Sermon on the Good Samaritan from July 10, 2016

by the Rev. Anna Doherty13041435_1159982794033037_1825211134944730220_o

I suspect that many of us can see ourselves in the lawyer in today’s gospel.

After all, here is a man who knows his Bible, who tries to be faithful,

A man who understands in broad terms, what is expected of him as a person of faith.

So that, when the lawyer asks Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The truth is the lawyer already knows, really, what the answer is.

The lawyer quotes back to Jesus directly from the book of Deuteronomy: “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.”

The lawyer knows the answer.

But he doesn’t really understand how to live it.

And that is, I think, where many of us stand as we struggle to live the life of faith.

We know in broad terms what it is expected of us as people of faith: love your neighbor, be peacemakers, be forgiving, loving, and generous.

We know this.

But we don’t always truly understand how to live it, how to live the life of faith.

I truly believe that the lawyer in today’s gospel is trying to get at the answer of how to live the life of faith….

…not just the specifics of what’s expected of him, but how actually how to go about doing it, living the life of faith in the real world.

His question is essentially our question: How can I be faithful?

But the lawyer goes about asking the question in the wrong way.

As today’s gospel says, “But wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus. ‘And who is my neighbor?’”

And this is the root of the lawyer’s problem.

He wants to know how to live the life of faith, by justifying himself.

For this lawyer, I suspect that “justifying himself” means wanting to sort out, exactly, to the letter of the law, what is expected of him.

The lawyer wants to know exactly what he needs to do, to dot his “I’s” and cross his “t’s” in order to be faithful.

To do exactly what is expected of him and no more.

And that’s the thing about the life of faith.

We don’t live it to justify ourselves.

We don’t live it simply to follow the letter of the law, to do exactly what is expected of us, and no more…

…so that we can effectively cross being a good faithful Christian off of our to-do lists.

We live the life of faith because it is who we are, as children of God.

We live the life of faith out of joy, out of gratitude, out of compassion, and mercy.

We do it for God, and for other people, because of the way in which God has blessed us.

There aren’t limits to this kind of life, and there are as many different ways to serve God as there are different people, and different circumstances.

And that is really, at its core, the crux of what Jesus tries to explain to the lawyer.

The life of faith isn’t lived like a to-do list.

As Jesus tries to illustrate, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the life of faith defies expectations, boundaries and limits.

The priest and the Levite in today’s parable, live the life of faith to the letter of the law and no more.

If faith is defined by expectation and law, then the priest and the Levite do just what they are supposed to do.

Priests and Levites, the biblical scholars of their day, aren’t supposed to defile themselves by touching what might have been a dead body or a soon-to-be-dead body by the side of the road.

To touch a corpse would have rendered them unclean. That’s the law, which they follow exactly.

They do just what was expected of them.

They walk on by.

They absolutely justify themselves, and their own definition of faith.

But the Samaritan, the most unexpected person, is the one who shows mercy.

Samaritans were, for the Jews, and absolutely despised class of person.

The two groups, Samaritan and Jews, had been fighting for generations over the location of God’s temple.

The Jews had burned down the Samaritan temple in protest.

The Samaritans had retaliated by sneaking into the Jewish Temple and throwing bones around, defiling the sacred space.

Both groups had committed terribly offensive acts against one another.

There was no expectation, no sense even, that help would ever come from that kind of a quarter.

And not only is the merciful person, an unexpected person, but the Samaritan’s mercy and compassion itself defies expectation.

The Samaritan bandages the injured man’s wounds himself, he carries him to shelter, and cares for the injured man himself.

The Samaritan even pays for and ensures the injured man’s future care.

There is no limit, little logic for how the Samaritan man shows mercy.

He just does it, out of compassion and love, and does it in such a way that limits and any previous expectations of mercy become meaningless.

The Good Samaritan’s mercy defies any explanation or boundary that we could try to put on it.

There is no way to justify this kind of faith, it is faith that is motivated not by expectations but by mercy and love, pure and simple.

The Samaritan man just is, he just does, he just lives the life of faith.

Without any kind of justification, without any explanation or reason.

He just does it.

And it defies all expectation.

And I wonder if this is what Jesus is trying to tell the lawyer in today’s gospel.

Don’t try to justify yourself in your life of faith.

Living the life of faith, isn’t about setting limits or reasons on what you can and cannot do, it’s not about doing the bare minimum and no more.

It’s not even about making ourselves look good or about doing things just right.

It is just about doing it.

Just do it.

 

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

In other words, knowing and feeling the love of God so much, that we share it with other people.

 

Serve God and others.

 

Without limits, boundaries, expectations, reasons, without justification.

 

That’s it.

 

That’s all it takes to live the life of faith.

 

There’s a kind of freedom in this, isn’t there?

 

We, like the lawyer, are conscientious people, trying to live the life of faith, while also trying to balance all the other responsibilities that life throws at us.

 

Family and work obligations, our civic and community responsibilities, to say nothing of the other day-to-day things that can run our lives:

 

Our health, our finances, our relationships, worries big and small.

 

Perhaps our desire to justify ourselves in the life of faith, comes simply from trying to cope with all the other expectations we put on ourselves or that others put on us.

 

We want to define the limits of our faith, to justify ourselves, because we are trying to be good Christians

 

… in addition to also being good parents, model employees, civic leaders, and just decent people.

 

It’s just plain easier, when we’re bogged down with all kinds of other expectations, to treat the life of faith in the same way.

 

What Jesus says to us today is that the life of faith is not governed by those kinds of limits and expectations.

 

We don’t need to justify ourselves in the life of faith.

 

We don’t have anything to prove, there are no limits on living the life of faith.

 

Like the Good Samaritan, just feel the love of God and show that love to others.

 

That’s all we have to do.

 

We don’t even need to define expectations or benchmarks or anything else in order for us to do it.

 

Don’t worry about limits or expectations or whatever other worries or confines we or others may put on us.

 

Just do it.

 

Love God, and show that love to others.

 

No justification necessary.