Sunday Sermon: The Last Person You'd Expect to See

 |  Sunday Sermon

Text: Luke 10:25-37
Series: “Jesus’ Parables and the Mystery of the Kingdom”

“You are a sight for sore eyes.” Have you ever had someone say that to you? Have you ever said it yourself to another person?” If for some reason you’ve never heard that expression before, it’s a declaration of someone’s deep gladness for another person’s presence, especially for that person’s presence in an hour of pressing need. And we’ve all been in such a situation, a situation where something has happened, and life has taken its toll on us. But despite whatever damage has been done, another person has shown up to come to our aid and to help us get back on our feet. At times it’s a family member. At other times it’s a neighbor. At other times it’s a colleague or a business partner. And at some times it’s a complete stranger, a person unbeknownst to us who was moved by our circumstance and led to do something to ease our pain. When life beats us up and we stand in need of serious help, regardless of where that help comes from, we embrace it, and when we are at a point where we’re able to process it, we think of that individual who came along to help us as a “Good Samaritan.”

Now, that’s an expression I know you’ve heard before because it’s one that gets thrown around in our society pretty frequently. We hear it used to describe everything from automobile clubs to charitable organizations to evacuation strategies for major cities in times of natural disasters. Even in a day of rampant biblical illiteracy, mention the phrase “Good Samaritan,” and everyone has an idea what you’re talking about, even if they don’t know exactly where in the Bible the story of the Good Samaritan comes from.

As we’ve seen today, the story comes from Luke’s Gospel, and only from Luke’s Gospel, which makes good sense. Luke was the Gospel writer who had a heart for the marginalized and dispossessed, the ones beaten up most by life, and it was Luke who better than anyone saw the good news of Jesus Christ as extending to all persons, even to Samaritans, who in Jesus’ day were looked upon by righteous Jews as suspect and questionable and not at all to be trusted, given how they had compromised their religious purity years ago, back in Old Testament times and had been making life difficult for God’s people ever since.

Now, you can appreciate why Jesus chose such a character for the story he shared with a Jewish scribe, an expert in the law of Moses, who one day approached Jesus with a question on how he might inherit eternal life. Their exchange could have been a brief one. When the lawyer questioned Jesus, Jesus answered with a question of his own. “You’re the expert; what does the Law say?” And when the lawyer replied by combining Deuteronomy with Leviticus to come up with, “Love God, Love Neighbor,” Jesus affirmed where the lawyer had landed. “Do this,” promised Jesus, “and you will live.” But for the lawyer Jesus’ affirmation wasn’t enough. Perhaps he felt he had lost the high ground in his conversation with Jesus, this untrained Galilean rabbi. Why else wouldn’t he have turned and gone his way, satisfied that Jesus had assured him he was on the right track. But no, Luke tells us, “seeking to justify himself,” the lawyer came back with another question, a probing question, “And who is my neighbor,” which led Jesus to tell his story.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.” No doubt the lawyer himself had made that trek many, many times. The road between Jerusalem and Jericho was windy and narrow, and it was lined with numerous caves where robbers could lie in wait for unsuspecting travelers. And sure enough, according to Jesus’ story, one such traveler was waylaid, robbed, and beaten, and left by the side of the road for dead. 

What a horrible place to be – stripped and beaten and left for dead. It was every traveler’s worst nightmare. But not long thereafter a priest happens by. What luck! What a sight for sore eyes. Surely, this priest will stop to help this hapless man. But remarkably he doesn’t. No, Jesus tells us, he passes by on the other side. And just as the lawyer was no doubt left scratching his head as to why the priest didn’t stop to help the man, lo and behold, the next best thing comes along, a Levite, a person whose sole responsibility in life is serving in the Jerusalem temple. But no, the Levite doesn’t stop either. The two most likely candidates to have helped this unfortunate man have passed him by and have even gone to the other side!

“What kind of story is this?” the lawyer must have been thinking to himself. “Is it an anti-preacher story? Is that where Jesus is going?  Will an ordinary Israelite turn out to be the hero, or maybe even a lawyer? Will an angel appear to take the man to heaven where he will inherit eternal life?” And just as the lawyer is trying to sort out all the possibilities, Jesus reveals the answer. It’s a Samaritan. And notice, Jesus doesn’t call him a “Good” Samaritan. In fact, at no point in the story does Jesus ever use the word “good” to describe him.  We’ve added that adjective, and if we would remove it and just read “Samaritan,” maybe we could recover something of the shock that would have come over the lawyer when Jesus introduces him as the lead character in the story.

Notice what the Samaritan does. In spite of his busyness, (and clearly he is on business - why else would he be so far from home?), the Samaritan does what he can by sharing what he has. He doctors the victim’s wounds, puts him on his donkey, takes him to an inn, and instructs the innkeeper to take care of him, essentially giving the innkeeper a blank check that he will be good for upon his return. 

And then, after telling that gripping story, Jesus turns to the lawyer and asks him a final question, “Now, which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” To which the lawyer, who clearly was not a supporter of “Samaritan Lives Matter,” answered, “The one who had mercy on him.” He couldn’t even say his name. “Then go,” Jesus told him, “go and do likewise.”

Let me ask you a question: “Who do you identify with in this story?” My guess is that you would say, “the Samaritan.” At least that’s who we’d like to identify with. After all, we call him “good” and we want to be good; we want to be merciful. And that’s a bad thing; not a bad thing at all.

But the only way we can get to that place is first to see ourselves as the wounded man, as the person beaten up along life’s way who is need of someone to come along and help. You see, when the lawyer asked Jesus the question, “Who is my neighbor?” he was thinking of himself. But when Jesus answered him, Jesus invited him to put himself in a position of need and then ask the question, “Who needs help from me?” For only then could the lawyer see that neighborliness knows no proximity, love knows no boundaries, and mercy knows no limits.

Is that what you see? Someone has said that every church needs an eleven-foot pole to be able to deal with all the neighbors it wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. When you think about it, we actually have such a pole, one that we put out in the front yard of the church every spring to remind this community what our church is all about. It’s a cross. It represents the emblem of suffering and shame that Jesus bore as one stripped and beaten and lifted up to die. People pass by it on Montevallo Road every day and how many do you think see it for what it really is – God’s power unto salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike? 

For us who are being saved it is always a sight for sore eyes. And it is something else – a reminder that when it comes to the question of neighbor, it’s not so important that you be able to define one as to be one. So, go, and do likewise. Be a neighbor. Even if you’re the last person they’d expect to see, if you go to them bearing the cross of Christ, you’ll be the person that they’ll end up needing to see. Only then you will be loving God and doing what is necessary to inherit eternal life.