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"'The Good WHAT?!' - Overcoming Excuses that Limit Caring"

June 30/13 Lk.10:25-37


They're out there. Do you hear them? Do you hear their cries for help? Sometimes barely a moan; sometimes more of a silent scream - but do you hear them? And if you can hear them, will you dare to respond?

I'd like to introduce you to the main character of our story, who has a non-speaking part. For a modern equivalent I'm extracting a scene from Heartland, the popular CBC show filmed in Alberta. In one episode the teenaged "Ty" is accompanied by aging grandfatherly "Jack" on motorbikes through a remote wooded region after disposing of Ty's father's ashes. They round a bend on the gravel road and suddenly there's a wolf smack in the centre of the road. Ty loses control of his bike, is knocked unconscious, has severe bleeding from his leg and possible internal bleeding from hitting the motorcycle's handlebars. Jack, who was slightly further back, comes to sooner and is able to move (with a hobble) but realizes he needs to find help soon to get medical care for Ty, before the latter dies from excessive bleeding. While Jack goes to refill his steel water bottle, a logging truck passes up the hill from the stream but Jack can't get there soon enough. Later he hears a pickup truck coming. By the time he gets up to the road the truck has just passed; in desperation, Jack hurls his water bottle at the back of the truck and it breaks the window at the rear of the cab. That catches the driver's attention! He angrily stops the truck and demands to know what Jack thinks he's doing. Eventually cooler tempers prevail and they do get Ty to safety.

But if you know "Jack" from the series, you'll realize how uncharacteristic it was of him to hurl the water bottle and smash the window. That showed his desperation to get help for Ty. Perhaps there's someone in your circle that is THAT desperate, is crying for help.

Let's pick Jesus' story up at v30 in Luke 10: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers.They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead." That "half-dead" is about the condition Ty was in: seriously wounded, life ebbing away. The 17-mile road from Jerusalem to Jericho dropped with an average grade of 3.6%; its rough rocky terrain was a favourite place for bandits to terrorize passersby. And what for? They stole his clothes, as well as any money he might have had. Then, unnecessarily mean, they beat him up as well. Did he scream for help? The region was so remote - who was going to hear?

Are we hearing the pleas around us? Who's screaming or moaning for help? Is it us? Since there's so much need in the world, can we help others and still trust God to take care of us? Doesn't "charity begin at home"? Is it too risky to stop and help? But the cries are so desperate...


Enter on the scene possible saviours numbers 1&2, the priest and the Levite, two religious officials. It's not surprising they'd be travelling this road because Jericho was one of the designated cities of priests, with thousands of priests and Levites living there. So they'd travel this way back and forth en route to fulfill their periodic religious shifts at the Temple in Jerusalem. Surely Jesus will make these clergy-types the good guys in His story - won't He?

Vv31-32, "A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side." They came, they saw, they changed lanes - passed by on the other side, kept their distance from the man in distress. Why? Well, they had their excuses - to touch a dead body would defile you and thus disqualify you from discharging your religious duties. They had an obligation to their office; people were depending on them, and they couldn't let them down over dealing with some half-dead bloke that probably wouldn't survive anyhow. This was a dangerous enough place already; to stop and help would make one vulnerable to further bandit attacks. "Let somebody else deal with it." "Don't get involved." "It's somebody else's problem." "Might be a trap - you can't be too careful." Yes, they had plenty of good excuses to justify hurrying on their way.

Were there other underlying excuses? Fear of getting involved; not wanting to be bothered; too busy; "I really don't care"; self-importance; pride. "Stopping to help would just blow my whole schedule out of the water.I've got appointments to keep, priorities to manage.Somebody else can deal with the human road-kill."

One wonders if the priest and Levite are a bit like the questioner who started the dialogue with Jesus in the first place. We meet him back in v25: "An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus." An expert in the Jewish law, a 'legal beagle' - this religious professional was trained in not just the first 5 books of the Old Testament (the 'Pentateuch'), but also in the volumes of traditional rabbinic teaching that had happened in the generations since. It takes a smart person for such schooling - lots to remember and keep track of in your brain, a high "IQ" or "Intelligence Quotient". A law-expert would specialize in definitions, the fine points, clearly identified limits of obligations. I picture him as what some today would call an "anal" personality-type (to use a term from pop psychology, short for "anal-retentive", associated by some like Freud with errors in parenting during toilet training): controlling, needing to be "right". An online definition refers to "attention to detail", "a personality characterized by meticulous neatness and suspicion and reserve" - "orderliness, stubbornness, a compulsion for control." The lawyer was trying to trap Jesus, after all! Perhaps he felt driven to be competitive, prove himself, strut his power, make himself look good. Can you relate to this guy? I can! It's fun being able to "show off" your particular giftedness, it strokes your ego.

Our lad with the high IQ opens with a reasonable-enough question: v25, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" A worthy question, one that should test this upstart teacher's mettle and depth of insight and familiarity with the Torah. But Jesus turns it on him: v26 Jesus replied, "What is written in the law? How do YOU read it?"

Well, this was unexpected. But brain-boy recovers quickly and responds with an orthodox answer that would make any student's rabbi beam. He didn't have to go far for the first part - the quote from the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:5 was found in the phylacteries, the little verse-boxes worn by devout Jews on their arms and foreheads. V27 "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and [here I imagine him pausing and tacking on as an afterthought based on Leviticus 19:18], 'Love your neighbour as yourself." It was a great answer - profound and simple at the same time, absolutely elegant. In fact Jesus Himself answered much the same way in other situations (Mt 22:37ff).

Interesting dynamic here. The lawyer set out to test Jesus, as if he would judge the quality of the answer; but by Jesus asking him how HE interpreted the law, Jesus dodges the microscope, and at the same time gives the religious professional a chance to shine, to showcase HIS ability in the area of his expertise. Jesus avoids getting drawn into a show-down or contest. It's as if He respectfully bows to the man's qualifications, in v28 affirming him heartily - "That's right! Do so and live." The questioner, not Jesus, has passed the test.

It's a profound answer - with its own paradox. Is it POSSIBLE to love God and love your neighbour so perfectly that one can be assured of qualifying for eternal life? In a way, though simple, the degree of loving required - loving God totally, loving our neighbour as much as we love ourself - that degree of complete / total /sold-out loving hardly leaves any room for self-love. To probe the impossibility of loving so perfectly in our own strength might have led the conversation to the cross, our need for grace from the cross because our own "doing" fails to qualify us for heaven.

But the lawyer doesn't go there. His real purpose wasn't to actually LEARN anything but to trap Jesus. By answering his own question, the lawyer has just set himself up to look a little foolish. Others might kid, "So why'd you ask, if you already knew the answer?!" Our legal-beagle runs to the type of courtroom-haggling fine point discussion he knows best - definitions, clarifications, nailing down exact meanings to identify the limits of liability. V29 "But he wanted to justify himself [make himself look good!], so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?""

The lawyer wanted to justify himself: for him, it's all about MY place, MY status, My identity and prominence, MY power and esteem; the need or addiction of making self look good. And isn't that the focus of much of culture today? Much of advertising - posturing and primping ourselves in a way that shows off to other people? That old lyric - "You're so vain - you probably think this song is about you, don't you..."

They're all in the same camp - the priest, the Levite (in the story), and the expert in the law (in real life). Their religiosity and self-righteousness created distance, making them pass by "on the other side", rejecting the person in need. Religious rules, legalism, and habits can do that. By contrast, someone from Huron Chapel was recalling a time when Jim Carne was driving by on a Sunday afternoon. This person was up doing their roof. Now, Jim Carne had every excuse NOT to stop and help: after all, it was Sunday! And he was dressed in his church clothes. Nevertheless, none of that held Jim back. He stopped the car, got out, took off his suit-jacket, and proceeded to help the man with his roof. There was connection where religiosity might have created distance. Jim responded to an unspoken cry for help.


In v33 Jesus introduces the surprise character in the story: "But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was..." Samaritans were viewed by Jews as hated half-breeds and heretics, a detestable mix of both bloodlines and bad theology. Their ancestors from the northern kingdom had intermarried with pagans from other nations, and they used only the first 5 books of the Bible, worshipping on a different mountain than Jerusalem. To make a Samaritan the hero in a story jarred with accepted orthodox thinking: pious Jews were taught that they were not obligated to help "sinners" of their own race that were tax collectors or prostitutes; nor were they obligated to help Gentiles or, worse, those hated Samaritans. The definition of "neighbour" simply did not include those groups. Note in v37 the lawyer won't even allow the word "Samaritan" to cross his lips - instead he resorts to verbal gymnastics in order to avoid saying the hated word.

The priest and the Levite had their excuses for not helping the half-dead victim beside the road; but of the 3 passersby, the Samaritan had the BEST excuse of any of them. NO ONE would expect a Samaritan to help a Jew after all the 'bad blood' that had passed between the races. If the Samaritan's friends ever found out, he'd risk being ostracized for having dealings with a Jew.

But that didn't stop him. "Love your neighbour" - have you read Gary Chapman's book about the Five Love Languages? Chapman breaks how people receive and feel "loved" down into 5 main ways - "Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, Physical Touch." For memory's sake I call these Talk, Talents, Tokens, Time, and Touch. Watch how many ways the Samaritan spells 'love' in the next few verses. "When he saw him [and they ALL saw him - but only he responded], he took pity on him [to be moved as to one's bowels with compassion].He went to him and bandaged his wounds [touch], pouring on oil and wine [not rocket science - just basic first aid; tokens].Then he put the man on his own donkey [more touch; in Greek it's actually 'beast' - perhaps the Samaritan was walking a heifer to market - but at any rate he ends up walking rather than riding], took him to an inn [that involves time; he went out of his way, interrupted his schedule which the busy priest and Levite wouldn't do] and took care of him [acts of service, or talent].The next day [more time - this wasn't all dealt with in an hour] he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper [more tokens or 'treasure': these denarii were each worth a day's wages and would have covered a stay at the inn for weeks or even a month].'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'" [still more tokens or treasure; what an open-ended liability, almost like a blank cheque!] In all these ways - touch, tokens, time, and talent - the Samaritan was spelling out "love" for his neighbour, the person next to him, near him.

We said the lawyer might fit the 'anal-retentive' category, wanting control, limiting liability to the verge of meanness. The Samaritan by contrast is more of a 'messy' - generous, giving, not worried about having to rearrange his schedule. Did the person at his next appointment blame him for being late and disorganized? Did his wife accuse him of blowing the monthly budget? We're not told. He ran the risk in response to the need. For the lawyer, it was important to be RIGHT; for the Good Samaritan, it was more important to be RESPONSIVE. The lawyer had IQ - Intelligence Quotient - but the Samaritan had "DQ", "Droppability Quotient": the ability to drop whatever he was doing and take care of someone's need.

Yes, I know DQ is also the name of an ice cream joint; "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream." I scream - when we hear others' pain, will we show DQ, Droppability Quotient, and drop everything in order to help?

Let me ask you this: lawyer or Samaritan, anal or other: which kind of people would you rather made up the community YOU'd like to live in? Right now I bet there are a lot of Calgarians happy to find they're surrounded by people with "DQ" who are willing to drop everything to help their neighbours clean out gungy flooded basements.

Another question for you: Which person - priest or Samaritan - better reflects what God's doing at the cross of Jesus? Is God preoccupied there with neatness, control, OR is God in Jesus rolling up His sleeves (so to speak) and plunging into the mess of our sinfulness to deal with it and help us? Is God keeping His distance, passing by on the other side - or coming near, bandaging our woundedness, pouring on wine, taking us to His place?

Jesus phrased the supreme command a little differently to His disciples in John 13:34 - "A new command I give you: Love one another.As I have loved you, so you must love one another." How did Jesus love us? Did He love us totally with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength? What's His "DQ" - how much did Jesus "drop" in order to help YOU?

There's the "emptying" (kenosis) passage in Philippians 2:3-8: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing ['dropped it all', we might say - dropped all the privileges of His eternal divinity], taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!" You can't drop much more than that. He through whom and for whom the universe was created became nothing - took the beating our sin deserved on the cross - so that we would not have to be rejected by God forever, but brought close in Him.


What was it the Samaritan did? V34 he "took care of him." Knowing and trusting Jesus means we can relax about the whole issue of our identity and "looking good" like the lawyer trying so desperately to posture and justify himself. Let God be your Justifier; let Him take care of you.

Rachel Castillo works at a golf course in Miami Beach. A golfer one day in January alerted her to an unattended bag. When Rachel opened the bag she saw "stack after stack" of cash, totalling $36,000. What would you do? Buy a new car? Go on a very nice trip? Rachel turned it over to authorities who returned it to its rightful owner, a 76-year-old man with dementia who resides in an assisted living facility. Rachel didn't receive a monetary reward, just a certificate of appreciation. She says she believes her reward will come from God.

She told Associated Press, "I believe in the Bible.I'm a Christian, and the Bible says, 'Do not steal, do not lie,' you know, all these things, and if you do what's right, if you live the right way, you'll be taken care of.I believe I'll be taken care of...if you do what's right." Let's pray.