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The One Who Did Mercy With
Series: So That You May Come to Know the Truth — Gospel of Luke
Leader: Rev. David Thomas
Scripture: Luke 10:25-37
Date: Mar 19th, 2023
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Could we be surprised by Jesus this morning?  This story is one of the most famous in the New Testament.  To this day, we speak of Good Samaritans helping others, usually publicly.  Samaritans still exist today.  They number just over 800 at last count.  The fame of the name greatly exceeds their number.  I suppose we’ll always be talking about Good Samaritans, no matter how well the Bible is known.  Samaritan’s Purse.  Samaritan’s Help Line.  Could we be surprised today in our hearing of this story, no matter if it’s the first time we’re hearing it or the 1001st time?  We can moralize the story and say it’s one about helping strangers or crossing racial boundaries, and those are good things.  We’re not here to simply moralize, however.

This is a story about mercy.  Could we be surprised by mercy today?  Let’s ask for God’s help as we look at it.

When we come to Luke 10, Jesus’ ministry in Galilee has ended.  He has set his face toward Jerusalem.  He has sent out seventy followers to go ahead of him and make the kingdom of God known.  The question of what it means to be a follower of Jesus here is very much at the forefront of things.  Jesus tells a story in our text, at the end of which he says, “go and do.”  Going and doing are important.  Following our text is a story about a woman who sits at his feet and listens (which we may come too).  Sitting and listening.  Going and doing.  There is a time for each.  They’re not to be helped in opposition to each other.  What we believe and what we are called to do are not to be held in opposition to each other either.  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul tells them that in Christ Jesus, “the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” (Gal 5:6)

Love is the answer, but we mustn’t ever get glib about it.  There’s nothing easy about this answer.  Of course, we haven’t even talked about the question yet.  Jesus has been rejoicing about faith.  “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (10:22)

“Just then, a lawyer stood up to test Jesus, ‘Teacher’, he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life.’”  This man was an expert in the law of Moses.  He’s asking a good question, though not for the right reason.  The question is good, and it’s a big one.  What is the life all about?  What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is the goal of life?  Excellent question and one we all do well to pose and consider!

Of course, in the kingdom of God, we’re not simply about posing and considering.  Someone once asked a Rabbi, “Why do you Rabbis always answer a question with another question?”  The Rabbi responded, “Why shouldn’t we answer a question with another question?”  There aren’t many (maybe aren’t any) easy answers in the kingdom of God, and we’re never called to glibness or flippancy or platitudes.  Jesus replies in true rabbinical style with another question.  “What is written in the law?  What do you read there?” It’s been said that the questions and answers are the most important thing that are happening in this story, and we’ll see in a while how Jesus is going to turn a question upside down.  The lawyer comes back with a good answer.  We call it the law of love.  “You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.”

Good!  Do this, and you will live.  Do this, and you will know life lived in the love of God now and always.  Love of God that involves every aspect of our being.  Totalizing love of God which is rooted and grounded in God’s love for us which we can think of vertically that flows from us horizontally to others.

The thing about the kingdom of God is it’s not simply about having the right answers.  Having the right answers does not mean that one knows God.  We’re not merely speculating or theorizing in the kingdom of God.  Jesus has said that those who call him “Lord Lord” and do not do what he tells are like a man who built his house without a foundation.  A house that is not much good for anything.  Jesus has said that his mother and his brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.   Someone has said that the question for Jesus is not so much what one must do but whether one does it. The lawyer wants to keep talking, keep questioning.  I can be down with the loving God part, but let’s put some parameters around this whole neighbour thing.  “Who is my neighbour?”  Let’s define this “neighbour” thing.  Of course, to define who is a neighbour means that you’ll be defining who isn’t a neighbour.  The lawyer wants to define who is the object of love and mercy because surely this love and mercy thing is not to extend to everyone.  Let’s put some boundaries around this thing.  I want to do this on my own terms, so let’s keep talking. “Who is my neighbour?”

Jesus’ response here comes In the form of a story.  The road from Jerusalem to Jericho descended from around 780m or 2500 ft to around -250m or -780 ft.  This is why we always talk about going up to Jerusalem.  It was full of blind turns and plenty of places from which one could be ambushed.  “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.”  The man was helpless.  The man was in a position from which he could not hope to extricate himself.  Picture the scene.  Picture ourselves in the scene.  Unable, maybe even to call out.  Footsteps are heard.  Hope stirs.  Footsteps recede into the distance on the other side of the road.  The same thing happens again.  A priest and a Levite.  A priest and a kind of priest’s assistant, no doubt heading home after finishing off a tour of duty at the Temple in Jerusalem.  The crowd might have nodded knowingly, as religious leaders often don’t have the best of reputations.  In it for themselves.  Looking for their own advantage or advancement.  The crowd might have been waiting for the classic turn, which often comes when groups of three people appear in a story or a joke (like the one about the priest, the rabbi, and the Baptist pastor).  The crowd might have been waiting for the common but righteous Israelite who would come along and show those religious leaders what love and mercy looked like.

But a Samaritan…  A people who were considered to be the result of the mixing of the northern tribes of Israel and the conquering Assyrians hundreds of years before.  A people who considered themselves the true heirs of the promises made to Abraham.  Jews and Samaritans would have encountered each other all the time, passed by each other on roads or passed through each other’s villages.  It certainly wasn’t a matter of stopping, though.  “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” asked a woman of Samaria of Jesus one day at a well.   

Oh my goodness, he’s going to stop!  I want us to note a detail here in the story.  The Samaritan came near him.  He came near, and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. Moved with compassion (splangnizomai – that gut-wrenching compassion which is used to describe the way Jesus feels compassion).  “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them (again with the oil).  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.’”

We were talking about mercy last week too.  We who follow this Jesus cannot hear this story without seeing ourselves at the side of the road, lying helpless and half dead.  Jesus came near us, noticed us, helped us. Jesus comes near us, notices us, restores us.  If we don’t follow Jesus and we feel like we’re lying half-dead at the side of the road – there is mercy with Jesus.  There is peace with Jesus.  There is wholeness with Jesus.  Showing mercy makes us vulnerable, and God loves us vulnerably.  God is humble enough to allow the possibility that we might reject God’s mercy altogether.  Mercy is vulnerable.  Mercy gets down in the ditch.  It’s never simply a question of “a hand up rather than a hand out” with God.  Mercy gets down in the ditch.  Mercy gets bloody.  Mercy walks while the other rides.  Mercy risks being cheated.  Mercy risks never being appreciated.  Mercy risks being hated even.  “What do you mean a Samaritan touched me?” might well have been the response on the part of this man once he recovered enough to be told the story.

Let the story land.  Let’s sit with the story for a few moments as those original listeners must have sat with the story as they sat with the man who was God’s mercy among us.  Let’s hear Jesus ask us the question as he once again responds with a question.  We don’t need easy answers, after all.  What we need (what I need) is to capture or recapture the vision of God for the people of God when it comes to being a people who not only hear Jesus’ words but do them.  NT Wright put it like this – “No church, no Christian can remain content with easy definitions which allow us to watch most of the world lying half-dead in the road.”

So let’s hear Jesus’ question now.  “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”  Jesus has turned the question around.  The question is not about who is deserving of mercy.  The question is not about the object of mercy.  The question is about the subject, and Jesus figuratively holds up a mirror before each and every one of us.  Who are we becoming?  What are we becoming?  “Which of these three became a neighbour to the man…” is the sense of the original Greek here.  The answer comes back, “The one who showed him mercy.”  Literally, “the one who did mercy with him.”

Because mercy is not simply a feeling, no more than love.  Mercy is something that we do, and we do it with.  Remember the first thing the Samaritan did.  He came near.  He came alongside.  The very definition of a neighbour is being alongside, yes?  The Samaritan became a neighbour to the one lying half-dead.  Someone has said that Jesus is showing “… one does not have a neighbour, I make myself someone’s neighbour… the Gospel would totally condemn the modern world . . . denounce it as a world without the neighbour, the dehumanized world of abstract, anonymous and distant relationships.” 

To whom is God calling us to come alongside?  In our lives individually, in our families, in our church life?   To whom is God calling us to come alongside?  For the last three and a half months, mercy has looked like meals and clothing on St. Joseph’s St. every Saturday.  What might it look like after April?  Are we called to come alongside young people with our brother Matt or at Horizons For Youth?

We’re called to sit and listen.  We’ve done that, and we’ll continue to.  We’re called to go and do.  Jesus’ last words in this section.  All based in and grounded in the mercy that has been shown to us in Christ Jesus.  Mercy and love is not to be limited by category and is not to be dependent on questions.  Whoever needs us is my neighbour.  Whomever at any given time and place we can help with active love and mercy is our neighbour, and we are theirs.  May God plant these truths deep within our hearts, and may this be true for all who hear these words.