July 14, 2019/ Fifth Sunday after Pentecost /Richard E. Holmer
First Lesson: Genesis 18:1-10a /Second Reading: Colossians 1:15-28/Gospel: Luke 10:38-42
The One Who Showed Mercy
A helpful way to approach the parables of Jesus is to determine where you might be in the story. In the parable of the Father and his two sons, are you more like the younger, prodigal brother or the older, self righteous brother? In the parable of the Sower, which kind of soil might you be: the well-worn path, the thin soil, the weedy soil, or the fertile soil?
The Good Samaritan is, perhaps, the best known of all the parables of Jesus. Even non-Christians are familiar with the term “Good Samaritan”. Where do you find yourself in this story? Many of us are inclined to identify with the Samaritan who gives aid to the man who was robbed and beaten. He is the one who does the right thing. He does what every good Christian is supposed to do – really, what any decent person ought to do.
Twelve years ago in New York City, a man waiting for a subway train had a seizure and fell down onto the tracks. Wesley Autrey was standing on the subway platform with his two daughters, aged 4 and 6. The headlights of an approaching train appeared far down the tracks. Wesley immediately jumped down to where the man was lying on the tracks. He realized there was no time to drag the man to safety. So instead, he pressed the man into the hollowed out space between the rails – and placed his own body on top of the man to shield him. The oncoming train cleared Wesley by just a couple inches – passing so close that it left grease marks on his knit stocking cap. When the train passed over and came to a halt, Wesley called up to the frightened onlookers on the platform and said: “There are two little girls up there; let them know their Daddy is OK.” The next day the newspaper called Wesley the Subway Good Samaritan.
We’d like to think we would do the same. We would like to do what a good person should. However, it doesn’t always work out that way. A couple weeks ago in Chicago, a woman waiting for a CTA train dropped her cellphone down onto the tracks. She climbed own onto the tracks to retrieve her phone. As a fast moving train appeared in the distance, a security guard told the woman to get off the tracks. But he did not reach out to help her in any way. A number of onlookers watched with great alarm. She began to run toward a ladder, but could not outrun the train. Felon Smith was hit and killed on June 27. Later, her aunt, Brandy Martin, commented: “There was just no love on that platform.” People don’t always do the good thing, the right thing. What might you have done?
So then, if you are not the hero in this parable, could you be one of the villains – the thieves who beat and rob the hapless victim? Well, maybe not, we’re not criminals after all. We are law abiding citizens. And yet, have you ever wounded anyone with harsh words, with gossip, with prejudice, with spite, with anger? Have you ever taken from someone their good name, their credibility? We can do real harm with our thoughts and our words, if not our deeds.
How about the Priest and the Levite, the righteous, godly men who choose to pass by on the other side of the road – declining to offer any assistance? Have you ever been a bystander like that? Too busy to get involved with another person’s problems? Too cautious and concerned about your own safety and well-being? Too important, too committed to significant responsibilities, to give up any time for somebody else? Too indifferent to the needs of a person you don’t know – for whom you are not responsible? Is it sometimes better to play it safe and avoid getting involved in another person’s troubles?
Perhaps you are like the lawyer, whose question to Jesus is what leads Jesus to tell this story. The lawyer asks Jesus: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds: “What is written in the law?” The lawyer responds: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind an strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says to him: “Exactly right. Do this, and you will live.” Things might have ended right there. But they don’t. The story continues: “But wanting to JUSTIFY himself; the lawyer asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
What’ going on? Is the lawyer asking a serious theological, ethical question about what God expects? Or is he putting Jesus on the spot, trying to trap Jesus into saying something that will get him into trouble? Or, as Luke suggests, is the lawyer angling to embellish his reputation, to justify his own behavior? It’s quite human to try to portray ourselves in the best possible light, to justify what we say and do with rational explanations. How much energy do you spend trying to justify your actions and decisions? Ponder that one.
This parable presents a number of roles in which we may find ourselves from time to time.
And how about the man lying in the ditch – the one who is in dire need of mercy? Have you been there? Have you ever been helpless? When were you really hurting? When have you been guilty and unable to forgive yourself? Recall some moment when you were lonely, or desperate or afraid.
My freshman year in college did not get off to a good start. My roommate and I did not get along. I wasn’t making any friends. I often ate my meals alone in the cafeteria. I went to class, did my homework, and wondered why anyone would say that the college years were the best time of your life. I felt something must be wrong with me, and I dreaded the thought of spending four years in miserable solitude.
About six weeks into the semester my brother called to see how I was doing. I was honest. I said not good at all. I poured out my many disappointments. Peter said, “I’m coming to see you”. And he did. He hitch hiked all the way from Rock Island to St Louis and spent the weekend. In short, his visit changed everything. I had to find a place for him to stay. There was a guy on our floor whose roommate never showed up – so Peter could stay with him. Making those arrangements broke the ice, one thing led to another, and I got to know several guys on the floor. By the time my brother left, my world had changed, and I was on my way to a great college experience.
MERCY! We all need it. How and when have you received Mercy? The truth is that we have all received great mercy from Jesus – sometimes directly, sometimes through the efforts of other people. We can’t get very far in life without mercy. Consider how often we ask for mercy every Sunday: In the confession, the Kyrie, the prayers, we pray for mercy over a dozen times! And God is merciful. “In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for YOU…”
Friends, we are on the receiving end of great and abundant mercy. When we are laid low, knocked down by misfortune, by the inhumanity of others, or by our own bad decisions – there is one who reaches out to us with compassionate mercy. You and I are rarely the heroes of the story. More often we are the ones in need of help. Jesus is always eager to show us mercy. And because we have received great and abundant mercy, we are now able to go and do likewise. Blessed are those who have received mercy, for now we can show mercy to others.
Thanks be to God!