Year C — The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10)

Commentary for July 14, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

Amos 7:7-17
Amos does not mess around!

This is one prophet who has no time for foolishness — probably tempered by his farmer’s experience, where there is always more work to be done. 

At the very least, Amos provides a good example for preachers: when it’s time to bring the word from the Lord, do so in the most direct and responsible way possible. Amos challenges our capacity to speak the truth to power, as well, something that seems difficult to do when  your salary may be on the line!

Psalm 82

God is on the side of the weak, the orphan, the lowly and the destitute. Whose side are we on?

Deuteronomy 30:9-14

Here is the basis for the “Great Commandment” that Jesus teaches, and the “lawyer” in today’s gospel story correctly identifies. Our worship of God (which includes our actions each day) is rooted in responding to God with all of our heart and soul.

We do not have to search high and low, or even in difficult places, in order to live out our faith. It is quite close at hand — or, heart, as it were. 

Psalm 25:1-10

Several times, the psalmist speaks of God’s “way” — the path for our feet. No matter which path we walk in life, we are to walk in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. If this is how God loves us, then this is how we are to love others.  

Colossians 1:1-14

The gospel in us bears fruit; we are loved, and therefore we love. For the apostle, as for Jesus, faith in our hearts blossoms and grows into love expressed in our lives. 

Luke 10:25-37

While it is often “The Good Samaritan” who gets all the attention when we read and hear this story, don’t miss the fact that there are really two stories going on here. The “lawyer” is the focus of Jesus’ parable; his motivations and understandings of the gospel are what is at stake.

As Dr. Chilton reminds us in the sermon below, we may be so busy noticing all the other characters and details in this classic tale that we miss the main point: we don’t have to “earn” God’s eternal life — it is already ours in Christ. What we do have to do is live that life out in a world that is tough, mean, and too busy to notice those in need most of the time!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

A few years ago I heard Pastor Jack Hayford of the Church of the Way in Van Nuys CA tell a story about his grandson Kyle, who was 9 years old and had recently lost a tooth. In the Hayford household, the tooth fairy pays a dollar per tooth.  That night, when the Tooth Fairy put a hand under Kyle’s pillow to recover the tooth and leave a dollar, he found not the tooth but a note from Kyle. The note read;

                Dear Tooth Fairy, I am holding my tooth for ransom. The fee will be $20. I am doing this for three reasons;
                1) I have had this tooth longer than any other and I am very fond of it. 2) It is bigger than the other teeth.
                3) It has silver in it.  Signed Kyle

In the morning Kyle found underneath his pillow, not a $20 bill, but this note;

                Dear Kyle, Enjoy your tooth.   Signed, the Tooth Fairy.

I thought of that story when I read verse 29 in our Gospel Lesson, “but wanting to justify himself . . .”  Self-justification is not a technique unique to lawyers and nine-year-old boys. We all do it.  We twist and turn and reason and opine and try to find a way to make what we want to be the truth look like the truth. We seek, over and over again, to justify ourselves. We treat the Almighty like some Supreme Tooth Fairy in the sky and then we attempt to convince this Supreme Tooth Fairy that we deserve whatever good treatment we desire. And the gospel is: none of it works and none of it is necessary. 

God loves us just the way we are. And God wants to use each of us as divine agents of holy love, reaching out to the world with open hands and generous spirits. That is the gospel truth.

Seeking to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” What he wanted to know was, “What are the legal and ethical limits on my charity? Who does God expect me to help when I see them in trouble?”  But Jesus turns the lawyer’s question upside down with the story of the Good Samaritan.  Instead of “Who am I required to help?” Jesus answers with a story that says, “God’s help and love for you will often come from unexpected, and sometimes unwelcome, sources.

I think we all get the fact that Jesus’ first Century Jewish listeners would have expected the Priest or the Levite, (Pastor and Deacon in modern church terms), to help the man in the ditch and were disappointed when they didn’t.

What I am afraid we often do not understand is what a shock it was for the rescuer to turn out to be a Samaritan. This story has made the word Samaritan into symbol of selfless generosity and care for the stranger. We have Samaritan hospitals and stickers on RV’s proclaiming the driver to be a member of “The Good Sam Club,” pledged to help other travelers on their journeys.

But to Jesus’ listeners, a Samaritan was none of these things. He was a hated enemy, an apostate, a heretic, a foul worshiper of the wrong God, an unclean person. When Jesus introduces him to the story you should think “Snidely Whiplash,” with long mustaches, top hat and cape, the stereotypical villain whom the crowd boos and hisses when he comes on stage. That’s how they felt about Samaritans. And this hated, evil, despised person is the hero of Jesus’ story.

Instead of telling the lawyer whom he had to help, Jesus shook things up by telling him that his true neighbor, the one who would help him, could be the person he least expected.  When the lawyer asked Jesus who his neighbor was, he was trying to define, to negotiate, the limits of his own love toward others. Jesus turned this backwards by establishing a love ethic that has no limits, and that does not play by our rules of who’s in and who’s out. This story goes beyond our relationships with each other, beyond who we are to help and from whom we can expect help. It moves past all that into our relationship with God.

The man in the ditch had acted foolishly by traveling alone on a dangerous road. He did not deserve help. If he could have chosen his helper, he would have chosen either the priest or the Levite, people who had a duty to help him.But no, he was helped by a Samaritan, who helped him willingly, freely, graciously, lovingly, without judgment or any expectation of pay back.

You and I are the person in the ditch, and God is the Good Samaritan. Deep down, most of us don’t want God’s hand-out of love, we don’t want God’s generous offer. We want to deserve it, we want to earn it; but the truth is, we can’t. We really can’t. We are the one in the ditch. We are the wounded and foolish one, the one helpless and in need of help and healing.

The question, “Who is my neighbor?” is really the second question the Lawyer posed in this lesson. The first was, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded by pointing him to the Scriptures and the man gave the right answer, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus said, “That’s right, you got it.”

And then, the lawyer fell in the ditch. See, he didn’t blink an eye at the monumental idea of devoting his entire existence to loving God. Isn’t that what “all your heart, soul, strength and mind,” implies; total and complete commitment.  If you give all that over to God, there isn’t much room left for TV, or baseball, or gardening, or dating or whatever. But, apparently, the lawyer was okay with that demand. My all; for God!

It’s the neighbor business that bothers the lawyer. Perhaps this is because it is easier to get caught not loving your neighbor than it is to get caught not loving God. It’s pretty obvious to everyone if you fail to feed the hungry or clothe the naked; but who’s going to notice if you don’t pray or read your Bible enough? The man is guilty of the companion sins of pride and ingratitude. He believes he is capable of pleasing God through his own actions and he is therefore not grateful to God for God’s love and grace. He does not admit either his own need or God’s action to save, and so he has the audacity to raise the question, “About whom am I required to care?” 

If you get part one: “God has loved me so much and so freely that all I can do is love him in return;” then part two: “the way to show my love to God is to love everybody else the way God has loved me;” comes naturally.

So, what is the answer to the question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Nothing, absolutely nothing.  God has already given eternal life to you.   Our calling today is to live in that love, to reach out to others with that love, to be that love in the world for the sake of Jesus the Christ who gave himself for us.

Amen and amen.

2 thoughts on “Year C — The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10)

  1. Jerald…thanks for the comment! We don't hear from you much, but when we do you are always insightful and a bit cheeky (in a good way…we like that!)Could we get you to be a guest on our podcast one week? If, by chance, you haven't listened to us, click on the "Lectionary Lab Live Podcast" tab at the top of the page. We'd love to host you for a session!

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