Here is the latest sermon I preached at Trulls Road Free Methodist Church. You can listen to it online at: http://www.trullsroadchurch.com/audio/the-good-samaritan/
I want you to imagine this scene with me: a man is walking from Courtice to Oshawa, and on the way he suddenly feels ill and drops down on the pavement outside of our church. I am running late for work having been stuck in traffic for an hour, and in my busyness, I walk right on by him. A little while later, someone from the subdivision down the street notices this man. He’s now feeling a bit better, hunched up by one of our rocks. The person inquires about his state, but after a few brief moments of conversation, it is discovered that the man is drunk and high. His words are slurred together. He has baggy eyes, and his hair is scruffy as if he hasn’t showered in weeks. This person suddenly feels uncomfortable and awkward and decides to move past him in order to save his own embarrassment and uncertainty. Finally, a homeless man walks past our church. He notices this man sitting there, his face flushed, his eyes glazed over, and the homeless man asks him, “hey mate, are you okay?” The man gives a muffled moan as he clutches his side. The homeless man says, “hey, I don’t have much, but let’s get you to safety.” He takes the man, walks into the church and hands me his Styrofoam cup. “It isn’t much” the man admits, “but it’s all I have. I’m willing to go without food today, if you’ll take my friend in and let him crash in your sanctuary.”
I want you to sit with this scenario for a moment. It’s so unlikely and it probably evokes the natural responses and emotions of fear, dismay, and disapproval. Of course, we who are Christian WANT to help other people. And in fact, that’s what Jesus has commanded of us throughout the New Testament. But still, there is something alarming in actually being in a situation we are unprepared for and may feel unequipped to properly handle.
This story I just mentioned, may seem a bit far fetched, but that’s essentially the story we are met with in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. A man is walking from Jerusalem to Jericho (about a 25km hike) and is suddenly attacked by a band of robbers. We do not know the reason for his trip, nor do we know anything really about this man. We have made assumptions from the text such as that he himself is Jewish, but the truth is, he is actually a man with no name and no real back story in the Scriptures.
Having been mercilessly attacked, the man is left beaten and half-dead. We can assume at this stage that he has limited or no ability to move. Perhaps he is unconscious or barely able to open his eyes. Perhaps at this point given his physical state, he is not even able to call out for help. He is utterly and completely at the mercy of those who pass by, hoping that someone kind might at least acknowledge and get him to safety.
Our story then introduces three new characters – each one having the opportunity to become the hero of the story. The first man is a priest, or in our common language, a pastor. This man has likely gone to seminary and heard all about compassion and justice. Yet, for whatever reason, those words have gone in one ear and out the next. It’s fine for him to preach on a Sunday about how we should show love to each other, but when it comes to living that out in his daily life, it’s the furthest thing from his mind. The Greek language substitutes the word “to see” for the verb “to perceive”. This is a story couched in the language of perception. The priest would have had the opportunity to perceive this man in need as a fellow brother, but instead he is more concerned with the aspects that set this man at a variance from him.
Next, a Levite enters. The Levite being another Godly man, seems to have the same perception and the same issues as the priest, and hurriedly moves right on past.
Lastly, we meet a Samaritan. An unlikely fellow who people regard as “scum.” Someone perhaps with a back story that would make your spine tingle. Yet, in that moment, this Samaritan sees the man, perceives that he has a deep need which could possibly be alleviated, and determines his course of action. In a self-sacrificial move, he exerts his physical strength to hoist the man upon his own donkey and complete the journey for him. When he gets to the hotel, he gives the manager the equivalent of $600 for two nights. Think about that for a minute. Here is a man he has never met before, and he is giving away $600 just to ensure his well-being for two nights and then follows up with a promise to give more money if needed. This episode could easily have ended with a bill of over $1000. I don’t know about you, but I have never in my life given $1000 to someone I didn’t know and the thought of doing something like that sets me out of my comfort zone for sure.
So here we have the set-up for the story, but I want to now break it down into three bite-sized sections in order to make it a bit more personal and relevant to our own lives.
You see, this story actually brings out three different personas that each one of us has wrestled and struggled with in different stages of our own lives:
Firstly, we are introduced to the persona of justification. The Bible tells us that the set up for this story is a teacher of the law (perhaps the modern day equivalent of a seminary student or a young pastor) asking Jesus “who is my neighbour?” At first glance, this question sounds innocent enough. As if the man truly were eager to learn more. However, upon further reflection, we discover this is not the case. In fact, the Bible says that the teacher actually asked his question in an attempt to justify himself (or in Greek – to look smart and to one-up Jesus). His question is not filled with concern, but rather is full of self-pride. A desire to look good and prove that he has it all together.
I think each one of us here has been guilty of this in our own lives at some level or another. I know I definitely have. There is a temptation and tendency to spend time only with people in our own group who we feel deserve all of our attention. I know for me, I never did this intentionally, but growing up in the church and attending Bible College and Seminary and training to be a pastor, I have always gravitated towards like-minded spiritual people mostly of the Christian faith. It wasn’t until I met a Muslim friend and developed a close relationship with her, that I recognized the beauty of diversity and getting to know other people in our attempt to share our own faith with them. My friendship with Karima has always been special and so important to me, but it hasn’t always been easy. Over the years, I’ve had to learn to dismantle my own stereotypes and prejudices and to really see her as the beautiful young woman she is. Over coffee and on many occasions, we’ve had to hash out our faith together. Sometimes we ask each other really awkward and somewhat embarrassing common-sense questions in our attempt to move deeper into our relationship. But it has been worth it in the end because even though it’s been hard work at times, the pay-off has been so great and valuable.
I think we all have people that we naturally feel more comfortable with and drawn to. There will always be those people we put on our fringes whether because of awkwardness, discomfort, an inability to relate, anxiety about over-stepping cultural barriers or norms, busyness, or just forgetfulness. Our challenge then becomes to ask ourselves, really ask ourselves “WHO IS GOD CALLING ME TO REACH?” Today, tomorrow, this week, this year.
Secondly, this text introduces us to a persona of humility. Many of us here today grew up in the church and have heard this story since childhood. We can probably recite it in our sleep. However, I don’t know about you, but every time I’ve read this story, I’ve always approached it as a moral object lesson about needing to stop when other need help. However, today I’d like to do something a bit radical and ask each of us to step back and enter the story from the viewpoint of the man lying down on the road, beaten, and half-dead.
Every one of us here, has been overlooked, beaten down by life, and left in distress at one point or another to varying degrees. The Bible itself, as wonderful and precious a book as it truly is, reminds us of this harsh reality on nearly every page. We are told that in this world we will have many troubles and that we will be beaten down, crushed, persecuted, and abandoned. In our own lives, we can likely all pinpoint at least one specific time when this was the case for us. Whether it was through the storm of a serious health crisis, through battle with depression or anxiety, experiencing profound financial difficulties, family burdens, compulsions, or addictions of various natures, we have all been that man lying on the road, left for dead. And although the Bible promises that eventually these trials will run their course and produce in us a lasting hope and glory for eternity, at the moment all we feel is robbed of our joy and the abundant life promised to us in Christ. If you are in this place today, I hope you will know that you are truly not alone. That you are fiercely loved by the God of all Creation, the Lord Jesus Christ who came to save us from both the external trials and from the internal wars that rage within us. And even though perhaps people have walked by you without noticing your plight, I pray that you may experience the comfort, grace, mercy, and all-healing power of the very Saviour who promises that even in a world where difficulties abound, we have the ability to take heart because He has overcome the world. He has died for us in order to redeem us and He desires nothing more than to use our stories and testimonies in order to help and bring hope and healing to another struggling person.
Lastly, the third persona we are met with in this story is one of repentance. As I mentioned, this story has three main characters who each had the potential to become the hero – a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. The first two were holy men who should have known better, but the last man, the Samaritan, was the only one foolish enough to act on impulse and yet ultimately proved to be the wisest of all.
Who are the people we walk past on a daily basis? The co-worker we can’t stand. The next door neighbour or college roommate who just grates on our nerves. That addict we are so quick to judge thinking that if they would just get their life together and put in more of an effort, they wouldn’t be in that bind?
It starts with a conscious decision to be aware of those people in our midst. Our first step is to observe. Perhaps go for a walk today after church and look – really look – at the people walking past you. And when you ask someone how they are doing today, to truly wait for an answer. You’d be surprised at just how many people are struggling in various ways if we only become aware of them.
Once you’ve become aware of at least one person in need of your help determine to take a positive course of action. I recently was talking with a friend about this story, and she taught me something really profound “learn to know the person so you don’t hurt them.” Everyone has a back story, everyone has their own struggles, their own difficulties, and their own pain. So instead of rushing in and trying to offer band-aid solutions, if we truly took the time to enter into their story and to get to know them as a person – not as their addiction or their disease or their past, but as a PERSON – I think it would go a long way.
And truthfully, one of the very best ways we can help another person is to use our own struggles and testimonies asking God to redeem our pain, mistakes, and failures, in order to equip and empower someone else.
There is a famous quote that says, “Christianity is simply one beggar teaching another beggar where to find bread.” It’s one alcoholic teaching another alcoholic how to stay sober. It’s one drug addict teaching another drug addict how to stay clean. It’s one victim of abuse teaching another victim of abuse how to find life, hope, and healing again. It’s one person who feels they have their life together teaching another person who feels the same way that it’s okay to be broken and to accept our story with all the messiness and chaos attached. That God still loves us and that we are never too far gone even despite how many times we’ve messed up. That God is always right there, waiting in that little hut, with the light on for the prodigal son or prodigal daughter to come home at the eleventh hour. Remember, the church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.
It’s one thing to know these deep truths, but it’s entirely different to live them out all together. If we simply listen to this sermon and think “that’s nice” and move on with our Sunday, we run the temptation of being nothing more than the priest or Levite who saw the need, knew the right course of action to take, but decided not to. But if we let this message and this truth permeate our hearts, we, too, can be like the Samaritan who saw the person on the road not for his ethnicity, socio-economic status, or religious background, but simply as a person in need.
Who is God calling you to reach this week? Can I encourage you just to take a small baby step? To take an extra five or ten minutes out of your busy schedule to give them a quick phone call, write them a nice card, or even say a quick prayer for them? I think if we’re able to do this, we’ll discover that it not only changes the lives of our friend, but can also transform our own lives as well. May God be with you as you take this bold and courageous step of action.