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.
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).