“Jesus’ story doesn’t define the neighbor; it creates the neighbor.” –Eugene Peterson
“Adams’ cover tells the truth about the music, and thus tells the truth about a sad, broken world by redeploying Swift’s lyrical honesty in a sonic environment that fits.” –James K.A. Smith
“He has proclaimed a radically left-handed messiahship and he has adumbrated its dark mysteriousness by a constant flow of concepts like lastness, lostness, leastness, littleness, and death.” -Robert Farrar Capon
Further Parables Reading
Sowing and Reaping by Emil Bruner
Matthew: A Commentary (Vol 1: Christbook) by Frederick Dale Bruner
Matthew: A Commentary (Vol 2: Churchbook) by Frederick Dale Bruner
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment by Robert Farrar Capon
The Power of Parable by John Dominic Crossan
Short Stories by Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine
Reading the Parables by Richard Lischer
Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight
Tell it Slant by Eugene Peterson
Liturgical Lessons from Ryan Adams’ 1989 by James K.A. Smith
Stories with Intent by Klyne Snodgrass
Recording unavailable, the following is the sermon manuscript:
Before Jesus launches into his Parable which we know as the Good Samaritan, we must check out the set-up. Jesus had just commissioned 72 and sent them out in pairs to do the Kingdom work of proclaiming the Good News that God is on the move and that sin and death’s days are numbered. They returned on a high from the things they’d experienced: demons, sicknesses, strongholds submitting to the name of Jesus.
Perhaps that’s what witnessing is all about: being there. I know my imagination for witnessing looks more like what Jehovah’s Witnesses do, knocking on doors and handing out literature, when in actuality it means going, and then being surprised at how God has already gone before you. It means not forgetting how that surprise felt so that you can share that experience with someone else and help them feel and go and taste and see the Lord’s goodness. That witnessing often requires remembering your past and God’s faithfulness for the sake of someone else’s future.
He turns to his apprentices and offers them a Beatitude: “Happy are the eyes that see what you see. I assure you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see and hear what you hear, but they didn’t.”
He then encounters one of those “teachers-of-the-law.” A bible-scholar, or theologian-in-residence, trying to guide the local congregation’s life with God by guiding their faithfulness to Torah, the Law. So the “legal expert” calls Jesus, “Rabbi” and seeks his take on what it takes to gain eternal life. So Jesus, good Jew that he was, and even better Rabbi, of course answers a question with a question: What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?
This is a pretty loaded, fraught pair of questions. You see, the 1st is pretty straight forward: what has God already said in his Word? In our terms: what does the Bible say? The 2nd though, is no less contested then than now. What do you think? Whole schools of thought formed around that, which Jesus is not naïve towards. If you think that the interpretation of Deuteronomy 6 & Leviticus 19: “Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength (Deut 6:4-5)…you must love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”(Lev 19:18), was any more monolithic then than it is now, you’re mistaken.
Ours is not a new phenomenon, the Church splintered into Eastern & Western, Catholic & Protestant, Evangelical & Mainline, Reformed & Arminian, Kuyperian & Anabaptist, and on and on. Trying to answer that question: How do you interpret it? How do you live out that most crucial of directives: Love God with everything. Love others out of that same love. This is hardly even in dispute. We know that this is the basis and the baseline. We’ve almost grown numb to the earthshattering implications of actually believing this ethos. I have to admit to rolling my eyes when I see a bumper sticker or church website with the tagline: Love God & Love Neighbor. What does that even mean?!?!
Jesus, the Shema & 1989
So Jesus tells a story. He creates a world in which we learn what being neighbors in the kingdom looks like. I love what he does here because in this parable he provides commentary on the Shema, Israel’s most cornerstone belief, but provides no new content. He recasts what they know, what we know, with a different texture, he remixes neighborliness in a different key.
This reminds me of another recent example of a remix that hasn’t come to “abolish but to fulfill” the original. Of course, I’m thinking of 1989, my wife and daughter’s favorite minivan soundtrack and near perfect pop album by Taylor Swift. It was recently redone, track by track by alt-Country luminary and NC-ex-pat Ryan Adams. Here’s a sample, listen how Adams’ version tells the same story as Swift’s but in a way that we hear the words differently and in some ways better, so that any hearing of her original will now be forever tinged with the memory of this new way: PLAY!
A pastor friend said that a couple weeks ago the Ryan Adams version of Bad Blood started blaring from someone’s iPhone right as they were blessing and breaking the communion bread. If that’s not the Spirit soundtracking their reconciliation feast, I don’t know what is!!!
Like Jesus’ remix of “Love God! Love Others!,” according to thinker James K.A. Smith, “Adams’ cover tells the truth about the music, and thus tells the truth about a sad, broken world by redeploying Swift’s lyrical honesty in a sonic environment that fits.” That environment is of course each and every one of our daily lives. Each and every interaction we have, and the ones we intentionally choose not to have. Jesus’ parable is so challenging to us because, like the pious expert on God, we just want Jesus to tell us who we are to love with the same attention and effort and massive generosity we love ourselves. Just tell us, Jesus, so we can get to doing that! But as Eugene Peterson puts it “Jesus’ story doesn’t define the neighbor, it creates the neighbor.”
The man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, on that notorious 17-mile stretch, think about taking the American Tobacco Trail South to Jordan Lake from here, gets jumped, robbed and beaten within an inch of his life.
It’s a good thing that someone as esteemed as a priest might happen upon him. After all, priests whole deal was showing mercy, co-laboring with God to bring about healing and justice. Wrong. This is a YOU-HAD-ONE-JOB situation. Instead the priest finds the other side of the road, and maybe its because I’m professional clergy, but I kinda get why.
Like the next guy, a Levite, these two might be a little scared to become ritually unclean by messing with a corpse or near-corpse. I get that, sometimes you see something going down, or something that has gone down and you simply move on. You don’t want to get drug into it. It might get you dirty. It might require more than you have. It might scandalize your neat dealings with God and man. Helping that poor scmuck might get you tangled up with his mess and well, you’ve got important things to do. Weighty, Godly things to do. Someone else will come along…
And someone does, but it’s not the “right person.” The revelation of a Samaritan in Jesus’ story would’ve elicited a gasp. Some may have even assumed the Samaritan might have been the brigand who put the man in the ditch, not the hero that gets him out. Samaritans were untrustworthy. Half-breeds. And above all bad theologians. They worshipped God, but they weren’t doing it right.
Jesus’ encounter at the well with the woman in Samaria in John 4, reminds us that Jews and Samaritans don’t mix and he reminds her that she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about, regarding worship. However, she IS expecting a messiah, she DOES give him water, even as he polygraphs her into sharing all the sordid details of her past and present. In the future, she and her Samaritan kin, will, with the Jesus and his Jewish kin, worship in Spirit and in Truth. It dawns on her, that he might just be the one she’s hoping for. The very Water for whom she’s been thirsting.
So Jesus makes the hero a Samaritan, which unless you were following Jesus’ string of thought by which the kingdom would come through and to lastness, lostness, leastness, littleness, & death (Capon), and even if you were, you’d be baffled. Jesus uses the one who is absolutely not a neighbor to himself or his hearers, to be the neighbor par excellence. This would be something like holding a devout Muslim, or Mexican immigrant as the ideal U.S. citizen, ideal neighbor, in certain political circles.
But this kind man not only pulled the assaulted sufferer out of the ditch, but he also set him on his own ride, put him up and paid for him in full, and then some. By the time Jesus gets to his absurd question, “what do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?” The answer has already been provided. Duh. Easy enough, right?!
“Go and do likewise.” Sure, no prob.
But let’s dig deeper. For one, every time we seek to do what the legal expert does, that’s master the Lord, define for God who we’re beholden to, “justify” ourselves, he’ll change the strike zone. By definition, the Christian life is a cross-shaped life, a life which dies daily even to what we thought we knew yesterday. Dies to how we got here, because none of this is ours or of our making. It’s all grace, all a gift, lest any one of us can boast! Our justification, our being-set-right-in-order-to-be-God’s-setting-right-people, is grace all the way down, and grace all the way forward. In receiving God’s love we pass it on. “We love because He first loved us.” That is the root and motivation of any fruit we may produce.
Sometimes it’s so hard to snap out of the things we know about stories like this. We assume that “go and do likewise” makes us the Good Samaritan. What if we’re at a different spot in the story? What if you and I are the ones avoiding neighborliness at all cost like the priest and Levite? What if you and I are those clichés? The ones who’s only job is to be neighbors and we only hear the “yourself” part of the “love your neighbor as yourself?” What if we’ve still fallen grossly short of the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, that reflexive “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” What if we’re the ones who desire sacrifice instead of mercy, rather than the other way around. We want to do great things for God or at least seem like it without engaging in the messy and costly work of healing and reconciling.
Or maybe we’ve gotten it wrong again. Jesus’ teachings resist our comfort and certainty. What if we’re neither the Samaritan, the priest, nor the Levite…maybe we’re to identify with the one left wounded in the ditch waiting for someone to save us? The early Christian church heard this in the parable loud and clear. St. Augustine heard in Jesus’ words the challenge that the devil has accosted Humanity on the road of life, stripped us of our life with God and beaten us with our own sin within an inch of our life. We’re “dead in our transgressions.” Unable to pull ourselves out of the ditch, waiting for intervention. Waiting for mercy.
And the Gospel is that we’ve found it. Mercy has broken in upon us. While we were still sinners Christ died for us. In Jesus of Nazareth, that strange God-Man, dismissed and unrecognized, humanity as a whole and each and everyone of us has been pulled out of that ditch.
He possessed no splendid form for us to see, no desirable appearance. He was despised and avoided by others; a man who suffered, who knew sickness well. Like someone from whom people hid their faces, he was despised, and we didn’t think about him. It was certainly our sickness that he carried, and our sufferings that he bore, but we thought him afflicted, struck down by God and tormented. He was pierced because of our rebellions and crushed because of our crimes. He bore the punishment that made us whole; by his wounds we are healed. (Is 55:2-5)
This is the good news. That the hero of the Story, is not us, but it is the least likely Christ. That we meet Jesus in the face of the outcast and the reject. And that salvation has come not from something we’ve done, but from something that has been done to us, for us. That the way of mercy carved out in Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, has left an indelible mark of mercy on our lives so to “go and do likewise” means to be on the look out for the least, lost, last, little, and left for dead. Because they are the builders, the building blocks of the kingdom whose cornerstone was Jesus. The quintessential least, lost, last, littlest, and dead but risen.
That Jesus has experienced what it felt like to be beaten and left in a ditch not only by his enemies but by his friends. So if you’re feeling that today: Betrayed. Beaten down, Tired, Sin-sick, Desperate, Hurting: Lean into the arms of Jesus. He knows how you feel and he’s ready to heal you. You’ve never had a neighbor like Jesus. Whose love makes us neighbors. Kingdom neighbors. And who’s remixed everything we thought we knew about Loving God and One Another. And who’s called us to follow him into the neighborhood, into our jobs, into the halls of our schools, into our homes. To be heralds of the good news to the poor, binders of the broken, proclaimers of release for the captives, comforters of those who mourn, rebuilders, restorers, renewers. Kingdom neighbors in this neighborhood.