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5 Pentecost - Luke 10:25-37

On her deathbed, Gertrude Stein is said to have asked, "What is the answer?"

Then, after a long silence, "What is the question?", recounts Frederick Buechner.

Don't start looking in the Bible for the answers it gives, he continues.

Start by listening for the questions it asks...

There is perhaps no stronger reason for reading the Bible than that somewhere among

all those India-paper pages there awaits each man and woman, whoever they are,

the one question which (though for years they may have been pretending not to

hear it) is the central question of their own life.

One such question leads to another on the lips of the lawyer.

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

This one often drives people through church doors, to cozy up to God and lobby for

favors while we still can.

In response, Jesus turns the lawyer outward, to the law he knows so well, which turns

him outward to love God and neighbor, but that can get dicey quick, so the lawyer

asks a crucial follow up question that leaps off the page and haunts us still.

Who is my neighbor?

Today ICE raids target people for deportation.

Who is my neighbor?

The Vice President says that the conditions for asylum seekers at our southern

border are unacceptable.

Who is my neighbor?

We mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, after so much looking out into

space and wondering,

Who is my neighbor?

We plan a Game Fair for late August, to open our campus in hospitality to our

wider community, a chance to learn,

Who is my neighbor?

We drive by manicured homes and apartment complexes and tents pitched on


Who is my neighbor?

People are licking ice cream in stores and debating who deserves health care and

posting it all on social media for literally all the world to see.

Who is my neighbor?

Refugee families, Brexit, trade wars, ground wars, diplomacy, disaster, climate

change, gerrymandering, census questions, and your sister-in-law's drama.

Who is my neighbor?

With about seven billion possibilities, it would be helpful to have a manageable answer.

Ironically enough, on the Sunday we hear about the so-called good Samaritan, Jesus is

not helpful.

He does not provide a definition or draw any lines; he tells a story that erases them.

A man – stop.

Stop right there.

Storytellers know that their audiences overwhelmingly tend to identify with the first character they introduce, so they choose that person carefully.

Both of our gospel storytellers, Luke and Jesus, do exactly this.

Just then a lawyer, Luke begins, so that we will identify with him and his concerns.

A man, Jesus begins, so that our lawyer will identify and unconsciously align his interests

and fortunes with the only character in the story he knows.

Jesus leads him into a bad neighborhood teeming with negative stereotypes.

From the lawyer’s perspective, there are no good characters in this story, none.

Anyone who travels that particular road alone is a friendless fool, asking to be jumped.

The priests and the Levites were temple cult snobs that a good lawyer of the Lord

would avoid, phonies and hypocrites in bed with Rome who obsessed over ritual but were totally out of touch with real life.

Bandits and robbers were criminal filth, but they were still better than innkeepers; at least

some thieves are honest about it.

But nobody is as low and lecherous and vile and unspeakably horrible as a godless half-

breed traitor from Samaria.

The lawyer’s pious lips wouldn’t even say the S word.

Loving the Lord means avoiding them altogether.

But that is not an option in this story.

The senior pastor and the church staff pass by, having been specifically forbidden

by temple policy to help needy beggars for security and stewardship reasons.

The Jericho Road was infamous for scam artists, bandits who pretended to be hurt in

order to prey on the gullibly helpful, so the clergy wisely keep moving.

Far worse than their neglect, however, is that the Samaritan slows down and draws near.

Jesus slows down the story to turn up the heat: he went to him, and bandaged his

wounds, pouring oil and wine on them.

Then he placed him on his own animal, brought him to a motel, and took care of him.

The next day he took out two days wages, gave them to the greaseball at the front

desk, and said, Take care of him, and when I come back, I will repay you

whatever more you spend.

How will the good lawyer navigate this shadowy neighborhood; how do we?

The lawyer can’t; this story beats him up and strips him of his power and leaves him at the mercy of those he has long since stereotyped and dismissed.

He isn’t even given the dignity of death; he must endure being helped, and healed, and

taught, and blessed with new life, by someone he is absolutely sure God hates as

much as he does.

We miss the power of this story when we sidestep the powerlessness of this story.

We skip too quickly, too easily to encouragements to be a good Samaritan, which

is like saying “be a nice terrorist,” so that we can retain power, protect our ability

to do something, to help, to stay in control of the situation.

This, by the way, is a particular temptation for those among us who are white Americans,

accustomed, often unconsciously, to the position of privilege and power.

But Go and do comes only after likewise, and is an invitation to learn from and imitate

the goodness of the person you fear or despise or label or avoid; it comes only

after you have been healed by whatever kindness they have chosen to give to you,

not by anything you have handed out to them.

Jesus first makes us identify with the victim on the side of the road who cannot save

himself, much less justify himself or inherit anything, which no one can achieve,

because inheritance is a gift when someone else dies.

Which of course is the larger, third story surrounding the other two.

Jesus is on a dangerous road himself right now, headed to Jerusalem to die.

Jesus is the God who vacates heaven to move into our violent neighborhood.

We strip him, beat him, and leave him for dead, and justify ourselves in doing so:

He was a lawbreaker, a troublemaker, a blasphemer.

He identified with sinners and tax collectors.

He wandered around homeless and unemployed instead of settling down with a


He traveled with a sketchy posse of henchmen.

He told subversive stories blurring the clear lines between good and evil people.

He threatened social order.

Jesus was so awful that when given the choice, the people demanded freedom for

a terrorist and the worst possible torture and death for him—which is centered in our sanctuary and on our baptized foreheads.

We worship a dangerous healer, a messiah in a mug shot, a recklessly compassionate

Samaritan Savior, the wrong God—who does not stay upstairs in some mahogany

heaven enforcing order but comes here to suffer and die at fearful human hands.

First, though, this God we didn’t want draws near and pours wine into our wounded

gullets and carries us somewhere we didn’t want to go, moving us from half-dead

to fully alive.

Before we ever follow him and go and do likewise for others, we are first stripped of our

pretenses of power and entitlement and self-righteousness, and made to swallow

our helplessness, our very common humanity, our raw, naked need captured in the

last written words of Martin Luther:

We are beggars. That is true.

Who is my Savior?

Who is my neighbor?

Beggars can’t be choosers.

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