The Rev. Elizabeth A. B. Tesi
Sermon, July 14, 2013
I think I have figured out what bothers me about the story of the Good Samaritan. You see, over the years, I have figured out that I might be a little… shall we say… tightly wound. I like to say I’m not a control freak, but the fact that I need to state that is perhaps a hint, itself. The Good Samaritan is a story all about releasing control.
In those long ago days when everyone traveled at the speed of walking, travelers were an easy target for robbers. Smart travelers went about in groups, sometimes with hired help to hopefully do more damage to the robbers than the robbers could do to you. Clearly, the injured man was not a smart man. He did not travel in groups. He made himself vulnerable. He was jumped, robbed, stripped, and left for dead.
I wonder how he must have felt, lying there in that ditch. Many people who write “view from the ditch” stories dwell on his pain and his hope for rescued. But honestly, I wonder if he was embarrassed. I bet we have all been the injured man at some point. All of us, sometime in our life, have done something stupid and gotten ourselves in deep trouble. All of us have needed help. And pretty much none of us want to admit that we need help. Here at St. Mary’s, one of the greatest challenges with the Meals in Motion ministry is getting folks to accept the help of free dinners. Most of the time, people turn down the initial offer of a meal. They could have two broken arms and two broken legs, and they’ll still say, “No, thank you, really, I’m fine!” It usually takes two asks before we can convince the person that they are truly worthy of this help. From the ditch, we are so embarrassed that we got ourselves into trouble to begin with. It feels good to think about having compassion on another person. But it is so much more challenging to be compassionate towards ourselves.
Jesus challenges us to believe that we are worthy of rescue. When we screw up, we often think we can, or should, fix the problem on our own. Jesus offers up the idea that accepting help is holy.
The injured man lay in the ditch, and I wonder if he watched with dread as the priest approached. He was stripped naked and beaten. I don’t think I’m being too radical when I suggest that most people would rather not be naked and helpless in front of their priests. Perhaps the injured man was glad that the stuffy, uptight priest didn’t stop. The priest is a representative of the Church and of God, and God comes with all sorts of rules. If the injured man feels embarrassed that he is injured in the first place, how much worse could it be to be chastised by the church, the official Arm of Divine Judgment in the world?
Jesus challenges us to believe that we are worthy of a clean slate.
But he is still injured, and he can’t walk to the next town. He can’t do it alone. Now the Levite approached him. He’s the normal guy. I wouldn’t mind getting rescued by a normal guy. Yet he crosses the road, looks away, and continues walking. He’s supposed to be the guy who has it pulled together, and here he is, façade shattered. The Levite doesn’t stop. I wonder what the injured man thought, if he was conscious enough to watch the Levite walk away.
Jesus challenges us with the idea that even when our carefully curated public image fails, we are still worthy of love.
Now comes the Samaritan. This is a problem, because the injured man is truly injured, honestly in need of assistance. But Jews didn’t really like the Samaritans. Samaritans are the people who are not like us. He’s the person with the different colored skin, the homeless person, the tattooed addict, the Scientologist, the person from the other political party. He’s the last person we would ever willingly turn to for help. Why did he choose to stop and help the injured man? Perhaps he simply had the tools to help. Maybe he could afford it, to use his animal and oil and wine like this. Maybe he just felt it was the right thing.
Jesus challenges us with the idea that sometimes, the appropriate help comes from the strangest place. It was bad enough to have gotten beaten up. But a Samaritan? It’s bad enough needing help and admitting we don’t have control. Sometimes the people God sends to help you, the ones who show compassion, are definitely not the ones you would have chosen or wanted to have help you. Why did it have to come to this?
Let me tell you a story. A few years ago, in Connecticut, I was on an early morning training ride. A long way from home, I flatted, and while changing my tube, the valve snapped off and jammed my pump. Looks like I’m walking home. Over the next hour as I walked towards home in bike shoes and skintight bike clothes, person after person refused to help me. No one would even lend me a cell phone to call home. But one person did help me out. You see, there was an Orthodox synagogue in that neighborhood. I came across one of the rabbis, walking on his way to services. And by the way, did I mention I was wearing bike-riding spandex? And by the way, did I mention it is much worse to be wearing spandex in front of a nice old Orthodox rabbi than to be wearing spandex in front of your bike tribe? What a laugh he could have at my expense! But he calls out to me. He offered his cell phone. He even offered to let me in the Synagogue, to have water and sit while I waited for my rescue to arrive. He willingly accepted the risk of uncleanness and offered hospitality even though his laws would tell him not to. And the whole time, even though I knew how much I needed this help, I was dying a thousand deaths.
Jesus challenges us to surrender our control long enough to accept the help we need.
The biggest problem for the man in the ditch is that he has lost all control. We, as human beings, hate that. We like the illusion of control. We want to know what is going to be around the corner. When we lose control, we feel embarrassed. Quite simply, we don’t trust that we can be loved and accepted with all our flaws. We push away the friends. We push away the church. It’s not that we become atheists, but we have a hard time believing that there can actually be someone out there beyond us who can have control and compassion. It’s so hard to trust the help from somewhere else.
Jesus challenges us to be the recipients of love and care. The man in the ditch was saved by the most unlikely person. Who is the unlikely person in whom you can trust when all else has failed you?
And I would like to believe that this occurrence changed him- changed the man in the ditch, changed the lawyer, changes us. How could it be such a challenging story all these years later if it didn’t ultimately change the minds and hearts of those involved? What would its value be if it didn’t transform the people of God? Jesus came so that the world might be transformed. Jesus came to break down the facades that separate us from each other, and to challenge us to be recipients of compassion, a people steeped in grace.
Jesus challenges us to trust in the compassion of others, and release our control just long enough to be washed in the grace of God.