Saturday, October 28, 2017

Parable: The Rich Fool

Jesus was on a roll.  He taught people how to pray.  He taught in more parables to include the parable of the persistent friend.  He talked about how much our heavenly Father wants to give us good things.

If we who are broken can figure out how to give our kids good things, how much more will our Father in heaven give us?

Jesus healed and talked about signs at the end of the age.  He talked about not hiding a light under a bushel.  I wonder how long it took for someone to compose the song that we grew up singing?  Hide it under a bushel…No!  I’m gonna let it shine.

Jesus picked on the Pharisees for a while.  They were to have been the wise shepherds of Israel but failed miserably.  Then he delivered some very powerful words.  If you confess me before men, then I will confess you before my Father in heaven and the angels.  That’s just cool beans.

Jesus speaking on our behalf before God the Father and before the angels in heaven—that’s just cool beans.  Jesus went on to say that if you get dragged in before the authorities because you have professed me, don’t worry.  The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say.

Jesus was on a roll.  Then here is what I think happened.  He took a breath.  He paused.  He had been teaching and explaining and giving the multitude plenty to think on and so he stopped speaking for a moment.  Skilled orators do this to give those who are truly listening and trying to understand a chance to do just that. 

But somebody in the crowd saw his opportunity to get his attention.  Hey!  You!  Rabbi! Tell my brother to give me my part of the estate!

Here we see Jesus teaching wonderful lessons about how God’s Spirit will be with us and take care of us and even give us the words to say in difficult situations.  He talked about presenting us in the best light to his Father in heaven.  He told the multitude just how good that God is, and this guy saw his chance to get Jesus to sort out this very secular problem,

We don’t have any pictures of Jesus.  Nobody even took a Polaroid.  No paintings from the time.  The artists who interpret what they think Jesus looks like and put it on canvas always seem to give him lots of hair.  If I had any artistic ability—and you should know that I have been arrested by the art police on occasion—but if I had the talent to put paint to canvas, my picture of Jesus would be one with patches of hair missing.

I can just see Jesus pulling his hair out over and over again.  Jesus is talking love and eternity and having God’s own Spirit within us and this guy in the crowd can only see someone who might work out his immediate problem.  For people who don’t really know Jesus, that model continues.

Most of the people that we help with food and bills, just want their immediate problem fixed.  What they need the most is to know Jesus.
Did this young man have a legitimate issue?  Probably.  The details are not provided.  But of all the things that Jesus came to do, sorting out the day-to-day pettiness of humankind was not among them. 

Jesus knew that all of humankind stood condemned in sin.  He came to make a way for us to live in right standing with God even though it seemed we could never get much of anything right on our own accord.

Jesus is abrupt with this young man.  He said to him, “Man, who made me arbitrator of this matter?”  Some translations say, “Mister, who made me the judge here?”

Some soften the abruptness of what Jesus had to say by saying, “Friend, who made me the judge?”

I prefer the stronger, more abrupt language mainly because admonishment follows this rhetorical question.  Jesus said “Watch out!”  He warned to “Be on guard.”

For what?  For all kinds of covetousness—for all kinds of greed—that’s what.  Watch out for what?  Watch out for what wraps up the Decalogue.  Do not covet.  Jesus makes this command a warning.  Why?

If you are not on your guard, coveting will infiltrate your lines.  Coveting uses terrorist tactics.  Coveting doesn’t get you head on.  It sneaks up on you.

Then he gives us words that I hope we remember until the end of the age.  These words put our lives into perspective.

A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.

Hear this in other translations.

Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.
Life is not measured by how much you own.
Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.

Here’s Tom’s assimilation:  Our stuff is not our life!  It’s good to have money and stuff as we navigate this life, but what we have is not our life.

Jesus launches into this parable.  “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’”

What does this man’s worldly success—his worldly abundance—bring him?  It brings worry and anxiety.  The man had barns and they were either already full or just not big enough.  What would he do with what promised to be a bumper crop?

His thought was that he would tear down his existing barn and build new, larger storage facilities.  Trucking it all down to the COOP was not an available option.  Selling it all at once and putting the proceeds in his money market account were not first century options, at least not in the form that we know them today.  The man was probably shrewd to some extent and didn’t want to sell during harvest but same the crop for later when prices increased.

Why did he need to tear down his existing barns?  Maybe he didn’t want to build on his fertile crop land.  Maybe this is just a little hubris.  He has been driving a Ford for a few years but now he is upgrading to a Mercedes.  He doesn’t even want that Ford sitting in his driveway.  That’s beneath his status now.

The bottom line is that we don’t know, but what we do know is that nowhere in his heart or mind was the thought of taking a large part of this abundant crop and giving it to the Lord.  Feeding the poor and needy was a thing back then too.

Think of the admonishment and promise that came through the prophet Malachi. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

When most people read this scripture, they key in on God opening the floodgates of heaven and pouring out blessing on them, but there is something else that happens when people tithe.  God’s storehouse is full.  The means to feed the poor and hungry is provided.

This man that we have come to call the Rich Fool never even engaged this line of thinking.  What was he thinking?  My ship has come in.  I hit the lottery.  Life is going to be good—really good—from now on.

He was going to kick back, enjoy his bounty, and feast his way through the rest of his years.  Here’s another way to look at his attitude.  My life does consist in the abundance of my possessions.

Now that’s a success story.  That is exactly what the world is selling.  Get rich and enjoy life.  That’s all there is to it.  The bumper sticker—back in the age of bumper stickers—read:  He who dies with the most toys wins!

The parable continues and God informs this man who thinks that he needs to build bigger barns so he can kick back for the rest of his days that his days are numbered and his number is up.  The psalmist petitions the Lord to teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

This man whom God called foolish was not in search of wisdom.  He wanted comfort and security.  He wanted what he thought was rightfully coming to him.  This man sounds a lot like the young man who asked Jesus to “Tell my brother to divide the estate.”

Both wanted the things that would let them enjoy life; yet, neither had considered that this life is but a mist.  We are here for such a short time. 

The life of the man in this parable was at an end.  His life was in his possessions and his potential possessions.  His riches were his life.  Greed and selfishness were his compass.  It’s all about me.  That wasn’t the end of the story.  Jesus asked a question in the context of the parable but it should jump out at us.

Who will get what this foolish man had stored up for himself?  Now for us:  Who will get what you have stored up for yourselves?

The same proverb answers both questions.  The good person—the wise person—will leave an inheritance not only for their children but for their children’s children.  We know that the most important part of that is bringing our children and grandchildren up to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior, but there are the tangible things of the world that go with that counsel as well.

The second part of the proverb deals with the foolish or wicked person.  Their wealth is stored up for the righteous.

A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children,
but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.

There were probably some who were listening to Jesus who knew this proverb.  They had an answer for what seemed like a rhetorical question.

To the man we call the Rich Fool, this was a debilitating question.  Not only was his life over but he would have no say in what happened to his riches.  His expectations were totally deflated.  It was game over.  It was just over and what could have been would never be, at least for him.

Now we come to the words that should bring us to reality.  Jesus said:

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Rich is an interesting word.  In modern context it is in adjective.  He is a rich man.  Rich describes a quality of the man.

But in its original context from the Greek, the word that we have translated into rich, plouteĆ³ (ploo-teh'-o) is a verb.  In very modern semantics, it would be classified as a verb in the present continuous tense.  I know that if I do too much grammar and syntax here, I will lose half of you to the aroma of the fellowship meal that is being prepared.

Understand that rich is a verb, and that verb brings us to a question that I hope you will meditate upon, discuss, and find ways to put into practice.  What question?

Are we rich towards God?

Have we made our lives all about us?

Is God really first in our lives or do we just work him in when it’s convenient?

If I could meet all of my physical needs—money, a place to live, food, and fun for the rest of my life—would I be willing to give up my relationship with God and just eat, drink, and be merry?  Does that appeal to me?

Is my life all about earthy riches, earthly treasure?

Do I believe that life is fullest when I follow Jesus, or do I think that I have been cheated out of something?

Jesus said, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Is our treasure all of this earth.  Do we need to build bigger barns?  Do our hearts desire to build bigger barns more than they desire the ways of God?

Have we stored up any treasure in heaven?

Are we rich towards God?

A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.  A man’s life consists in his relationship with God; but what kind of relationship is that?

Do we have a token relationship?  We say a prayer every now and then at meals, but our lives are lived for ourselves.  In devouring this thing called life, we manage to throw in a little God for seasoning.

Do we have a growing relationship?  We wrestle with the things of this world and the ways of the Lord.  If we had a scoreboard, there would have been too many lead changes to keep up with.  The old self and the new self, the old creation and the new creation, and trusting God and leaning on our own understanding each taking center stage at different times.  We want to be transformed but because we have been conformed to the patterns of this world, it’s a battle.

Do we have a rich relationship with God?  We don’t get everything right all the time, but we can’t imagine doing anything without God being first in our lives.  We cannot imagine seeking our selfish desires before seeking the Kingdom of God.  We still have sins to confess but we are overwhelmed in the righteousness granted us in the blood of Jesus.

Are we rich towards God?  That is the question before us.  I don’t know where you are at this point in your lives, but my prayer is that one day we will change the question to an affirmation.

I am rich towards God!

This won’t be a boast.  It simply affirms that God is first, central in my life.  It is more than the tithe.  It is more than offerings.  It is living our entire lives for God.

Paul called this a living sacrifice.  Today, we will use the words of the parable and I hope that we can all affirm, I am rich towards God!

If it is not yet your affirmation, make it your self-talk.  I am rich towards God.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Parable: A Friend in Need

Are we an earthly being formed of the very humus to which we will one day return?

Are we a spiritual being that only transits the time and space of this age?

Are we from the earth or of the Spirit?  Yes.                
God formed Adam out of the dust and breathed life into him.   He breathed his neshamah (nesh-aw-maw')—his spirit into him and only then did he become a living being.

Jesus talked with Nicodemus about the flesh and the Spirit.  What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of Spirit is spirit.

Paul wrote that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.  The perishable cannot inherit the imperishable. 

So how did we get from needing bread in the middle of the night to flesh and the spirit?  Through a parable, some count this pericope as two parables; that’s how we got here.

Imagine awakening in the middle of the night to knocking at your door.  You recognize the voice.  Even though you recognize the voice you still say to yourself, or perhaps out loud, “Just who in their right mind would be knocking on my door at zero dark thirty?”

You talk through the door and discover that a long lost friend had dropped in on one of your friends.  Did you have some lunch meat, a microwave dinner or two, or even some Pizza Rolls would be fine.

Your still half-asleep mind repeats, “You’ve got to be kidding me!  This town really needs a Denny's.”

“You are really not over here in the middle of the night asking for food, are you?  Are you?”

But that is surely a rhetorical question as this zero dark thirty conversation is no dream.  So what do you do?

As much as you didn’t want to drag yourself out of bed, you have.  As much as you want to tell your friend to hit the road, you can’t.  As much as you wish you had a drive through window to just slide your  buddy a six pack of Ramen, you don’t, so you let your friend in and search though the fridge, get him a couple partial loaves of bread, some cold cuts, a tomato that you had been saving for a BLT, and you remembered that you did have a big bag of Pizza Rolls in the deep freeze, and send him away with more than he asked for—that’s what you do.

Then, of course, since you are awake now, you post it all to Facebook.

Only a friend would have such audacity to come to you at zero dark thirty.  You know that you are not going right back to sleep.  You know that with a house full of kids you are always two years or more behind on your sleep and this morning’s food search for a friend will only add to that deficit.  Such audacity for a friend to come to you in the middle of the night—that will keep you up another hour or so just thinking about it..
But that’s what he needed.  That’s what your friend needed.

Jesus then moves from parable to practice.  This will be in a little different verb from that you might have learned it, but consider our Lord’s guidance to us.

So I say to you, keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Again, Jesus has taken this quality of persistence that we visited with the Parable of the Persistent Widow—and extended it to other areas of our lives.  If we continue to ask,  it will be given.  Really?

If we keep seeking, we will find what we are looking for?  If we continue to knock, the door will be open unto us?  That sounds like everything is in our control.  If we keep after it then we will get what we want.  Is that the message?

I related this parable in modern terms—adjusting the time a couple hours because we seem to stay up later in this post-modern era—and did it from the perspective of the friend who was awakened in the middle of the night.  What if, as in the original telling, you were the one knocking on the door in need of a little food?

How did you bring yourself to wake up someone at such an unreasonable hour?  The answer is that the person whose sleep you have so rudely interrupted is a friend.  He or she is a friend.  This relationship is already in effect.

The story doesn’t read that you went to a stranger’s house and started knocking and asking for food at 2:47 a.m.; at least that’s the way it might read in the police blotter.  If you do this in this part of the country, you will likely hear a round being chambered in a 12 gauge or someone saying, “I’m calling 9-1-1.”

Someone who is not a friend might answer the door with a glazed look in his eyes and the smell of whacky weed knocking you back a couple feet.

The story said that which one of you shall have a friend and go to him at midnight.  The key word here is not midnight but friend.  It doesn’t matter which side of the door you might be on—the knocking side or the suddenly awakened side—the governing word here is friend.

You will ask things of friends that your reasonable mind would tell you not to ask of anyone else.  And your friends will give things to you that they might balk at giving to anyone else.

You can be audacious.  You are a little bolder.  You might just persist a little more with your friends.

Jesus continued in his teaching with some rhetorical questions.  If you son asked you for some bread, would you give him rock instead?

If he asked you for a fish, would you surprise him with a live snake on this plate?  And don’t say, “It tastes like chicken.”

Mom, if your kids asked you to scramble some eggs, would you serve them plates of scorpions?  If you have kids who are teenagers now, you are exempt from answering that question.

We who try to be good parents but sometimes let our anger or frustration or just that generally overwhelmed feeling get to us when we deal with our kids—we still know how to give good things to those that we brought into this world.  We want to give them good things.

Baseball gloves and bicycles and dolls and trucks and good meals and even pizza or pizza rolls all seem to make their way to those little darlings even when they have truly tested our patience and burst our budget.   We know how to give good things to our kids.

We give to our friends.  We give to our kids.  We who are still imperfect at least know how to give to friends and family.  We have figured some stuff out.  But what is it that we give?

Food, money, stuff, and sometimes help and instruction and counsel are all on the list.  Sometimes the list grows to smart phones and cars and car insurance.   We like to give good gifts.

So does our Father in heaven.  He likes to give us good things.  If we seek his kingdom and his righteousness before anything else in the world, he gives us so many tangible things that the ungodly have made into their gods.  He meets our needs.  When we strive to follow him, he goes beyond what we need.  We know abundance.

James tells us that every good gift is from above.  Let’s get back to Luke and what Jesus is specifically promising those who continue to seek God.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?

Yes, God will provision us with our daily rations.  Remember that the daily ration in the desert was Manna but it was an all you can eat affair with no leftovers or doggie bags save on the Sabbath preparation day.  He will make a way for us to not only survive but navigate this world with the tangible things that we need. 

God will take away things that we don’t need if we will ask him.  Worry, anxiousness, bitterness, covetousness, and so many other things that detract from our abundance he will simply remove from our gotta do or gotta have lists if we will seek the life that he has for us and be persistent about it, not just on occasion say, “I’ll give God’s way a try this once.”

But more than the things that our hearts desire now—things that so often occupy most of our prayer requests—God will grant us his Spirit.  God wants his Holy Spirit to live inside of us more and more each day.

He wants us to stop asking for the things of this world and seek the things of his kingdom.  He wants us to believe him that if we seek him and his kingdom and his righteousness first—at the center of everything else in our lives—the things of this world that we must have in our lives will be given.

So many people have this upside down.  They say, “When I get my life together, then I will seek God.”
When I can pay all of my bills…
When the kids get out of school…
When I get a better job…
When I get everything in this world sorted out, then I can think about living for God…

Jesus tells us that God wants to live inside of us now so that he can give us the things that we need the most, not the things that our selfish nature craves, but the good life that God made us to live.  In the course of this good life, we get a lot of those things that the self-centered person craves but they are just frosting on the cake for us.

Flesh seeks fleshly things—bread, money, cars, a good movie and popcorn on a Friday night.  That’s our nature.  Humankind after all, was made from the earth.  We need physical things.

But we are also of the Spirit.  God breathed life into humankind.  We are not just from the dust of the earth.  We have a spirit within us and God desires so much for his Spirit to live more and more abundantly inside of us.

What’s it like to give ourselves totally to God’s own Spirit?  Jesus when he finished talking to a woman at a well in Sychar, Samaria was met by his disciples who offered him something to eat.  That’s why they had gone into town.  Jesus told them that he had food that they knew nothing about.

What?  The disciples were still thinking of carnal needs.  Did Jesus have a couple loaves of bread tucked away somewhere.  Did he get delivery?

Jesus told them and he tells us that his food is to do the will of the One who sent him.  His food is to finish the work given to him by his Father in heaven.  His sustainment is living his purpose.

That’s more filling that bread or pizza rolls.  Jesus did eat the food of this world.  He dined with Pharisees and with sinners.  He ate with his own disciples.  He did fast for 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry that would conclude on the cross.  For most of this three-year period, he ate much like those who live all around him.

He ate regular food but he had food that was so much better than bread or wine or even a lamb roasted for Passover.  He had the food of purpose.  He lived to fulfill the will of his Father.

That is the gift that God so wants to give us.  He wants to fill us with his Spirit.  He wants to take away our selfish cravings.  So that:

We when ask our Father in heaven for something, it will be exactly what he wants to give us.

When we seek after something, it will be exactly what the Spirit has led us to desire.

When we knock, we will be knocking on the door that God has longed so much to open unto us.

The disciples did not yet know the Holy Spirit as they would later.  The day of Pentecost was still something to come for them and it would change their lives more than they could have ever imagined.

God’s own Spirit has always been available to us.  When we professed our faith in Jesus Christ, knowing in our hearts that God not only sent him as an atoning sacrifice but raised him from the dead, the Spirit came to be a part of us. 

We became more than clay vessels.  We have more than the human spirit that God breathed into humankind and makes us a living being.  We now have God’s own Spirit alive within us.  The Holy Spirit lives within us.

The answer to most of our prayers already lives within us.  God’s own Spirit is not in some faraway place but is dwelling within this temple that we call our bodies and that Spirit has made this a holy temple. 

We know that Jesus intercedes for us with the Father in heaven, but how often do we forget that God’s own Spirit is within us?

If a friend knocks on your door in the middle of the night asking for bread, you will give it to him.  If you do the same to him, he will give you bread as well.  How could anyone deny such audaciousness from a friend?

When we come to God asking and seeking and knocking in lives governed by his Holy Spirit that lives within us and not by selfish desires; how could he not give us what we ask for?

Think of the absurd things that we do for our friends and family—that defy reason sometimes but that we are compelled to do because they are our friends or family.

Now imagine how much more your Father in heaven wants to give you the very things that his own Spirit is leading us to ask for, or prompting us to seek, or showing us a door to knock on that we have walked by so many times.

Before Jesus would go to the cross and finish the work that he had been sent to do, he told his disciples that he was leaving them, at least for a time.  Knowing their worry and anxiety and that they would scatter as the scriptures promised, Jesus promised that he would not orphan them.  He would go and the Holy Spirit would come. 

Jesus even promised these few very nervous men that they would do very great things.  With God’s own Spirit with them, they surely did.

We have not lived a single day since professing Christ when God’s own Spirit has not been with us and within us.  But how many days do we just forget about this?

How many trials do we withstand forgetting that God’s own Spirit is within us?

How many times do we pray and feel like God is so far away and doesn’t understand?

How many days do we feel like we are in this struggle all by ourselves?

I don’t know what your answers are, but I would like you to put zeros by all of these questions going forward.  From now until the end of the age…

How many trials do we withstand forgetting that God’s own Spirit is within us? 0

How many times do we pray and feel like God is so far away and doesn’t understand? 0

How many days do we feel like we are in this struggle all by ourselves? 0

So many of our prayers are already answered by the fact that God lives within us now.  He is available to us now.  He is leading us to ask and seek and knock exactly where we need to now.

Let us not live just knowing that God’s Spirit is alive within us.  Let us live Spirit filled lives that desire to do the will of the Father so much that some days, we might not need bread or money or even pizza rolls.

Let us be so governed by the Holy Spirit that God will grant our every request because the things we ask for are exactly the things he was been waiting to give us. 

Thanks be to God that his Spirit lives so abundantly within us.  Amen!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Good Samaritan

Had there been Cumberland Presbyterians when Jesus walked the earth in the first century, we would have never received the Parable of the Good Samaritan, at least not on the occasion that we have just read.

When this lawyer told Jesus that we should love the Lord with everything we have and love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, and Jesus said, “You’ve got it.  Do this and live;” Cumberland Presbyterians  would have broken into a hug-fest followed by a fellowship meal.

The follow-on question would have been swallowed up in the fellowship of the moment.  But that’s not what happened.  This educated young man had a follow-on question.  The text says that it was selfishly motivated.

Perhaps this man just wanted to confirm his comfort zone.  This Jesus that had made such a stir surely had not directed him to do anything that he wasn’t already doing, would he?  Let’s just find out what love your neighbor really means.  Just who is my neighbor?

Surely, neighbor must be limited to the Jews.  God chose a people for a reason and excluding everyone else from his mercy had to be one of them.

Surely, neighbor must be limited to the educated elite in this case.  Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and Teachers of the Law must have formed a neighborhood.  No need to look elsewhere for neighbors.

Surely, Jesus didn’t expect those who were already scoring high on their Law of Moses Compliance Standards to have to do anything extra.

So, Jesus answered the lawyer’s question with a story.  It may or may not technically constitute a parable, but it surely has a lesson or two for all of us. 

A certain man…

Once upon a time, a man…

Jesus starts this story with an unnamed man.  He doesn’t say whether he is Jew or Gentile, slave or free, tall or short.  This man doesn’t even get a name.

Now human nature is that people associate their own beliefs with the unnamed man.  In a crowd of Jews, if he wasn’t named as something else, he was probably a Jew, though surely not one worth of a title.

Now as the story progresses, the crowd might assume that he wasn’t very bright.  Everyone knew not to travel the Road to Jericho by yourself.  Everyone knew this.  Yes, but did you know that you could save 15% by switching to…

Everybody knew not to travel this day’s walk alone.  Well, except his guy.

He is a nameless man who is the victim in this story.  He is left for dead.  That’s storyspeak for I am not going to tell you the specific injuries because they would only distract you.  Today, people would be going to WebMD or Google to see how long the guy had to live based on his wounds.

Here is a man and he is in very bad shape somewhere on the road that runs between Jerusalem and Jericho.  And it just so happened that a priest then a Levite were walking along the same road.  They were not walking together as might have been wise, but one came and then a time later the other.  Both did nothing for the wounded man.

They saw him and they walked on the other side of the road.  The Levite might have come to take a closer look than the priest, but neither did anything to help. 

It would have been interesting to have known the crowd’s reaction to this part of the story.  Did they gasp as each did nothing?  Did they just shrug off what happened in a matter of fact way knowing that the priest and Levite had special rules that applied to them about remaining clean?

Did they think, well if they were leaving Jerusalem, their tour of duty in the temple would have been over?

Did they get cynical?  What do you expect from those sanctimonious, never get their fingernails dirty, know it all priests?

We don’t know.  Again, that is not the main part of the story.  Details distract when they are not essential.

So far, it’s all been pretty much prologue.  Now we come to the Samaritan. 

In that identification comes a whole lot of baggage and hate.  There is history with this hatred, but hatred does not always abide strictly in history.

Almost 800 years before Christ, the Assyrians conquered and deported many of God’s Chosen People from the Northern Kingdom.  They also sent some of their own to colonize the conquered areas.  These colonists brought their own gods. 

Not all of God’s Chosen were removed from the land.  Many remained and married these pagan colonists and worshiped their gods and also the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  That’s an easy foul to call and the Jews in Jerusalem and Judah had plenty of yellow flags to thrown.  These Samaritans had made of mess of things.

Besides that, when the Jews later returned from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem, the Samaritans were part of the resistance.  They didn’t want these Jews back.

As I said, hatred does not always adhere to its historical roots.  Hate is hate and sometimes you just grow up learning to hate a certain group of people.  The Jews hated the Samaritans.

So when Jesus came to the last traveler in this story and noted that he was a Samaritan, there were probably a few hisses in the crowd.  There were probably a few side conversations.

“I’ll bet the Samaritan spits in his face.”

“Just watch, the no-good bum will probably check to see if the robbers left anything.”

But Jesus was telling a different story.  This Samaritan not only stopped but helped.  This wasn’t one of those where he said, “Hey, I’ll pray for you buddy but I’ve got appointments to keep.”

He treated his wounds with what he had, put the wounded man on his own donkey, and brought him to an inn.  We don’t know where the inn was or how long it took to get him there or if the Samaritan had to change directions in his travel.

What we do know is that this man despised by all Jews had mercy on the same man the two very righteous religious leaders did nothing for—and this Samaritan went the extra mile in doing it.

The Samaritan paid the inn keeper and promised him if the expenses were more than what he had provided, he would cover that expense the next time he came by.

Jesus now exits the story and asks the lawyer, “Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied with great enthusiasm, “The Samaritan!”  That’s not exactly correct.  The word Samaritan never crossed this man’s lips.  He said, the one who had mercy on him.  He was surely thinking, just who is this Jesus to make a Samaritan the hero of the story.

Jesus doesn’t push the point about the man who had mercy on him being a Samaritan.  He said, “Go and do likewise.”
Go and do likewise.

So, did this parable answer the lawyer’s question?  Did it answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

This well-educated man wanted some boundaries.  He wanted to define his comfort zone.  He wanted to justify himself.  He probably didn’t want to have to make any changes in his life.

Why couldn’t Jesus just say, “Your neighbor is someone—let’s make that a Jew—who lives within a quarter mile of your dwelling place, is roughly in your socio-economic group, and knows not to bring a BLT to the company picnic. 

Let’s jump to the present day and locale.

Your neighbor is American, middle class, has a job, keeps his yard mowed, scores at least 85% on church attendance and at least 70% in staying awake for the whole sermon, participates in 11 out of 12 of this month’s youth fundraisers, and occasionally makes BLT’s for the fellowship meal.
I could handle that sort of neighbor without ruffling my comfort zone much at all.

But what if our neighbors were of various ethnicities, some unemployed, some hooked on drugs or alcohol, seldom came to the church building except for help, dressed provocatively, had tats all over their bodies, and never made BLTs because their gas had been cut off.

What if there is no cookie cutter model for our neighbor?  What if the intent of this parable is not to answer the question put forth but to direct us to be a neighbor?   The directive from our Lord and Savior is to go and do likewise.  To what does “likewise” refer?

Have mercy on those who need mercy.  Help those who need help.  Be God’s love.  Be a neighbor.

In this local body of believers, we are a neighbor to many in Africa.  We are a neighbor to many in our own communities.  We are a neighbor to many who are not connected to this church family or any church family.  We are a neighbor to the people who live next door and in the next town.

Jesus didn’t say that a good man left Jerusalem for Jericho.  He didn’t say that a rich man went on a trip.  He didn’t say that a Pharisee or a sinner walked alone along a road where it is not wise to do so.  He said, “A certain man.”  Today, we would tell a story saying, some guy

He was just a person—maybe any person.  He was a human being.  He was someone made in God’s image and not too far into the story, he would need help.

We could focus our exegetical skills on this man, the two men who should have been in right standing with God, the treacherous road that should not have been traveled alone—yet 4 men did just that in the course of this short story; or we can listen to the message delivered upon conclusion of this story.

The story sets the stage for setting aside our comfort zones and preconceptions and gets to the heart of the matter.  We Love God and love one another by being a neighbor—by showing mercy to those who need mercy.

I think we understand this parable, perhaps better than most.  Our church motto is God’s Love in Action not because it sounds good, but because that’s who we are.  It has fidelity to what we do.  I think that we understand what Jesus was saying here.

 I think we do try to live this, but we must be on our guard not to want to justify ourselves as the lawyer did in this parable.  We must be discerning that we don’t try to reinforce our personal comfort zone so as to dismiss the leadings of the Spirit.

I will tell you that it is easy to walk on the other side of the road.  It doesn’t take much.  I fight the old man’s counsel—the old self’s nagging to do this.  Not that I won’t stop and help someone on the side of the road but that when people come into my office needing help with a bill and the smell of cigarette smoke over powers me before the get to my office; I think, there’s six months’ rent in cigarettes.

I look at an arm filled with tats and think there’s a year’s worth of water bills.  Glancing at the other arm I see the cost of several months of gas and electric bills.  It is very tempting to say, “You walked down the road to Jericho by yourself, this is what you get.”

Then the smart phone comes out and it would be all so easy for me to walk on the other side of the road, pick up my pace, and do nothing to help.  But if we look only a few chapters earlier in Luke’s gospel we read these words of JesusBe merciful as your Father is merciful.

Be merciful just as your Father in heaven is merciful.  We enjoy salvation and favor not because of our resume, but because of God’s incredible mercy.  Part of the mercy that we show is helping people who want to live a better life get there through godly wisdom and obedience to God, but mercy most often begins with treating wounds.

Love and mercy not comfort and convenience must govern our lives.  We are the body of Christ in this world and it is through us that people come to know God.

It is through us that people realize there is a God of love.  It is through our mercy and goodness that people see what we do out of love and this brings glory to God.

The religious leaders of the world into which Jesus came put heavy loads on the backs of those who wanted to do right by God, but these leaders wouldn’t do anything to help the people carry those loads.

We should always be ready to profess our faith before others.  We must be ready.  We are commissioned to do just that.  That’s our mission.

But we must not hesitate to show mercy.  We must not get wrapped up in rules and causes and forgo mercy.

We can’t walk on the other side of the road saying, “I’m on a mission from God to take good news to the world.  Good luck buddy.”  What good is it if we take these most precious words to the world as we are commanded, but don’t have love and mercy in our hearts?

Let’s be God’s love.
Let’s be God’s mercy.
Let’s be a neighbor.