On the Side of the Road

Justin Thornburgh

Emerson Avenue Baptist Church

Luke 10: 25-37 P8C

14 July, 2013

On the Side of the Road

(prologue: Out on a Limb)

If I were to go out on a limb and guess, I would say that pretty much everyone in this sanctuary this morning has heard today’s Gospel lesson in one way or another. The good ole’ flannel graphs that Ms. Betty and Ms. Wilma used when they taught the primary children….that is one of the earliest ways I remember the story. I remember teaching a VBS in one of the buildings of the Springfield Housing Authority, in my hometown, and when we did it we had kids with markers, drawing a cartoon we we told the story. Even if you are in church today for the first time, this story has become such a part of our pop culture, you probably know it – if only because of hearing of a Good Samaritan hospital, or the Good Sam sticker on the back of the RV.

There are Good Samaritan laws that seek to protect those who try to help someone. They protect the server who gives the heimlich maneuver to a chocking customer even though she might have accidentally cracked his rib in the process. The Good Samaritan has become one of the most told and preached upon stories in the whole Bible. It has touched lives since Jesus told it, and since Luke retold it. It has become a part of our culture. The Samaritan has become someone for us to imitate. A role model of neighborly care. Something for which we strive and are often left to feel guilty when we don’t. 

When we see the homeless man or woman on the street and cross over to the other side  – uh oh, I am the priest; when we witness an act of violence and do nothing – call me a levite; because this story has so imbued our culture we are left to feel guilty. And sometimes that is an appropriate reaction to our actions – for we are to care for the least among us and be ambassadors for peace, but I want to challenge our assumptions of this parable. I want us today to look at this story in a new way. In a way that maybe Jesus intended. When he first told this parable it wasn’t to give us warm fuzzies or to create a neutered main character that we should like and aspire to. When Jesus first told this story it was to challenge the hearers whole way of looking at the world. It was to not only challenge them to define their neighbor, but it challenged their understanding of a savior. Challenged their whole idea of who the savior was and what he or she looked like. Jesus was going out on a limb.

(Scene 1: The Road to Jericho) 

Let’s, use some sanctified imagination and go back to when Jesus might have first told this story. Remember that Luke was written long after Jesus’ death and resurrection – somewhere between 30-60 years later. And as an author Luke had an agenda. He sought to frame Jesus’ parables as ethical examples, which they are for us. They are great examples of how we are to live, and how we might be a part of the world. They draw us into the story and help us to see them as allegory. It is important for us to read them this way, but it is also important for us to dig deeper. To explore what Jesus was saying when he first uttered these words, to look at the story with a deeper lens than just Luke’s. So, let’s go back to when Jesus might have first told this story. Let’s go back to when this story was heard more as a challenge than as an ethical example.

The fire was crackling. The shadows were dancing across the faces of the followers of Jesus. The nightly meal had finished and the eating area had been cleaned. Leaning around the fire they are laughing and telling stories. They are sharing the adventures they had when Jesus sent them out, and how they were able to cast out demons and heal. Some are sharing about the meals they ate; some had eaten like royalty, others ate mud pies. But none the less they we rejoicing that they were so well received. The people seemed to get that they were doing something different. There was joy around that fire. They were going to return Israel to its rightful place as center of the world!

Jesus sat there listening to them. Hearing them. He sat and was quiet. Finally as their conversation lulled he spoke up:

“There once was a man. He went by himself from Jerusalem to Jericho. Walking along that Jericho road.” 

“Moron,” shouted one of the followers. Everyone knew that this was the most dangerous road in the entire Roman empire – what kind of fool would take on that journey by himself. 

Jesus held up his hand to silence them. He had that gleem in his eye that told them there was something even more … let’s say challenging … yet to come. “As it happened, Peter, that man was attacked and beat up by robbers. Stripped of everything. Beaten and left for dead.” 

Peter interjected the sarcasm oozing from his words, “Didn’t see that coming. Served him right.”

Jesus continued, “As the sun began to rise and the vultures began to circle – smelling the infection growing – waiting for his life to end and their feast to begin – there happened to be a priest passing by. He heard the moaning of the man, and the priest approached and saw the blood coming from the man. He uttered a blessing and crossed over to the other side of the road.”

“He did not want to become unclean. Touching the blood, he would have to take a dip in the Mikveh. I haven’t seen any of those on the Jericho road,” came voice from the peanut gallery. The others chuckeld at this, but Jesus moved on.

“The heat of the day dragged on – parched – the man was begging for his life to end. The sand in his throat; the pain in his broken bones. Yet, just as we was about to give up a Levite approached. Saw the broken man, and crossed to the other side.”

“Come on, Jesus. What could he have done? The man was dying and the Levite is not a doctor.”

Jesus paused. The silence brought back everyone attention to him. “Then, when then man had given up. Closed his eyes and given up all hope of being rescued. There was a shadow that came over him. He readied himself for the shadow of death, but then cool water hit his lips. He choked at the fist drink – his parched throat burning at the touch rejuvenating water. Gasping he tried to talk, but his words were silent. There was a searing pain in his leg as his savior began to clean the would with wine and oil. Finally, he opened his eyes and beheld his savior. As he did, his heart began to race. The way the helper looked he knew he was not to be making contact with him. He saw a Samaritan binding his woulds. He…”

“What…That dog,” shouted a follower. “A half-breed is touching this man. Probably to see if there is anything left to steal.” The followers knew about Samaritans. They were the epitome of evil – everything that was wrong with the world. They were thugs; insincere people who claimed to believe in the same God as good Jews. They are the offspring of heretics and were known to treat Jews as wild animals. They were hated by the people sitting around this campfire. Hated by all “good Hebrews.” 

Undeterred by this outburst and the growing chorus of negativity coming from around the fire Jesus continued, “He saw a Samratian binding his wounds. He began to struggle – trying to free himself. Wishing he would have died earlier.” 

“If only…” came another voice.

“Then the Samaritan turned and saw the man was awake. He again moved to give the man some more water, but as he put the skin to the man’s mouth – the beaten man clenched his teeth, not wanting to share spit with this man. He fought and struggled the help.Then the Samaritan looked in the man’s eyes. The broken man saw something he did not see in the priest or the Levite.”

“Yeah, a mongrel’s eyes.”

“Pity – compassion,” Jesus responded. “When the beaten man saw the eyes of his savior, he relaxed and let himself be cared for. He gave himself over to Samaritan. The Samaritan finished binding the man’s wounds. Laid him upon his own donkey, and continued to Jericho where he found and inn and cared for him for the night. 

“When the morning came the Samaritan gave the innkeeper two day’s wages worth of money and told the keeper to care for the man…”

“And to keep a total so he could charge the man when he woke up,” came another voice.

Shaking his head, Jesus finished, “He told the innkeeper to take care of him, and when he returned if anything more was owed he would pay it.” With this, Jesus got up and moved to his sleeping mat and fell asleep. The followers sat around the fire, quite for a long time. As the flames began to die down, they slowly made their ways to their own mats. The stars above them – 

(Scene 2: Presuppositions)

The followers of Jesus were disturbed by this parable. It seriously challenged their presuppositions of things. The man, should have been blamed for going on the dangerous road by himself. He took a stupid risk, and suffered the consequences of his actions. Sounds kind of like some of the rhetoric coming from certain areas of our own society, doesn’t it? You made your bed, now lie in it. You made the choices you did, now you are just paying the piper…It is easy to blame folks when they make decisions we consider stupid or wrong headed. 

The priest and the levite were doing their best to follow the law. The priest and levite were trying to be good followers of God in their own pious ways. Don’t touch the bloody man because I don’t want to be defiled. Pray for him, ask God to take care of him, but my own holiness can’t be affected by this man. He is probably dead…the Levite certainly didn’t have a cell phone. How could he have helped? He wasn’t a doctor. Making excuses for why he couldn’t help. All logical excuses, rational. Excuses I make every day. 

Excuses and choices that I beat myself up over. Should I? Shouldn’t I? What about disease? What about if it is a ploy and he has friends that want to beat me up? What about this? What about that? Each time I remember an excuse, it is another punch to the gut – stripping me of who I think I am. I am a pastor, I should know better. I am an example, what about my congregation? I know, though discussions this week that I am not alone in these feelings. For many of us, we let the guilt we carry about being less than we think we aught to be, beat us up. Tear us apart, leave us on the side of the road. Beaten and blood. Looking for a savior.

Sometimes we are beaten up by circumstances out of our control. Beaten like the man. Attacked by physical brutality. Abused. Snatched by spiritual warfare. Captive to systems of power that seek to place themselves above us at all costs. Lead down the dark hallway of loneliness and depression; held prisoner by pain and disease; beat up by a bottle or pills; smacked around by someone we thought we loved – someone who claimed to save us. Sometimes we are left on the side of the road. Beaten and bloody. Looking for a true savior.

And when that savior comes he or she is not what we might expect. The followers of Jesus and even the initial listeners of Luke’s gospel HATED the Samaritans. They were even more despised than the Romans – at least the Romans did something. The Samaritans were leeches. They did things that were reprehensible to the sensibilities of the Hebrew people. One thing they did was put human bones on the altar in Jerusalem. Desecrating the altar. There was complete distrust of them – pure hatred, and the Hebrews thought the world would be better off without the Samaritans. And here was Jesus saying that this…thing…was the way to life for the beaten down man.

When we are beaten and battered on the side of the road, and in need of a savior it is often the face of the enemy that we meet. The tattooed, pierced, Hell’s Angel who offers to take to get you gas. The shady windowless van that takes you home when your vehicle is dead. For me it was being protected by a gangbanger as I walked to my car  night after night. 

(Final Scene: The face of a savior. [Put on hoodie])

I worked for WIC in Chicago, and one of our stores was in one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city. I was always beating myself up over how little my work seemed to help. I was, figuratively but spiritually, beaten and bleeding on the side of the road, but one night – Halloween, a dangerous night in this neighborhood, I was greeted by a face that terrified me. I saw the colors. The sagging pants. It ink of the face and arms. The signs of prison tattoos. Instinctively, I put my hand over my front pocket were I kept my wallet. I didn’t know what was going to happen. As I locked the door, he began to approach me. My pulse quickened. I was muttering under my breath, “o god o god o o god…” I tried to keep my composure. 

“Come on, I am walking you to your car.” I stood there for a minute, stunned. This “thug” was wanting to walk me to my car. I was prepared to be mugged. I was letting every negative stereotype take control over me. I was scared. I was pretty sure he was carrying a piece and I had my keys on a caribeaner…those makeshift brass knuckles wouldn’t do anything agains a 9mm. When he got me to my car he leaned over to me…”You all takin’ care of my shorties. I got your back. Go, I will make sure you get out of here safe.” 

I got into my car, assisted by a thug savior. We were the faces of the enemy to each other, and yet he had the vision to see that I needed a savior that night. That night this thug, this person who had done some serious stuff was the face of Jesus. 

This is what this parable is challenging us to do. To see Jesus in our enemies, to learn from the outsider, the other, the alien, the ones we don’t expect. To move beyond profiling someone because of the color of their skin, their accent, or the way they pray, and to see them as a child of God. 

Because no one expected the face of the savior to be born of an unwed teenage mother.

No one expected the face of a savior to be a carpenter’s son. 

No one expected that the face of a savior, of God incarnate, would be there touching the unclean. Healing on the sabbath. Being a law breaker.

No one expected the face of the savior to welcome women into his midst, to allow them to be his funders, to give them places of power. 

No one expected the face of the savior to be there sitting amongst the children. Calling them greater than all of the powerful men.

No one expected the face of the savior to be nailed to a cross on the side of the road. Willingly taking upon himself the punishment because we could not recognize that the face of the savior was the one always meeting us on the side of the road.

No one expected the face of the savior to come through that upper room door and say peace to you, after we have denied him. After we have betrayed him. After we have retreated into our places of safety.

Sometimes, sisters and brothers, the face of the savior is the one we don’t want to be around. Jesus makes us uncomfortable. The call to discipleship is hard. When we stand our ground it is hard to see what we are standing on is Holy Ground. Sometimes it is easier to want to be on side of the road – even in our pain – because the savior is not what we expect. 

But we need the savior. And Jesus goes on healing anyway. Shattering our presuppositions. Seeing us for who we are. Goes on feeding us with bread and wine. Washing our broken bodies. Even as we try to struggle. Jesus is there caring for us on the side of the road.

Thanks be to God.

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