5th Sunday after Pentecost
July 14 2019
Rev. Isaac Bradshaw
A way back a while ago, when I was growing up, our Pastor had, as my grandmother put it, a “tongue too big for his mouth.” Now what she meant by that is that he got a little tongue tied. Well, not a little.
There’s the time he pronounced Rwanda as “Are-ah-Wandah.” Or the time he described a runner who tore his “archilles tenderloin.” Or the time he described the way the Pharisees, “Died Jesus on the cross.” Causing one to wonder, what color DID they “dye” Jesus on the Cross?
And of course, then came the church giggles. You know, the ones that you try to stifle but that just makes it worse, because, hey, it’s church and no one laughs in church, but holy cow… Archilles tenderloin had to be intentional.
We had theories. The pastor grew up in Valdosta, and he had one of those Deep South accents that made the humidity and sweet tea quotient in the atmosphere rise by at least 15%. He would write and memorize his 30-minute sermons 6 months out. So if anything went wrong, he would get rattled. But none of that explained the greatest tongue-trip of all time.But let’s think about that for a moment. If we have Jesus nailed down, if we understand and take this as a guide for life, or reduced principle… Well, Jesus is nailed down, unable to teach. Or redeem. Or… Resurrect.
See, here’s the thing we miss. We look at the Priest and the Levite and we go, “What horrible people. I’d never be like them. Blergh!” But the Priest and the Levite were ministers in the Temple. If they were to do their Priest-ing and their Levit-ing, they had to stay ritually pure. Contact with a dead body made both of them unable to function within the Temple.
They’re following the rules because they have to; the Judean people’s ability to be made in right relationship with God is dependent on the choices those two make on that road.
Rules are good. We need rules. We need the Law. We need to know how God expects us to live and the way we order our society. In fact, we have special names for people who habitually break the rules and do so without care; sociopaths.
Or maybe, us.
When we see the Priest and the Levite moving to the other side of the road, we see people taking a care for the rules. They’re doing what they’ve been taught to do, and they’re being what they’ve been taught to be. And in the context of a 21st century that teaches people to dispense with what they’ve been taught, and that identity is formed by rejecting the eternal for the commercial, there’s a part of me that admires the Priest and the Levite.
Jesus doesn’t call us to be the Priest and the Levite. He calls us to be the Samaritan.
This is the point: to be pure, to be lawful, to be justified in the Kingdom of God, is to be the Samaritan. To show mercy. To heal.
But look how this happens. Remember, in this story, the right relationship with God is dependant on the purity of the Priest and the Levite. Imagine with me, if your salvation, if your right relationship with God was dependant on your clergy *not* helping a dying man. Or Doug washing his hands correctly. Just saying that sends shivers down my spine, because trust me when I say, if our salvation is dependant on and trusting right-behaving clergy for your salvation, we’re all in deep trouble!!
Jesus does give us a rule; he does give us a rule of and for life, but it is a rule for life that is dependant solely on Jesus going on ahead; we are neither the priest nor the levite, nor the Samaritan. We’re the broken, bleeding body on the side of the road, waiting for someone, anyone to bind our wounds, carry us to a safe place, and keep us until he returns. When the expert in the law asks what he do to be justified, Jesus’ answer is simple: Nothing.
The Gospel that Jesus gives us is to be like Jesus. Having an experience in which, left for dead, we awake and find ourselves made whole, expenses charged to another’s account… How can we not go and do likewise? How do we look at the refugees on our southern border and say, “I’ll go on the other side?” How do we do that? How do we see our the near-doubling suicide rate among Native American men in the 10 years and say, “Yeah, I’ll go to the other side.” How do we look at the exploitation of our earth and the destruction of habitat and God’s creation and say, “Yeah, I’ll go to the other side.”
Well, it’s because we “nail Jesus down.” We close off and deny our Lord’s ability to heal us and send us out. Imagine lying on the side of the road, bloodied and naked and saying, “I’m good.” It’s a silly thing to even envision. It reminds me of a SNL skit… Massive Headwound Harry! Dana Carvey shows up to a party with a huge open wound on his head, telling everyone it’s just fine! It’s hilarious, but it’s a good commentary on the way we approach ourselves as Christians. Thanks, Jesus, but I’m just fine in this ditch! Wow look how terrible everything is down here. IN this ditch. Wonder how I get out of here.
We get out of here by trusting that Jesus comes along and picks us up. That by breaking the law, by getting in the ditch with us, by getting in the blood and muck and grossness of our lives, Jesus sets us right. And once made right, we cannot be anything else other than a people who choose to get in the ditch with others, getting arms deep in the blood and much and grossness, embracing others just as we were embraced. What must we do to inherit eternal life? Go thou and do likewise.