

The Samaritan saw the injured man…

Had compassion for the injured man…

Administered cleansing wine and healing oil on the injured man…

Bandaged the wounds of the injured man…

Transported the injured man to shelter…

Spent the night caring for the injured man…

Paid for the injured man’s lodging…

And promised to return and pay for any additional charges of the innkeeper in caring for the injured man.

The Good Samaritan, Jan Jansz Wijnants (1632-1684)

Jesus, through this excessive detail, paints a portrait, inviting us to look at it and to see ourselves. Not in the Samaritan, but in the injured man who had fallen into the hands of robbers. For we, as he – in the course of our living, parts of us sometimes stripped, sometimes beaten, sometimes, perhaps, even half dead – always are in some way in need. Therefore, we, as he, always need compassion.

Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” Do compassion. But before we can do likewise, we first have to be likewise. We first have to acknowledge our constant need for compassion. For only what we can see in ourselves can we see in someone else and, therefore, choose to respond.

To put this another way, “Go and do likewise” is Jesus’ call, his summons to our souls to recognize that great commonality of all humanity, need, and then to recognize that other great commonality, compassion, and then to recognize in the face of every man, woman, and child, a neighbor, even more, a brother or a sister, and then when a neighbor is in need, to reach out with compassion even when it’s hard.

(1) The Law of God stated in Leviticus 5.2-3 applies: When any of you touch any unclean thing, whether the carcass of an unclean beast or the carcass of unclean livestock or the carcass of an unclean swarming thing…you have become unclean, and are guilty. Or when you touch human uncleanness, any uncleanness by which one can become unclean…you shall be guilty (my emphasis). “Any uncleanness by which one can become unclean” would include the man, in the course of being robbed, having been bruised and bloodied.

Illustration: The Good Samaritan, Jan Jansz Wijnants (1632-1684). Note: Wijnants depicts the Samaritan pouring oil and wine on the wounds of the man who, having fallen “into the hands of robbers,” was “stripped, beaten, and left for dead;” while the Levite (near left frame) and the priest (far left frame), both having “passed by on the other side,” are on their way to Jerusalem (center, top frame).

2 thoughts on “Faithful Discipleship: When the Right Thing is Hard to Do

  1. Love this sermon Paul and I have an example!

    Compassion can really be hard!! A few months ago while on a hiking trail headed to meet a tour bus I saw a stranger fall. He fell right in front of four people who I had incorrectly assumed he was hiking with. They causally stepped over him and continued on their way not even acknowledging that he was injured! I knew I should stop but I had a decision to make. Assisting him for any more than 10 minutes meant that I would more than likely miss the tour I had paid $75 for. I didn’t see any more people coming down the trail. I made a quick decision and took off my backpack which contained a first aid kit. The man had a big cut on his head and what appeared to be a very sprained or broken ankle. I helped him to slide over and off the trail so he was propped up against the tree. The entire time since I had knelt next to him he hadn’t let go of my hand. He said he was ok but I could just tell how scared he was. It took about 20 min or so for the EMT’s to arrive. The fallen hiker said to me “you’re going to miss your tour”. I smiled and said “there’ll be another tour”… I did fret for a second about the non-refundable tour I was really looking forward to but was going to miss, but there was no way I was going to leave him… especially since I’m a person trained in First Aid & CPR. I stayed til they loaded him on the stretcher and he was STILL holding my hand. He yelled out as they loaded him on a golf cart “I didn’t get your name” and I yelled my name back to him. As I dragged along the trail stressed by what I had witnessed because the stranger had lost a lot of blood some of which was now on my T-shirt, I pondered what I was going to do that afternoon now that the tour had left me. As I came off the path to the parking lot the tour was supposed to leave from I saw a tour bus… oh wow, was that my bus??? I walked a little faster. The bus driver asked if I was Loretta and I said yes. He said “we waited for you!” I started to run to the bus!! When I got on everyone cheered. Apparently there was a security camera somewhere in the vicinity of where the man fell and when they zoomed in they saw my tour ticket around my neck and no one on the bus wanted to leave me. I was sooo glad I didn’t choose to just step over this man I’d never seen before and likely will never see again and that I stayed with him til he was rescued! I wondered how the other people could have just stepped over him as if they didn’t see him. I hope they never fall on a trail. I did the right thing and didn’t let a small amount of money stand in the way, and was rewarded for my efforts by getting to do the tour I had intended to do. Lesson learned- it should never be a hard decision to help another human being.

    Much love!


  2. A gloriously beautiful story, Loretta, both in context and content, each pertaining mightily to the message, I believe, of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Personally, your story touches the sense and substance of the third example I cited in the opening of my sermon regarding difficult decisions that involve a clash of values; in my case, loving another unconditionally and risking my personal safety – a situation that, potentially, in choosing one over the other violates the keeping of the value not chosen…

    In a related vignette, at fellowship hour following yesterday’s worship service, a parishioner told me of encountering a man on the roadside, and then wondering whether he should stop and give him a ride or not. He shared with me his inner struggle of desiring to be of help, yet being concerned for his safety and that of his wife. I responded by saying to him that his awareness of the difficulty of the choice is precisely, I think, what Jesus points to in his parable; choices that never are easy. I also shared with him that, in my view, the fact that he struggled at that moment and continued to struggle with the decision (given that he was mentioning it to me days after the instance of encounter) meant that he was a disciple of Jesus. For Jesus desires that we ever be aware of his word to us in the concrete circumstances of our lives. In his struggle, that was precisely, in my mind and heart, what he was doing.

    Now, as I reflect again on your story, I, following my own counsel via my sermon, put myself in the place of the man who had fallen. The situation, truly, is terrifying, whether I would have been on the trail alone and had fallen or that others around me had “passed by on the other side.” Bless you for stopping and serving.

    Love ya’


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