Luke 10:25-37

Have you ever wondered... as I have... what a bystander or passerby would do if you were involved in an accident? Have you ever wondered what you would do if you happened to be the bystander or the one who passes by an emergency situation? Do you know CPR?... or the Heimlich Maneuver?... or like me... have you avoided learning these life-saving techniques so you won't be expected to use them in an emergency?

What if you made matters worse by your action? Would the Good Samaritan laws of Louisiana protect you from litigation? The Good Samaritan story takes on a whole new aspect in our day and age... doesn't it? This story begins with a lawyer's question... and... all too often... such situations today end up in the hands of a lawyer.

Let's begin at the beginning of the story... with the lawyer... the "expert in the law." In those days... a lawyer was a person who devoted all of his time to studying the ancient manuscripts containing "the law of Moses." This was a scholarly occupation... and not an easy task. There were hundreds of laws in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible... and thousands of oral traditions had developed over the centuries since Moses received the law.

One of their fondest pursuits was to talk about the law and argue its implications and obligations... and this man's question about inheriting eternal life was a common Jewish theological question. One of the most deeply ingrained human notions is that a person must do something to merit God's favor. And with all those laws and oral traditions... how was a fellow suppose to know what was essential! Sounds like something we're still debating today... doesn't it?

"What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Did you notice that the question contains a contradiction? How many of you have inherited something in your lifetime? What did you do to merit that inheritance? Did you have anything to do with deciding which family you would be born into? Did you have any say in how they earned their living... or whether they got ahead... or how much money was required to care for them in their old age? Of course not! Your inheritance is based on one thing... and one thing only... your relationship to that person. You do not do something to inherit. It's a gift given to you by someone with whom you have a relationship.

You know... the "lawyers"... the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus' day weren't very happy with what Jesus was telling the people as he traveled around the countryside. They had spent their entire lives building a system of law that would protect them from the rest of the world... and insure them God's favor. And here was this man... telling the riffraff... common sinners... that God's kingdom was near! It was a glorious message for everyday people... for the oppressed... and hurting... but it made a mockery of them... and their life's work. He was obviously making things far too simply... but was he?

Jesus turned the question back on the asker. "How do you understand the law?" You see these "experts" all knew that the heart of the law was found in Deuteronomy 6:5:

"Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

and in Leviticus 19:18:

" your neighbor as yourself."

As a matter of fact... they were required to recite these very words every morning and evening. As he said these words... under the steady gaze of Jesus... the lawyer suddenly knew that he had been trapped. Even with all his expertise in the study of the law... he has failed to obey it!

Jesus congratulates the lawyer for answering well. But then... with a gentle nudge... he says, "You know what is right, now just do it." Of course, the lawyer knows that he has not done it... but instead of repenting... he does what we all do... he tries to find a way to show that he is right... he tries to justify himself. But the only way that he can do that is by diminishing the demands of the law... by defining "neighbor" so narrowly that he could claim, in fact, that he did love his neighbor. Now who is trying to make it simple?

There's so much in this passage that is indicative of our human nature. We want straightforward answers to the complex questions of life. Tell us, Lord, is it black... or is it white. Shades of gray are difficult for us to tolerate... and we want our lives to be easy. Lord, just tell us what to do... and we will do it. The reason we aren't doing it already is because you have not been clear enough about what you expect. Just who is our neighbor, anyhow? We would be glad to do it if we only knew! And so we try to slip-slide away instead of hearing what Jesus has to say.

What is Jesus saying here? What are we invited to hear this morning as we consider this story? The message is very simple... why do we have so much difficulty hearing it?

"Love God with all your heart, you mind, your strength and your soul; and love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live!"

Maybe it is because... like the lawyer... we recognize we haven't done it... and it's just too painful to admit. This is the purpose of our lives... and we have failed to do it! And now we are on the defensive... we all try to justify ourselves... and minimize our wrong doing. After all... we love our families... we love our brothers and sisters in Christ... at least most of them! But that is not enough... that is never enough!

Paul tells us again and again that the law is not just a set of rules we are expected to obey... the law shows us how far short we have fallen! The law calls us to repentance... and any other response is born of our arrogance! If and when we recognize how far short we have fallen... then... and only then... can we see how great a gift is our inheritance. God claims us as his children... his family... his sons and daughters... and in Jesus Christ we all stand to inherit eternal life... by God's grace and by faith alone. Nothing we can do will ever be enough... but then our inheritance is not a matter of merit... it's a matter of relationship... relationship with God... in and through Jesus Christ.

An interesting thing about the story of the Good Samaritan is that Jesus shows us what really matters... it's not a question of who is our neighbor... the question is "Are you a good neighbor?" You see... "neighborness" has got nothing to do with the individual or the location. "Neighborness" is a way of behaving toward any person with whom you come in contact. Neighboring is done as we show mercy to those in need... and since every human being is "needy"... that makes everyone our neighbor. And don't forget the kind of neighbor you are is a direct reflection of your relationship with God.

Do you love in a way that shows? Amen.

A Sermon Preached on July 5, 1998
The Rev. Shirley R. Frazier
Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church, Arabi, LA

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