“The Uncommon Deed” – Luke 10:25-37
Epiphany 6 – February 12, 2017
Introduction: Two good questions
Today, our essential Bible passage is Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. There are two good questions in the lead-up to this story. A lawyer comes to Jesus. (Please realize this lawyer is not someone who defends people in court… he’s really a scholar of the law of Moses.) He asks Jesus the first question: What shall I do to inherit eternal life? That’s a really good, really important question. It gets at the heart of one’s relationship with God, one’s eternity with God. Jesus turned it back to the lawyer: What do you think? The scholar replied: Love God (FIRST) with your whole life, love your neighbour as yourself.
Jesus said: [clapping] Good answer, good answer, if you love God with your whole being and if you love your neighbour, you will live!
The trouble inherent in Jesus’ response is that NO ONE can love God with their whole being, and NO ONE can perfectly love their neighbour as himself/herself. Some of the Commandments you can apparently obey by not doing things – not killing, not committing adultery, not stealing. But in summarizing the Commandments with the word ‘love’ you must actively do something, something positive. You can’t love God by doing nothing, you can’t love your neighbour by doing nothing! Love is an active verb!
The scholar of the law must have felt he was getting an ‘A’ or an ‘A+’ in the “loving God” part. After all, he was a religious guy. But he wanted to clarify the “loving your neighbour” part, so he asked his second good question: “Who is my neighbour?” Is it the family in my house? The families on either side of my house? The families on my street? Where do I draw the line in my love? He was looking for a guarantee, looking to justify his own actions of loving his neighbour.
So, Jesus told the parable: [9:00 service – read the story; 11:00 service – acted out story]
- A Good Samaritan Experiment
OK, so we heard it / acted it out. In 1973, Princeton Theological Seminary conducted a Good Samaritan experiment with 40 pastoral students. In one building, they completed a questionnaire, then they were instructed to go to another building to give either a talk on jobs or a talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The participants were told to hurry, but to different degrees. On the way to the second building, an actor who was part of the study was hunched over in the alley, in plain sight, in clear need of help. Did these participants help?
The researchers found that it didn’t matter whether the participants were going to talk about vocations or about the parable of the Good Samaritan. However, the “hurry variable” was significantly correlated to the helping behavior. That is, the more the participants were in a hurry, the less helping behavior they demonstrated. In fact, only 10% of those who were in the “high hurry” category offered aid to the suffering actor. Those in less of a hurry offered more help—as many as 63% of the subjects in the low hurry condition.
How many of you had an opportunity to help someone on the way to church this morning? If you would have had that opportunity do you think you would have stopped to help?
What they learned in the Seminary experiment was that it wasn’t the spiritual maturity of the participants, but rather that time / hurriedness was the relevant factor in determining whether or not someone stopped to help a person in need.
- What can we learn?
There are a couple of things we can learn from Jesus’ parable. Let’s ask them as questions, too.
- Who can be a good neighbour?
You don’t have to be perfect, or even a religious expert to be a good neighbour. ANYONE can be a good neighbour. And ANYONE can fail to be a good neighbour! In fact, in the Princeton experiment, and in Jesus’ parable, the people you’d expect to demonstrate that neighbourliness were actually the ones who failed. The priest and the Levite – they were religious guys, they were God-people… you’d expect them to help. But preoccupation or hurriedness or attention to the ritual laws prevented them. In Jesus’ parable, He includes the detail that the victim was left half-dead. Now that was a potential problem for a good Jew. You see, the Jewish law prescribed that if you touched a corpse then you would be unclean for seven whole days. Listen to what it says in Numbers 19:11-13: “Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. They must purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on the third and seventh days, they will not be clean. If they fail to purify themselves after touching a human corpse, they defile the Lord’s tabernacle. They must be cut off from Israel.” So, if you came upon a person who was half-dead, and while you were touching him and helping him the other half of him died… well, what an inconvenience! Unclean! Unclean!
The scholar of the law who asked the question in the first place would undoubtedly be familiar with those purification laws from the Old Testament, and their implications if you touched a dead person. So, the way that Jesus crafted the story, it was the two good Jewish men – the priest and the Levite – who refused to help the man in need, because they wanted to avoid the potential disgrace and inconvenience of touching a corpse.
And note who was the good neighbour… the unexpected person, the Samaritan! Let me tell you about Samaritans. They are descendants of the Northern Israel tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh who survived the destruction of that kingdom by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. In the intervening centuries, their Jewish heritage was adulterated through intermarriage with Gentiles, therefore they were considered to be spiritually corrupted, half-breeds. They were outside of the covenant people of Israel… and therefore they were avoided. In fact, Jews would even avoid traveling through Samaria. So, to make the hero in the story a Samaritan would grate against the good sense of any Jewish listener.
[For today, I had asked Mo to be the Good Samaritan, because as a middle-Eastern muslim, he is someone that we wouldn’t normally associate with, and someone who we wouldn’t normally write in as the hero. I thought it might yield the same kind of unexpected surprise value for us as did the Samaritan in Jesus’ story for the 1st century Jews.]
I could have chosen any of you – a woman, a senior, a child… because we can all be a good neighbour. But are we? Do we help out?
I think the trouble is that – like the students in the Princeton Seminary experiment – we often are in such a hurry that we categorically dismiss a person in need because we have an appointment, and whatever it is is more important than this person who may be lying on the side of the road beaten up physically, emotionally, or spiritually. I think Jesus was trying to tell us not just to stop and smell the roses, but more importantly to stop and help anyone in need. I know that’s complicated these days with a general skepticism and mistrust of strangers, but when an opportunity presents itself, you could use some God-given wisdom and compassion to at least make a kindly offer of help.
A week ago, I saw a young fellow with a stalled car just sticking out into the intersection at some traffic lights. I was stopped waiting for a left turn signal, so, being familiar with the sequencing of the lights at that intersection, I got out and helped him push his car back out of the intersection where he could wait for a tow truck. It took NONE of my time, and he was grateful for my help.
- What does a good neighbour do?
The second question we learn from is “What does a good neighbour do?”
So, at the beginning of the story, the scholar in the law asked two questions. At the end of the story, it’s Jesus’ turn. He asks: “Which of these three men was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” It’s not rocket science! In fact, it was pretty simple and pretty obvious. I think 100 out of 100 CHILDREN could get the right answer. The man replied correctly, “The one who showed him mercy.”
The Greek word is ἔλεος and it means “mercy; kindness or good will toward the miserable and afflicted, joined with a desire to relieve them.” The desire to relieve them of their affliction makes ἔλεος not just pity for some miserable soul, but genuine compassion.
What does a good neighbour do? He or she shows care and compassion, especially God’s mercy and love. That was Jesus final word on this story… “Go, and do likewise!”
This is like the “You are the salt of the earth” stuff that I talked about last Sunday: give someone food or a drink, welcome a stranger, clothe a needy person, visit someone who is sick or in prison. That’s being a good neighbour, wherever, whenever.
The Church of the Good Samaritan – I believe it’s in Paoli, Pennsylvania – has a life-size contemporary statue of one person helping another person up, poignantly symbolizing the parable and the church’s motto: “Doing the uncommon deed in the name of Jesus Christ.” The uncommon deed… because not so many people are willing to get involved in the life and problems of others. Not so many people are willing to go out of their way, to humble themselves, to get their hands dirty, and to help someone in a time of need. But that’s what it means to be a good Samaritan, a good neighbour. Maybe we need to add one more question:
- Where can I be a good neighbour?
The answer to that one is… anywhere! In the parable, the Samaritan wasn’t GOOD in his home town of Samaria, on his street, with his peeps – people like him. The man who got beat up was arguably a Jew, in Jewish territory, between Jerusalem and Jericho… in the country, on the road. Certainly not the typical place to be a compassionate neighbour.
But what would be the typical places for YOU to be a good neighbour?
Among the neighbours on your street. Maybe you recently shoveled snow for an elderly man or woman a couple of doors down from you because they can’t do it. Maybe you baked cookies or a pie for a new family that just moved in.
Among the people at your place of work. Maybe you bought lunch for someone who you know needed to talk. Maybe you helped a co-worker with a project that wasn’t your responsibility but was nearing the deadline.
Among your family. Maybe you did dishes or the laundry because your wife had a taxing day at work or with the kids. Maybe you babysat your sister’s children when she had an evening meeting for her job.
But perhaps there are some unexpected, non-typical places where you can be a good neighbour – the proverbial road between Jerusalem and Jericho. It might be a regular donation of food or money to the Food Bank for the truly needy. It might be volunteering at some helping organization that needs a pair of hands. It might be sponsoring an orphan child or family in a far-away land. It might be watching for that down and out person that God places in your way tomorrow, and not passing by on the other side of the road, and not hurrying along to your pressing appointment, but stooping down to gently and lovingly pour the oil of healing on their wounded body, mind, heart, or spirit.
Take a minute… Homework: (from bulletin) Write down 3 – 5 ways / places that you might look for opportunities to help someone in need. Remember, they may just appear spontaneously!
- Who is the real Good Samaritan?
There is one more question we really can’t leave unasked, and unanswered: “Who is the real Good Samaritan?” or maybe “Would the real Good Samaritan please stand up?”
The real Good Samaritan – as awkward as this comparison would be to 1st century Jews – is Jesus, Himself. No matter who we identify with in the parable, Jesus is the Good Samaritan. If you feel beaten up and oppressed by the circumstances of life, if you’re lying at the side of life’s road wondering whether you should try getting up or just giving up, please know today that Jesus sees you, and wants to demonstrate his compassion by stooping down to bind up your physical, emotional or spiritual wounds with the oil and wine of His mercy.
If you know that in the past or even recently you’ve been the priest or the Levite, walking past opportunity after opportunity, person after person that you could have helped, and if you are sorry and need the balm of God’s forgiveness for your failures to love your neighbour, please know today that Jesus sees you, and wants to take care of you with the mercy that He won for you and for all people when He died on the cross. From that cross He said, “Father, forgive them,” and the Father did… for Jesus’ sake He did forgive, and He does forgive, and He will forgive. Because Jesus loved His Father with His entire being, and because He perfectly loved His neighbours – us – as Himself, He paid the full price for our salvation.
The Christian faith is not about being an expert or about being perfect all the time. It’s about being willing to receive God’s love and forgiveness in Christ, and then being able to express those realities to those around us. Love God. Love your neighbour. Common people, doing the uncommon deed in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Good Samaritan Drama
Pastor Laverne introduces the story by reading (or paraphrasing) Luke 10:25-29.
[Stage directions: Victim starts walking, Pastor moves back to chancel pew, thugs take their place from the right front pew area to behind the pulpit.]
As the reading comes to a close, the victim begins slowly walking up the left aisle (past the instruments), carrying a canvas bag of groceries, with wallet in shirt pocket, whistling for a bit, maybe saying to himself, “What a great day for a walk in the country. Boy, that new kosher Costco in Jerusalem sure has some good deals for a good Jewish boy like me. I can’t wait to get a taste of these imported Lebanon lamb chops.”
[Stage directions: The victim turns to walk across the front of the church, and as he passes the lectern, the thugs jump out – saying things like “Hey, buddy, where you going?” and “Not so fast.” and “There’s nobody around.” and “Let’s get him!” – and they begin to rough him up, pummelling him with punches to the torso and face, unraveling his shirt, messing up his hair, secretly applying some “blood” to his forehead and/or cheek, and leaving him disheveled on the top step, grabbing his grocery bag and his wallet, and saying “I got his food,” “I got his money,” then running off down the right side aisle.]
[Stage directions: After 15 seconds or so, with victim moaning and groaning quietly, Pastor comes from chancel pew reading the lectionary book, obviously engrossed in it, almost trips over victim, looks down and gives a disgusting grunt, before walking intentionally around victim and continuing down right side aisle, still reading intently.]
[Stage directions: Another 15 seconds pass, then Levite runs up left side aisle, notices victim, offers a disinterested “Oy, vey,” then looks at watch and says “My meeting… gotta get to my meeting,” and runs down right side aisle.]
[Stage directions: Another 15 seconds pass, then Samaritan slowly walks up center aisle, wearing a back pack. Half-way up the aisle, he notices the victim, and increases his pace. He says, “Oh, my goodness, are you OK? Here, let me help you.” He opens his back pack, and puts a couple of bandaids – in the shape of an X – on the bloody spot. He wraps a white cloth around his head, and helps the victim up. He puts his arm around his waist, the victim puts his arm around the Samaritan’s shoulder, and they begin to walk down the center aisle. The Samaritan says, “I’ll take you someplace where you can be looked after.”
At the soundboard, they stop, and the Samaritan says to the innkeeper: “Innkeeper, do you have an extra room.” Innkeeper replies, “Yes, I do.” Samaritan says, “This young fellow ran into some bad company. Can you look after him for a couple of days? Here’s 50 bucks, and I’ll settle the rest with you when I come back.” Innkeeper says, “Sure thing.” Victim says, “Thanks neighbour.” and Samaritan exits sanctuary.]
[Service intro: what is one of the most memorable questions you recall from a movie or book? What made it memorable? Little test… who knows movies?
Who ya gonna call? (Ghostbusters)
Who’s on first? (The Naughty Nineties)
Is it secret? Is it safe? (Lord of the Rings)
Did you build a time machine out of a DeLorean? (Back to the Future)
Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me… aren’t you? (The Graduate)]
[After the offering (song?), ask people to get into groups of 6 or 8 (beyond a family grouping) and to share a time when you were able to be a good Samaritan to a person in need.]
[Prayer sharing: Ask for health requests, and pray for those first, as a group. Ask for spiritual conversation participants, and pray for those next, as a group. Pray for good Samaritan opportunities to love our neighbour as ourselves. Pray for marriages / families… Valentines Day.]