“On Caring & Doing” Colchester Federated Church, July 10, 2022, (Luke 10:25-37) Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

This morning’s Gospel story is familiar.  A legal expert asks Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life.  Jesus asks a question in response, “What is written in the Law?  How do you interpret it?”[1]  The man responds, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”[2]  Jesus commends the legal expert for his answer.  But like many lawyer-types, the man wanted to prove that he was right.  He asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”[3]  That’s when things get interesting.  Jesus doesn’t answer his question immediately.  Instead, he launches into a story—the parable of the Good Samaritan.

When one walks the path from Jerusalem to Jericho (the journey that the man took when he was robbed, stripped, beaten, and left near death) one inevitably has to deal with heights.  It is a feeling of going down—from 2,500 feet above sea level to 820 feet below sea level.[4]  When I was in the Holy Land, we walked this path through the valley of the shadow of death.  Because Wadi Qelt is where Christians commemorate both the 23rd Psalm and the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  We began the journey at St. George’s Monastery in a valley outside of Jerusalem and ended up in Jericho.  The path is rocky and relatively flat, though on one’s right side is a sheer drop far down into the valley with no railings or safety nets or anything that will help you not plummet.  Obviously, I lived to tell the tale, but that walk was an unnerving experience especially for those of us who were afraid of heights.   

It’s striking that Jesus taught this story of the Good Samaritan that we commemorate in the valley of the shadow of death after he was asked what we must do to inherit eternal life and who exactly is our neighbor?  Jesus taught this story in answer to questions that were fearful in a way: how do I gain eternal life and who, exactly, is my neighbor?  Jesus taught this story to remind his followers what his life was all about—love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.  This is the central message of Jesus.  This is the central teaching of the faith that followed.  Love God with everything you are and everything you’ve got.  Love your neighbor.  Love yourself.  We are called to respond to fear with love.

As Christians, we have central values that we must cling to, remember, and live out no matter what the present is or the future will be.  When we see someone lost and hurting, we can reach out to them in compassion.  We cannot compromise on treating every single human being with dignity.  Because it ends up that our neighbors are everybody.  That is a core value of our Christian faith—everyone deserves respect no matter who you are, what you look like, who you love, how, where, or if you worship, or where you come from.  We are all God’s children and therefore worthy of respect.  We all long to be truly seen.  We all have inherent dignity and worth as human beings.

          So let’s not forget when we contemplate this Gospel story and let it really sink into our hearts that Samaritans were despised.  Jews hated Samaritans and Samaritans hated Jews.  The times back then were just as divisive as the times we live in now.  And the Good Samaritan is the hero of Jesus’ story.  Not the priest who represented the highest leadership among the Jews.  Not the Levite who belonged to minor clergy below the priest, but still way above the Samaritan.  The Samaritan was a foreigner who wasn’t expected to show sympathy to Jews at all.  And he was the one moved to pity.  The Samaritan was the hero of Jesus’ story about compassion and treating one another as we would want to be treated. 

The Samaritan treated the injured man with oil that would have served as a salve and wine that would have served as an antiseptic.  He gave the innkeeper two denarii to continue caring for the wounded man, the equivalent of probably two months of lodging in an inn.  The Samaritan was good, and showed light and love for someone he could have hated because it was socially acceptable to hate him.

          The truth is that fear continues to be present in our world.  Human beings are afraid of many things.  Sometimes we are afraid of the unknown.  We might be afraid of people who we believe to be different than we are.  We are afraid of being forgotten or cast aside.  But Jesus had a lot to say about fear. 

Remember that time when the disciples and Jesus were out on the Sea of Galilee and they’re in the boat and the windstorm kicks up?  The waves are crazy and the disciples are terrified that they’re about to die.  Jesus, meanwhile, is asleep in the back of the boat on a cushion and wakes up saying to the chaotic waters, “Peace!  Be still!”  Then he turns to his terrified followers and says, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”[5] 

Then there’s that time that Jesus gave a long set of instructions in John’s Gospel.  Scholars call it his Farwell Discourse.  Some of Jesus’ instructions address the disciples’ fears, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”[6]  Over and over Jesus addresses the disciples’ fears in both his words and deeds. 

Fear can lead us down paths we may not ultimately want to go.  Think of the great wisdom teacher Yoda who proclaimed in Star Wars, “Fear is the path to the dark side.  Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering.”  Yes, we need to be on alert when fear is about.  Because if we are so focused on our fears we might miss the invitation to new life in Christ, to the transformation of our hearts that we can experience if we follow in his ways of compassion.

At the end of the day, we can do our best to spread light and love into our hurting world.  We can reach out to someone in need who is hurting.  Maybe that doesn’t feel like much on the surface, but it might mean everything to that person.  Just think of the man in need on the path from Jerusalem to Jericho in the story.  The actions of the Samaritan made a huge difference for him.  As we sometimes say in the UCC, “to believe is to care, to care is to do.”  Our faith comes alive when we put it into action—to care and to do.  Our challenge remains the perpetual challenge that Jesus taught: love God with everything you are and everything you’ve got, love your neighbors, and love yourself.  May it be so with us, and thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Luke 10:26, CEB.
[2] Luke 10:27, CEB.
[3] Luke 10:29, CEB.
[4] Note on Luke 10:29-37 Parable of the Good Samaritan in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, 4th Edition, 1851.
[5] Mark 4:40, NRSV.
[6] John 14:17, NRSV.

Photo by Rev. Lauren Lorincz Ostrout