“Do Likewise?”

Luke 10:25-37
David A. Davis
February 18, 2024
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He never called him good. That was everyone else, ever since. Jesus never called him good. In the parable Jesus tells of “a Samaritan” who came near the man, saw him, and was moved with pity. Not “good”, just a Samaritan traveler. In the gospel of Luke, the words “Samaritan” and “good” are never paired together. In the previous chapter in Luke, Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem”.  He was heading out from Galilee and intentionally went out of his way to enter “a village of the Samaritans.” The Samaritans where not hospitable to the visit of Jesus and the disciples and James and John wanted to “command fire to come down from heaven and consume them.”  Jesus, of course, rebuked them and they headed off to another village. The disciples wanted to wipe out the Samaritans.

You will remember Luke’s account of Jesus healing the ten people with leprosy and only one of them turned back and fell at the feet of Jesus to thank him. Do you remember that it happened “in the region between Samaria and Galilee”? The man who turned back was a Samaritan. Jesus didn’t call him good either. Though the man had already been healed, Jesus said “Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.”  John’s gospel includes the longest conversation Jesus had with any one person. It was the woman at the well. She was a Samaritan. Late into their conversation, the disciples return and find Jesus talking to her. “They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman.” They didn’t say anything but John writes that they were thinking “Why are you speaking to her?” Presumably because she was a woman and she was a Samaritan. “Many Samaritans from that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony.”  Jesus didn’t call her good either. Jesus never called the traveling Samaritan good. That was everyone else, ever since.

Small groups started this week and my group on Wednesday morning had such a good conversation. Helpful for preaching, too. One person in the group noted that when the lawyer was asked by Jesus which of the three “was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robber”, the lawyer couldn’t even bring himself to say it. That he was the Samaritan. No, all he could muster was “the one who showed him mercy.” The one. When Jesus finished the parable, everyone and their uncle knew the answer. It wasn’t the Levite. Come on, say it. It wasn’t the priest. You can say it. IT WAS THE SAMARITAN. Jesus could have said, “uh, uh, uh…..which one?” But the parable is shocking enough, Jesus just said “Go and do likewise”.  Shocking and timelessly relevant when it comes to the human condition. Part of what makes the parable so lasting and powerful in the world we live in today is not that the Samaritan was good. It’s that he was a SAMARITAN.

Several years ago, Iman Chablis from the Islamic Center of New Jersey out on Rt 1, Rabbi Feldman from the Jewish Center of Princeton and I together did a three-night gig. Each night was at one of our respective houses of worship. Our intent was to show our collegiality and respect for one another and for each of us to give an example of how we interpret our sacred texts. I chose this parable of the man in the ditch. I won’t ever forget how, after we finished at the Jewish Center, several members of the synagogue came up to me one after the other. Not a few. Several. They told me they were raised to think this parable is an example of the antisemitism of the New Testament and of Christians. It was all because of how the priest and the Levite were portrayed by Jesus as walking by and failing to show mercy to the man in the ditch. One or two mentioned that they never heard that the man who had been robbed was Jewish. I had argued that while Jesus doesn’t say it one could assume someone traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho was Jewish. But notice, Jesus never called the Samaritan good and never criticized, said a negative thing, or called the priest or the Levite bad. As another person said Wednesday morning, “Can’t we find something good to say about the priest and the Levite?”

Jesus never called him good and he never called them bad. Maybe that’s because at the end of the day the parable isn’t about being good. The wonder and the power of the parables is that they cannot easily be reduced to a moral point. They are not simply morality tales with a takeaway about being good. Jesus didn’t say “Go and be good” or “Go and do good.” Like a parent dropping a child off for a friends birthday party or a practice or a rehearsal or an SAT test. Jesus asked “who was a neighbor”. The lawyer is the one who brought up mercy. Jesus might as well of said “go and be” or “go and live” or “go and neighbor”.

If a takeaway from the parable here is about being good, you and I are in deep trouble. Because we are good enough. We aren’t ever good enough. I’m not good enough. You’re not good enough. And compared to the priest and the Levite, we’re not holy enough and probably not smart enough either! If this parable about the traveling Samaritan who acted as a neighbor to the beat up man in the ditch left for dead is about being good, if that’s the standard of assessment when it comes to faithfulness, the instruction manual for how to live and work and stop and care and help and give, I will only speak for myself, but I am failing miserably. And I am the one who walks down Nassau Street as the religious professional like the priest and the Levite.

A long time I was in the office of the church in South Jersey all by myself. Solo pastors are often in the building all by themselves. The doorbell rang and as I went to the door I could see man outside whose clothes were very tattered. He was clearly worn down from life and life on the street. I was smart enough to not invite him into the building. It wasn’t cold outside so we stood in the parking lot and he started telling a long story that was hard for me to follow. At one point I was able to interrupt him and I asked him in a very straight forward way: “what can I do for you?’ I was expecting him to ask for money or food or a bus ticket or a hot meal or a place to stay. I could have helped with some but not all of those things. In a manner different from the rambling story, he looked me in the eye and asked “Can I have a ride to Camden?” That was about a fifteen-minute ride from the church. Maybe I was sort of dumbfounded by the request but a few minutes later I was driving up the Atlantic City Expressway on the way to the bus station in Camden. It didn’t take long on that trip for me to think of my family: Cathy, Hannah and Ben who were very young at the time. That’s when I said to myself, “Self, this might be the stupidest think you have ever done in ministry” I sort of think Jesus would agree with me. Going and doing likewise. It’s not as easy to figure out as it seems. And the Christian life as never been as easy as “What Would Jesus Do?”

To go and do likewise is not an exhortation to do good or to be good. It is the call of Christ to live and to be and to work toward a world defined by compassion, mercy, kindness and love. To go and do likewise is the expectation of the gospel of Jesus Christ that boundary walls should be tumbled down and hateful stereotypes of all kinds should be crushed and that everyone should be treated as a child of God. To go and do likewise is confirmation for the followers of Jesus that righteousness starts with a trickle of unexpected action and liberation from all the world ingrains in us about those who are different from us and we. To go and do likewise is the less an invitation to do what Jesus would do and more an invitation to see the world and the people in it as Jesus did.

The first step to going and doing likewise is to find yourself and know yourself on the receiving end of God’s compassion, mercy, kindness and love. To know with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind that this saving grace of Jesus Christ is as unexpected and undeserved and upending and life transforming as being on the receiving end of the loving, not anticipated, surprising care of a neighbor. And there is no better way to remember that and experience it afresh than to hear the words “This is my body broken for you. This is cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood for the forgiveness of sins. It is for you.

He never called him good. That was everyone else, every since. Jesus never called the Samaritan good. Not at the end, not in the middle, not at the beginning for the parable. Maybe that’s because when it comes your life of faith and mine, the parable actually begins with us in the ditch.