Others on the Way
Others on the Way
This address was given by Geoff Pound at ABC on 10 July 2016. It is the first in a series entitled, ‘People of the Way’. Check out the introduction to this series and Study Notes 1 for personal and group study that accompany this sermon.
Reading: Luke 10:25-37
10:25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
10:26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" 10:27 He answered, "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."
10:28 And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
10:29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 10:30 Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.
10:31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
10:32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
10:33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
10:34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
10:35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.'
10:36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"
10:37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Steven Pressfield recalls the days when he was learning his craft as a film writer. In Hollywood he worked with a director named Ernie Pintoff. They’d sit side by side and write, Pintoff the real pro, and Pressfield the young novice.
Every time they’d get stuck in their story writing, Pintoff would say, “Have another body hit the floor. Have another body hit the floor.”
What he meant was, kill somebody in your drama. After the 50th time of him saying that, the penny dropped. The young writer thought, “Oh, I get it.”
When your story gets bogged down, another body hitting the floor raises the stakes. It lifts the intensity. It increases the urgency. It galvanizes the attention.
Our reading begins with a dialogue between a hot-shot lawyer and a master communicator. They start with a doctrinal question about how one attains eternal life. It develops into a biblical debate with Jesus calling upon the Law to answer the lawyer.
Just at the point when they could be getting stuck in a legal wrangle.
Just when Jesus thinks listeners might be turning off from this abstract theological discussion, he tells a story.
This story is so memorable, we’re telling it centuries later.
This story is so dramatic that the term, being a ‘Good Samaritan’ has entered our language. It’s familiar even to those who don’t have the slightest interest in religion.
Jesus raises the stakes by having another body hitting the floor.
A man, presumably Jewish, is stripped, beaten and left half dead on the side of the road.
There in the searing heat the intensity soars.
Being left for dead raises the level of urgency.
What might happen next is a matter of life and death.
This isn’t any ordinary road. It's the route between Jericho and Jerusalem. The road between the home town and the big smoke.
Jerusalem suggests a purposefulness.
Jerusalem is where people go to do business.
Jerusalem is where people shop and trade.
Jerusalem is where tourists take photos and pilgrims remember.
Jerusalem is where people worship.
The clock is ticking.
Will the man on the side of the road lose his battle with life?
Will anyone come to his aid?
Here comes a priest along the way.
The man’s chances are looking good. As they say:
“Priests are paid for doing good. Lay people are good for nothing!”
He passes by on the other side. Can’t blame him. His diary is full of appointments.
He’s probably got important meetings in the capital.
But look, a Levite is coming by. He too, is striding with purpose.
Levites are the worship leaders. So, he’s also Jewish.
Surely he’ll help one of his own. But the clock is ticking. The hour of prayer is calling. He knows, the worshippers are already assembling.
There’s nothing wrong with being people of purpose but Jesus is highlighting a certain flexibility. He’s honouring a willingness to put aside our plans to come to the aid of another as we live through this new week.
Maybe one of the words for us as a church community is to be willing to look beyond our mission statements, to have the spontaneity to move from our agenda, to serve the person we come across who’s in need.
But as the clock continues to tick something surprising happens.
A Samaritan is coming by. He represents the traditional enemy.
There have been centuries of antagonism between the people of these two religions or denominations.
It may be akin to that earlier antipathy between Protestants and Catholics.
If we were telling this story in our place and our age, we might replace the Samaritan with a Muslim. How does this sound?
“But a Muslim while traveling came near the man.”
The priest and the Levite ‘pass by on the other side’ but the Samaritan is one who comes from the other side. He represents the ‘other’. The other culture. The other religion. The other colour. The other class. The other sexual orientation.
Do we have favourites and then we have the others?
Remember back to last November in Paris - the explosions heard at the football stadium on that Friday night, the mass shootings of people in the theatre and at the cafés? Those terrorists killed 130 people and more than 360 people injured.
Remember the great outpouring of grief?
Landmarks around the world, including our Arts Centre spire, were adorned in the French colours. Thousands changed their Facebook profiles with photos of the French flag, such was the empathy.
In recent weeks, jihadists have killed 41 people at Istanbul’s airport.
22 have been slaughtered in a Bangladesh café.
250 people celebrating the end of Ramadan have been killed in Baghdad and now there’ve been bombings in three cities in Saudi Arabia.
Some from these countries are asking, ‘Where is the global outrage?’
‘Why haven’t Facebook profiles been filled with the flags of Turkey and Bangladesh, Iraq and Saudi Arabia?’
‘Why hasn’t #PrayforIraq been trending on the media?’
How do we account for this indifference?
Is Iraqi blood cheaper than French blood or Australian blood?
Do those of a different colour and a different religion not count?
They’re not fully human? They’re not as deserving of our sympathy?
Does this very violence feed our fear towards Muslims, Arabs and the other?
So, who is the other for us? Who is our neighbour?
When hope for the Jewish man on the side of the road is almost dashed, Jesus pulls the greatest surprise.
This Samaritan doesn’t pass by on the other side.
He comes near.
He sees him without any labels of race, religion or culture.
He is moved with pity.
He goes to him, gets out his first aid kit and bandages.
He pours medicine on the man’s wounds.
He puts him on his animal, brings him to an inn, ensures the man is cared for and pays the bill.
And when all jaws are dropping, Jesus looks at the lawyer and asks:
“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (v36)
The story isn’t getting bogged down but Jesus has another body hit the floor.
Who is it this time? It's the lawyer.
Jesus said: “Do this and you will live.” (28)
So this lawyer is half dead.
His life has been going down like a flat tire.
His life has lost its colour. He’s all vanilla.
He thought eternal life was about the after life.
Jesus says, it’s about the here and now.
He thought faith was all about having the right answers.
Jesus says it’s about the right action: “Do this and you will live.”
The lawyer thought eternal life was about heaven and hell.
Jesus says it’s also about healing, housing and bringing wholeness.
So, did the lawyer show mercy? Did he go and do likewise? Did he receive eternal life?
We don’t know because the answer is no longer with him but with us. The answer is no longer to be found on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem but on Warrigal Rd between Burwood and Chadstone. On High Street, Burwood Highway, Collins Street or wherever we find ourselves tomorrow confronted with someone in need. That location becomes for us the most important place—the centre of the universe. How we respond will determine how fully we truly live.
We think of the roads and the streets that we’ll be travelling this week.
We start to think of all the tasks on our To Do Sheet, especially as we’re moving from the holidays into ordinary time.
We ask that we might walk differently tomorrow.
That there’ll be a new spring in our step.
A difference in our gait.
That there will be a strong consciousness that you are walking with us, the Risen Christ!
When you prompt us to slow down for somebody else, grant us the courage to depart from our agenda.
Move us with pity. Motivate us with your love. Make us people who show mercy.
Grant us to see people without the labels, to come near, to serve without knowing the total cost, to harness others into bringing wholeness.
Thank you today for your grace—for showing us how we might fully live.
How we might enter into eternal life.
Thank you for the exciting prospect that we all have today in bringing your life to somebody tomorrow, of living eternal life, of enjoying the highest quality of life that you make possible.
And we offer our prayers in the name of the One who called himself “The way, the truth and the life”.
 “Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.” Elie Wiesel.