A Parable Turned Inside Out
(A revision of a sermon from March 3, 1991)
June 18, 2000
Luke 10:25-37 The Rev. Carol DiBiasio-Snyder
Introduction to the Scripture:
As Ralph told you last week, this summer we are basing our sermons on the parables of Jesus. In fact, I'd like to quote Ralph! Last week he said: A "parable" is a very simple story that at first sounds very simple to understand - until you start thinking about it, and asking questions of it, and seeing yourself in it - not always in flattering ways! Jesus, of course, was a master of the art of telling parables. He could in just a few words tell a tale, and leave his listeners at first entertained and laughing, and then a bit puzzled or even stunned, and then often very angry - once they got the point. The parables of Jesus, far from being cute little stories that bring a smile and a chuckle, are stories that will rise up and slap you in the face."
We've heard today's parable so often I bet you could tell it without
even listening to Cathi read it. So, your challenge, as Cathi reads it
and as we think about it is to be able to hear anew what this parable
might be about. Perhaps it is not what you think! Let us listen for the
word of God.
I think of this parable every time we pass up a stranded motorist on the highway, don't you. Isn't this parable just worn out? Don't you already know the point? Jesus says that whoever is in need is my neighbor. He says knowing the great commandment is not good enough, I must go and DO something about my faith. You no doubt expect that I will tell you to be like the good Samaritan.
So if you already know all those things, why should I say them? Because we all need a reminder once in a while? That's true. However, simply reading the story can do that for us. I think that there is more depth to this parable.
As Jesus began to tell this story, his hearers must have identified with the man who fell among the thieves. I've been on that treacherous road between Jerusalem and Jericho that drops 3400 feet in only 17 miles. It's a scary place. Jesus' listeners are likely to have traveled that road too. They could feel the apprehension of the character in the story as he set out on the risky journey. They knew it was a place for robbers to hide and strike. Can you imagine his heart beating a little faster as he made his way around the twisted curves, his eyes darting from rocks to shadows? And, as we know, his worst fears came true. As he rounded a particularly rocky curve, the thieves struck, leaving him half dead. We have no idea how long he lay there, but hope must have stirred in him as the Priest and Levite each approached. "Here at last: help. People of God, surely they will save me." But his hopes were dashed - twice.
By now Jesus' hearers would have thought this was going to be an "antireligious leaders parable" and so would have expected the next person to come along, the hero, to be a Jewish layperson. But Jesus shocks his audience. Through the eyes of the beaten man we see that the next traveler is his bitter enemy, a Samaritan. Fear now overtakes his disappointment. Here comes the very person he hates, the very person who hates him. That hate has been carefully nurtured for centuries. The wounded man must have thought that the Samaritan will finish off what the robbers began.
Shock, relief and disbelief flood the injured man's mind as this unlikely source of grace has compassion on him. The Samaritan tears his clothing to bandage the injured man's wounds and transports him to safety and even pays his bill! It is hard for us to realize the surprise Jesus's listeners must have felt when the story turned out the way it did. Love came from a most unlikely place.
God's grace, God's lavish favor, God's freely given love, can appear scarce to us. Our lives may seem as uncertain as a journey down the road to Jericho. We are often beset by robbers and thieves that bring pain and loneliness. So where is God's grace?
It is here, flowing like an underground river, but at times we fail to see it. We don't really expect God to lavish grace upon us, actually to love us unconditionally. We think we don't deserve it. We are so used to earning things. But God's economics challenge ours. God gives grace whether we deserve it or not. The gift of grace is given based on the character of the giver, not the receiver. I'd like to get one thing straight, the phrase, "God helps those who help themselves" is no where to be found in the Bible. God helps those who need God's love and grace, and that is each and every one of us!
In Alice Walker's book, The Color Purple, two poor African-American women in the south are speculating about the meaning of their harsh lives, and who they believe God to be, and what God might expect from them. Shug comments, "People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see God always trying to please us back . . . God always making little surprises and springing them on us when we least expect."
Surprises . . . this is a second reason we can miss God's grace - because it wells up like a spring in the most unlikely places, in events and people where we least expect it. Certainly the bleeding man on the road to Jericho expected the Holy Ones who passed by him to offer him grace. But the punch line of the parable, is not just that WE should be like the Samaritan, but that GOD is like the Samaritan!
We need to be open to God's grace in the usual places (close friends, family, professional grace-givers like clergy, health care workers, social workers, counselors.) But we also must be open to it in unexpected places, like children. They are often channels of God's grace. They can be learned theologians. Can God work through them to bring healing and wholeness to our lives? I think so. I hope we will discover that in significant ways this year as we work toward our vision of ministry with, for, by and to our youth.
The Rev. Stan Stewart experienced the following incident of a child ministering the gift of grace.
"They have found lumps in my body," she said. "The results of the tests will be known on Tuesday." Her voice trembled as she spoke. I knew she suspected the worst. Frankly, so did I. For months she had been looking unwell. From my figuring, she could be little more than fifty. She looked much older than that. After I prayed, there were tears in her eyes. They were in mine also. I hoped she did not notice.
I worked late into the night on Saturday. Searching for the right text, the right prayers, the right words. Usually I try not to prepare services around the needs of just one person, but this was different. Besides, we all face suffering, and who knows how close death is to any one of us? Tomorrow I'd have to face her sitting there, fourth row from the front. She would be there looking for a word from the Lord, a word of comfort, a word to sustain her until Tuesday and beyond. My God, how I searched for that word.
Sometimes, the more you prepare, the worse it gets. Well, that Sunday the worship was heavy. The fine phrases didn't flow, the warmth I so much wished to project seemed to have evaporated. She sat there gaunt and shriveled. Going by the look in her eyes, she had already received her death sentence. My theme was "hope," but I really felt as though I were pronouncing last rites.
As I ponderously launched into my third point, a small toddler left his parents in a pew toward the back and made his way down the aisle. At the fourth row from the front he paused, turned, and climbed on the seat. He sat there beside her. I don't think he said anything, just snuggled in. Her arm encircled him. He responded with a hug. He sat there with her for only a minute or so, and then he went back to his parents. But, my God, her face! I saw it. Warmth and hope once again lived in her eyes, courage shone in her bearing. She had received her gospel for the day.
Trust the grace that comes in the surprising form of these little ones. Trust it in your children, grandchildren, the children and youth of this congregation. God's grace indeed comes through them to bring deep healing and love, not because they are cute or entertaining, but because the God of the universe has chosen them to be vessels of God's powerful spirit.
This week, look for grace, for God, in unlikely places. Let God surprise you this week! The wounded man dying on the roadside was surprised by the grace of his enemy the Samaritan. Who might surprise us with God's grace if we are open to the possibilities? Are we willing to see grace in that business associate who annoys us? Can we seek grace in that co-worker who tests our patience to the limit? Are we ready to look beyond superficial appearances to be ready to be graced by a homeless person we pass on the street? Can we stop thinking of children as too young to offer us anything and start listening for the grace of God in them? Will a word of love come to us through that Fundamentalist who keeps worrying about our salvation?
Let us open our minds and hearts to the unmerited grace God lavishes upon us every day. Let us open ourselves to grace this week coming in the stranger, the child, the enemy, the unlikely, the unexpected. We will not be disappointed. Amen.