Scripture: Deuteronomy 30:9-14 & Luke 10:25-37
Given on May 29, 2016 at UPC of Amsterdam, NY
He loathed being on this road as he traversed the Judean countryside from one major city tot he next. Each moment felt as if he living on borrowed time, unsure around which corner he would find danger. He knew the talk of other travelers like himself. He heard them say, don’t go down that road, you won’t come back unscathed. He had heard about bandits and robbers lining the road on either side. Each twist and turn certainly leading to his demise. And so as he went he held his meager resources just a little closer to himself. He stared as far as he could into the gathering dusk trying to perceive some sign of what he knew must have been coming next. It was only luck that had been his companion thus far, a kind twist of fate that was certain to unravel at any moment. He knew it. And so it was as he went along on this path, this path that he had trod so many times before, each time felt increasingly uncertain. His routine before leaving for this route became increasingly measured, incremental in its moment from one moment to the next. The kisses he shared with his wife and children, his final indicator that his trip was about to comment become an elongated ritual in which he would mentally count each of the hairs on his children’s heads. Each deep and intimate kiss with his beloved lasting just a bit longer than one might think was appropriate. And the final embrace with his wife, as he held in her in his arms, knowing in his very soul that this could be the last time, and thus, trying to convey every bit of love that he felt for her in a hug, in the pressing of their lips together as they slowly pulled apart. They each wept as he departed and as she followed him to the end of their road and then remained as long as she could until he vanished on the other side of the hill. Would they ever see each other again?
When the ruffians emerged from behind the large boulder to his right and trapped the traveler against the chasm that seemed to descend into Sheol that was on his left, he replayed in his mind a thousand times what was about to occur. Seemingly out of habit, he cloaked his money purse behind his tunic in a valiant though pointless attempt to hide it from the robbers as if they weren’t going to him naked and broken until he gave it up. The punches from hands and the lashes from thick tree branches came swift and hard. The taste of his own fluids exploding in his mouth until it caused him to choke and then gag. He bravely sought to fend them off but they were many and he was one. And with each one that he fought off, seemingly 10 more joined in and they They just seemed to keep coming and coming until he finally gave up and took what was coming to him. As he fell for the final time, as luck would have it, his head fell to the ground and twisted in the direction of the setting sun, descending over the hill in the direction of his house. His house. His children, his sons, his daughter. His wife. The reality of what was happening to him, what was about to happen to him, blew his world up into a million pieces. Now the purse that he had clung to so tightly seemed so unimportant. He would have traded all the money in the world, everything he had for just one more chance to brush his wife’s beautiful hair out of her face. For just one more chance to tell his sons and daughter that he loved them. For just one more chance to set his eyes upon them. But that seemed impossible now.
As he awoke, it was clear that it was now dark. But he was neither in Gehenna or Heaven, though he felt like he was teetering on the edge between alive and dead and he was alone. The bandits that had savaged him for his meager money were now gone. No doubt they were heading for the nearest place that they could, to find a bar to celebrate their latest conquest. And as the moon slowly moved across the night sky, exhaustion and sadness overwhelmed the man. Physically he had been pushed to his outer limit. Emotionally all he could think about was the woman he would never again touch, the kids who would grow up without their dad. As he felt his eyes close with the gathering darkness of the night and his soul they squeezed out a torrent of tears that had been resting in his flattened eyes. He was without hope.
He awoke sometime later—still too sore, to depleted too move. Every muscle in his body was crying to God and man for relief from the noon heat and the gaping wounds that now covered much of his body. As he adjusted to his surroundings he noted that the chill from the previous evening had gone away and what had replaced it was the heat of a potter’s kiln beating down on his from the sun. And the sweat from his body flowed bathing his cuts cuts bringing with it a new level of agony that he was powerless against. He was alive, but barely. As his sight blazed in the light of the midday sun, they involuntarily shut and rolled into the back of his head, his ears took on a new degree of sensitivity and in the distance, he heard…footsteps. Terror washed over his entire being. Were they really coming back? Were they worried that he might remember their faces? Did they think he had been holding out on them? Had more money hidden in the soles of his sandals? In his head wrap? He could barely stand to open his eyes but he had to. If they were coming back he wanted them to have to look into his eyes. If they were going to beat him again, he would watch every blow coming. But it wasn’t bandits. He squinted as hard as he could and saw a person walking on the road was wearing the robes of a cleric. A clean robe, hardly even dusty from the trip. And for the first time in the last couple of days, the traveler had a spark of hope appear in his darkened world. This was a rabbi. A leader of the Jewish faith. Surely if he called out to him he would do whatever he could to help the man. And so, as he grew closer, the man gathered all his energy, pushed as much air out of his lungs as he could and cried out an exhausted cry for help. The rabbi stopped. He looked over the beaten man’s broken body—a body that had been left to expire on the side of the road. And just as the man thought the rabbi was about to move towards him, he crossed to the opposite side of the road and sped away until the traveler couldn’t see him. And his world was decimated. As he rested his head on the rocky terrain again his thoughts returned to his wife and children and the reality that he would never see them again. And again tears blurred his vision until he could not bear to open his eyes. Until again he heard the sound of footsteps coming down the road. As the blurry figure grew closer the man recognized him as a Levite–a temple worker. It was his job to help other folks and so once again the man gathered all the strength he had in his body and wheezed out a plaintive cry for help. Again the Levite heard him and this time he stopped. But as he stopped he looked up to the sky to check the position of the sun. It was getting near 3:00 in the afternoon and soon it would be dark again. The Levite, not wanting to find himself in the same predicament as this poor traveler, hurried his steps and before the traveler could make another sound he had passed over the hill and was again out of sight.
As time passed, the sun began to grow closer to that hill that he had been looking at and the traveler began again to lose hope. He was stuck here. He still couldn’t walk. He could hardly even keep his eyes open. As the last sliver of sun rested on top of the hill, the man thought he heard the sound of hooves dragging against the dirt. Quietly at first but growing louder bit by bit. By this point in the day he had long given up hope that anyone was going to help him and so he didn’t even bother trying to muster whatever energy he had left to cry out, all he had in him was a long, barely audible sigh. As if he was ready to commend his spirit into the hands of God. But as he got to the end, he noticed the sound of the hooves had gone away. “See,” he thought to himself, “no one is coming to help me.” And he closed his eyes again. In the darkness and pain he began to feel the slight tingle of relief as if someone was rubbing a balm on his leg. And then the other. And then an arm. And the other. As he opened his eyes he was shocked to see a Samaritan attending to his wounds. Maybe I no longer look like a man of Israel, he thought to himself. Maybe the blood and dirt that covered most of his body had hidden the fact that he was a Jewish man as his people didn’t think much of their neighbors to the south. But the Samaritan didn’t seem to notice. Or care. With a lunge the man found himself draped over the donkey that the Samaritan had been riding on. It was a bit of an embarrassing position for the traveler to find himself, placed atop a donkey like a sack of dirty laundry but he didn’t care. Hope was streaming through his veins. For the first time in almost two days he believed that he may see his wife and children again and as darkness again began to swallow the light of day the man allowed himself to drift to sleep thinking about the smell of his wife’s hair and the feel of his daughter’s skin. The next thing he knew he was being lowered onto a bed of soft hay, with a cotton sheet laid over the top of it. He wanted to thank the man, to shake his hand, to tell him his name and about his wife and children but the man who laid him down wasn’t the Samaritan. As he lifted himself up out of bed the new person in his room told him where he was, in an inn in a town a couple days walk from his own. As he tried to sit up he grimaced and the man told him to take it easy. “I am to take care of you for as long as you need to be taken care of,” he said. Your friend has already paid your bill and then some. At this, the room began to spin for the traveler. The events of the past two days had come crashing down on him and he could no longer make sense of everything. Confused and overwhelmed the traveler looked at the innkeeper and said the only thing that he could manage. “But who was he?”
Jesus is approached by a lawyer one day while teaching and he is asked, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Indeed this is the question that must be on the minds of many of us in this room. Many of us filled with a mixture of fear and loathing. Many of us worried that we might not make the cut. Many of us wondering if eternal life is even real. And Jesus responds with his own question, “What does the law say?” Both men are Jewish and as such have a shared source and so both Jesus and the man know the answer to the question. “You shall love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” But also, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” “Do this,” Jesus says, “and you will live.” Within the man’s answer is one of the greatest truths found in all the scripture. The first offers a path for devotion to God. “You shall love God with all your heart.” What are you passionate about? What gives you energy? What gives you hope for the living of this day? Whatever that is, do that. “…With all your soul.” What strengthens your faith, your love of God, your love of one another? What makes your faith make sense in a broken and corrupted world? Whatever that is, do that. “…and with all your strength.” Everyday we enter the world a myriad of beaten travelers cross our path. Some can barely cry out for help. Some have been beaten down so many times that they simply believe that no one cares about them anymore. And yet, that is where we are called to find our humanity. To stand with those who suffer and to try and relieve that suffering. To cry with those who cry and in our tears find healing for each other. To challenge the systems of power that hold persons, poor folk, women, immigrants, down until they can barely breathe a single breath of hope. That is where we are to pour in all our strength. But the challenge doesn’t end there.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus offers up a call for a balanced life. A life in which the self is no more or less important than the other. In which we balance each other out, never asking more from the other than we are willing to give or give up on our own. This is much easier said than done. Too often our broken society and world demand that some classes of people be givers and others takers. Demand that women enter solely into the category or caretaker until all their energies are devoted to others and little to none to themselves. Demand that the poor fend for themselves while the wealthy choke off their overabundance of resources and leisure. Demand that some members of our society be branded illegal and second-class members of society who must hide in the shadows and never be allowed to enjoy their lives again. This isn’t the abundant self. It is the broken self. It is the unbalanced self. It is the impoverished self. And we are called to be and work for more.
We don’t know how the story of the good Samaritan ends up. In my mind I see the traveler rise up out of his bed, finally finding the healing that he laid in the road gasping for. I see him depart back down that same road and return home to a wife and family who think has is gone forever. I think about the embrace and the kiss about the hugs from the kids and the retelling of this story again and again to anyone who will listen. I think about the explosion of goodness and mercy that the single act of the Samaritan must have touched off in the life of the traveler. The effects of which he could and would never know. From the singular act of courage and kindness a whole world is changed, not just for the traveler but for all those who come in contact with him, and those who come in contact with them, and so it goes and so it goes and so it goes. I think about the anonymous Samaritan. The one who succeeds where the priest and the Levite have failed. His life, his act, his kindness, the abundant life on display for one shining moment and then it recedes into world like a wave that disappears in the ocean. As we all soon will. “Do this, and you will live.” Alleluia, amen.