The Fifth Sunday after the Pentecost, Year C
[Texts: Amos 7:7-17, Psalm 82, Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 10:25-37]
“Jesus Came for All”
Sunday, 14 July 2019
My sisters and brothers, I speak to you in the name of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Each of the four Gospels, as you may already know, was written by a different person. I bet you know their names—St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John. Right? Four different Gospels, four different authors. And each one has his own fascinating life story.
Take, for example, St. Luke. Something you might not know about him is that he was a doctor by trade. This is why he is sometimes called St. Luke the Physician, and if you are a doctor yourself, or work in the medical field, he is your profession’s patron.
(When you get home today, take a moment and look up who the patron saint is for your own occupation. Some of them make sense—St. Luke was a doctor, St. Thomas More was a lawyer, and St. Martin of Tours was a soldier. Then there are the ones that kinda-sorta make sense if you squint just a little—golfers get St. Andrew because he evangelized Scotland, where golf was invented, and chefs get St. Lawrence of Rome, who was martyred by being roasted alive—and then there are some that just make you wonder… like, why do paralegals get St. Patrick of Ireland of all people? My only guess is that anyone who spends that much time around lawyers needs to know how to deal with snakes… but I digress…)
Something else you might not know about St. Luke is that, in addition to writing one of the Gospels, he also wrote the book of Acts. Acts—or, its full name, The Acts of the Apostles—is the book of the New Testament that immediately follows the Gospels. We read large portions of the book of Acts during the fifty days of Easter. Acts contains stories like the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the calling of St. Matthias to replace Judas as the twelfth apostle, the conversion of St. Paul, and of course the Pentecost event. St. Luke is the author of all of those stories that are so important to us as Christians, in addition to the ones that appear in his Gospel. I expect you to remember that next Easter. There will be a quiz.
And, at no extra charge, one more fun fact about St. Luke: out of the four Evangelists, Luke is the only gentile. They all became Christians, of course, but unlike Matthew, Mark, and John, Luke was the odd man out: he was not born Jewish.
When the Gospels were being written, there were so many stories floating around about Jesus, telling about His background, and His teachings, and the miracles He performed, and His life. Each of the four Evangelists got to choose which stories to include in their accounts of the life of Christ. Each Gospel was written by a different person, to a different audience, for a different purpose. When we read from one of the Gospels, it’s helpful to keep in mind—firstly, who is speaking? Is it Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John? And, based on that, who is the audience? Who was this particular Gospel written for? And thirdly, why? What is the purpose? Why was this written? What’s the big idea here? When we read the Gospels through that lens, we can better understand why each story was chosen and why it is told the way it is.
St. Luke was an outsider, who wrote his Gospel to and for the outsiders, and his message to them was that Jesus came for the outcast, for the down and out, for the ones who had made a mess of their lives. Jesus came for those with little to no status in society. Jesus came for the poor, the weak, and the brokenhearted. Jesus came for those who would never dare to imagine that Jesus might come for them.
Put simply, the message of St. Luke’s Gospel is always this: Jesus came for all. No exceptions.
Let me say that again:
Jesus came for all.
St. Luke—the gentile, the odd man out, the outsider—wrote his Gospel for outsiders. For people on the margins. For people who might make the mistake of thinking Jesus wouldn’t really be interested in loving or saving someone like them. Some of the stories he chose feature lepers, a prostitute, a prodigal son, a tax collector. Where St. Matthew’s Gospel says “blessed are the poor in spirit,” St. Luke’s simply says, “blessed are the poor.” Women also feature most prominently in Luke’s Gospel. In fact, our Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, sings her beautiful song in the second chapter of Luke, when she finds out she is pregnant with Jesus—we call that song the Magnificat or the Song of Mary.
Yet another one of these “outsider” stories is the parable of the Good Samaritan, which we heard today.
Our story begins with a lawyer. Now, the society we are dealing with here is a theocracy, meaning there is no such thing as separation of church and state, no division between secular law, or the law of the land, and religious law. The law of the land was the religious law. So this lawyer is an expert in Jewish religious law. He has heard about a storyteller and teacher from Nazareth who has gained quite a following—a man named Jesus—and wants to know exactly who this Jesus guy is and what He’s all about.
So the lawyer goes to test Jesus. He asks, “What do I need to do to inherit eternal life?”
It’s worth noting that he’s not asking how he can know God, or how he can be in right relationship with his neighbor, or how he can work toward a more just and peaceful world. He is looking for a get-into-Heaven-free card.
Jesus turns his question around on him, pretty much saying, “Well, you’re the legal expert here; what do you think the law says?”
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” This is the right answer—Jesus even says so Himself.
But now the lawyer has a follow-up question: “Okay, about that ‘love your neighbor’ thing… who exactly is that referring to? Who is my neighbor?” Translation: Who do I need to pay attention to and who can I ignore or write off?
And that’s when Jesus decides to tell a parable—a story.
A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, and was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half-dead on the side of the road—a specific road that was well-known for being unsafe. (Think about the worst area of the town you live in—somewhere you wouldn’t be caught walking around by yourself. Imagine this parable taking place there.)
A priest came along, but when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and kept going.
Now, some people try to justify this by saying the priest might have been going up to Jerusalem for religious services, and didn’t want to be late, or couldn’t touch this man because touching blood would make him ceremonially unclean. But if you look at the Greek, it’s pretty clearly stated that the priest was not going up to Jerusalem, up to the temple—he was coming down from the temple and headed toward Jericho. Any religious services he might have needed to perform were finished.
And then a Levite—a staff member at the temple, with ceremonial duties similar to those of an acolyte or a verger—passed by him and did the exact same thing.
These are two of the most respected positions a person could hold in the world Jesus lived in, so you can imagine the shock this parable must have evoked. These two people—a pastor and a full-time church staff member—had just been to services, had just heard the scriptures read, had just been in the immediate presence of God. They walk out of the temple and start to head home, and on their way home, they see a man literally dying on the side of the road, and what do they do? They cross over to the other side of the street and leave him there.
But then, we get to verse 33, and the story changes. This is where we meet the Samaritan.
So, what is a Samaritan, anyway? There is a lot of history here that I could spend all day getting into, and I do want to make sure y’all can still beat the Baptists and the Presbyterians to brunch, so I’m going to give you the Reader’s Digest version here.
If you want the full story, go back to the Old Testament and look up II Kings chapter 17. To make a long story very short, the Jews were in close proximity to other people groups. These groups have different customs, worship other gods (gods, plural) and don’t live by the same laws as the Jews. The Israelites were not supposed to be intermarrying with these groups, but some did, creating a population of children who were only half-Israelite, and therefore not really considered Jewish. This despised people group, these half-Israelite folks who were treated with such disdain, became known as Samaritans because of the unique dialect of Aramaic that they spoke. The Jews hated Samaritans, and still hated them by the time Jesus was around.
We know the rest of the parable—the good Samaritan went and rescued the dying man, doctored him up, and spent his own money to put the man up in a hotel so he could take care of him and help him recover in a safe place. And… scene.
When we hear a parable, I think it’s only natural to ask ourselves, “Who would I be in this story?” In this one, though, it’s pretty obvious who the good guy is—who we should want to be. So perhaps a better question is… what keeps us from being the Samaritan in our own lives? What keeps us from being the good guy in our own story?
I think a lot of it stems from the tendency to assume, when we see someone stuck in a ditch, that they dug it themselves, and therefore, they must deserve to be there. Drug users deserve to be denied treatment. The poor deserve to starve. Ex-felons deserve discrimination in employment. People who commit certain crimes deserve to be put to death. The huddled masses yearning to breathe free who arrive in this country without the right papers deserve to be deported or detained, and their children put in cages. We have been conditioned to see such things as simply the natural order of things. Those people deserve those problems.
Except, we serve a God who came to disrupt, to turn upside down, the natural order of this world, to put the last first and the first last. So, as Christians, we don’t have the option of letting blame or prejudice or even apathy keep us from loving our neighbor.
Nor do we get to ask what the lawyer was asking: Who is really important, and who can I ignore? Who is worth stopping for if I see them on the side of the road, and who do I get to pretend I didn’t see? Who is mandatory for me to love and who is optional? We don’t get to make those distinctions, because they don’t exist in the eyes of Jesus. We know who He tells us is our neighbor: everyone. Absolutely everyone.
We serve a God who came for the least and the last, who came for the widow and the orphan, for the poor and the lowly, for those suffering in mind and body, for the leper, the tax collector, the prostitute, the prodigal. He came for the immigrant, the addict, the incarcerated, those condemned to die. He came for every race, every language, every nationality, every identity—all who are willing to proclaim Him as Lord and Savior, regardless of their backstory. He came for the Samaritan in this story, and for the gentile who wrote it down.
God shows no partiality, which means, neither can we.
As a dear friend of mine said so beautifully in an Easter Sunday sermon many years ago, “As followers of Christ, we are commanded to love one another as He loved us – even our enemies, because the truth is, we have no enemies. We are all children of one family: the family of God.”
Jesus came for all. And so, we, His followers, must also be willing to be His hands and feet to all His people.
I’d like to close with a poem written by St. Teresa of Avila, a Spanish mystic and Carmelite nun from the sixteenth century, who gives us this call to care for our neighbor:
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which He blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are His body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”