Luke 10:25-37 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Granny Chen is what they call her now. The whole world watched her pick up little Yue Yue and cradle her as if she were her own grandchild. She was a street cleaner and one fateful day she found little Yue Yue’s broken, wounded body right there. On the street. The whole incident was caught on a closed-circuit camera and went viral on YouTube. Little Yue Yue, a two-year-old from China, quietly walked away from her distracted mother. She wandered onto a busy street and was almost immediately hit by a small van. Without getting out or caring at all, the driver inched forward, ran her over again, and drove away. Over the next seven minutes, little Yue Yue lay in the street crying out while 18 people walked right by and did nothing. Until Granny Chen found her.
It’s heartbreaking moments like that one that dig in and force very uncomfortable questions about humanity – ones we’d much rather not face like: What’s this story actually about? Is it a story about human triumph or human failure? Is it a story that more horrifies or more inspires? Is it a story about deep-seated indifference and callousness or deep-seated kindness and goodness? Which one is it? Apparently I’m not the only one asking those big questions as a result of this story. China as a nation is too. Just last year, the Huffington Post reported, “What became known as the ‘Little Yue Yue incident’ stirred up a wave of soul-searching and hand wringing among the Chinese and strengthened… conviction that China needs God’s grace.”
These weren’t quite the questions our lawyer was asking though. Not yet. He thinking down a different track. In fact, he was so far down that track that he thought he was going to expose Jesus as a theological fraud. Luke lets us in on that when he wrote, “On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.” (v. 25) Apparently, our lawyer had a thing or two to teach Jesus about human kindness and goodness. The lawyer had a deep-seated belief that everybody is a Granny Chen just waiting to blossom. He believed people just had to be pushed to it. They just had to be told. And he was so convinced of this that he was willing to go after Jesus to prove his case.
And make no mistake. The theological implications of this line of thinking are huge. They run all the way back to the most fundamental question there is: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25) Because finally this is a question about life. Not just consciousness. Not just awareness. Not just that kind of life. But LIFE. Life isn’t just being conscious or aware. Life is awareness with love and joy and peace and patience and now kindness. That’s life. Life isn’t bumbling around in meanness and sadness and hate. Life is vibrant love and soulful joy and meaningful kindness. This question of whether or not we’re really all Granny Chens waiting to blossom rises to the level of the highest question of all. Am I truly kind to all my neighbors? Do I deserve to live life with God forever?
And what if I’m not? That’s the question that began to eat at our lawyer. What if I’m not? The question hung for him in mid air and must’ve began to haunt him. We know that because Luke tells us the poor lawyer guy “wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (v. 29) I wonder if in the same moment that he pictured himself kindly bouncing his niece on his knee he also pictured that lady who he’d blown past so quickly on his way to work that he made her stumble. I wonder if at the same moment he thought about the lentil stew he delivered to his aunt he remembered the loaf of bread he carried right past the hungry guy on the corner. I wonder what helped him realize that he was skating on some pretty thin salvation ice. I wonder what exactly prompted him to ask, “And who is my neighbor?”
At any rate, he asked. And Jesus answered. With a story that blew up everything the lawyer thought was true. It was quite the story. Jesus told a story that is simultaneously horrifying and inspiring. He told a story of mind-blowing callousness and incredibly compassion. He told a story of shameful disinterest and mesmerizing care. And it’s definitely R-rated. A guy gets brutally mugged. Jesus describes him as half-dead. It’s ugly stuff. This isn’t a case where somebody just takes your wallet and runs. It’s far more brutal and angry. The poor guy is stripped and shamed in front of the whole highway world. And then he’s beaten to within an inch of his life.
And then the crime gets compounded. Because the guy is forced to lay there in his own blood. No one would help. And the way Jesus tells it… It was our lawyer’s besties. His tribe. His people. His socio-economic and faith group. His BFF’s. It was his religious people – the people you’d think knew to help the most and best – who walk right on by. But then again they didn’t just walk right by, did they? They skirted it. So they could remain indifferent and the guy could be inhuman and faceless to them. So they wouldn’t be confronted with their callousness. So they wouldn’t see the life ebbing out of the guy as they walked right on by.
Jesus tells this heartbreaking story because it’s an honest picture of us. I wish it wasn’t. I wish this story had absolutely no basis in reality. I wish it didn’t strike a nerve. I wish it didn’t resonate. I wish it didn’t capture anything like what you can see on this planet. I wish that little Yue Yue was still alive. I wish that there didn’t have to be women’s shelters or jails or museums to slavery or to the Holocaust. I wish there weren’t courtrooms or police officers or a need for guns or wars or even for treaties. I wish that Jesus was off living in his own little world where a story like the Good Samaritan had absolutely no semblance to what I know and had no relationship to things as they really are. I wish that everybody was always kind and wonderful to everyone else.
You know what I wish even more than that? I wish I was. I wish that I was always and only transcending every cultural, political, national, and personal interest just to be kind to every other human being. I wish that every time I heard a cry for help or saw a tear of pain that my heart would leap within me and I’d rush to their aid not as if I had nothing better to do, but because I honestly had nothing better to do. I wish I had utter confidence that if you just cloned enough of me that every marriage would be full of compassion and every war would cease and every aged woman would be helped across the street and orphanages would empty and famines would cease and we’d all live in constant peace and security. I wish. But wishing doesn’t make it so.
And then into the story waltzes a miracle – an outsider. Somebody from a different place and made of different stuff. Somebody totally other. A Samaritan steps in. This was a person who lived off in the hills apart and away from the rest of the Jews. They were separated by blood and culture in deep and fundamental ways. And it’s this Samaritan who finally and completely pulls through. He bandaged up the victim using wine as an antiseptic and oil as a soothing agent. He put him on his own donkey; put him up on his own dime in a hotel; and then left him the next day giving almost incomprehensible kindness. He said to the innkeeper, “Charge me whatever is due (I’m totally willing to be taken advantage of!) and I’ll make sure it gets paid. Just take care of this man.” And that’s the story.
What do you think this story’s really about? Is it saying that kindness is basic to humans or is it saying it’s the gift of an outsider? Is this a story about human potential or human failure? Or, in other words, is this a story told by Jesus to inspire us to become the Good Samaritan or a story told to help us realize we need the Good Samaritan? Let me give you a clue. Christians have for a long, long time have dropped a pretty clear one. Strikingly, we’ve never called the story Being the Good Samaritan or even Becoming the Good Samaritan. We’ve always called it The Good Samaritan.
And it’s the for a reason. There is only one. There is only one whose goodness is so overwhelming. There is only one whose kindness is so compelling. There is only one who makes short work of every evil and whose kindness carries the day. It’s the one being who feels perfect and consistent Σπλαγχνίζομαι. That’s the word in the story that describes what the Good Samaritan felt when he saw the victim. It’s a word that in the New Testament is often translated compassion. When he saw the victim, he felt compassion – one of the most powerful feelings of all. It’s such a powerful feeling that it’s a feeling that comes straight from your gut – one of the deepest-seated feelings that anybody can ever feel. In fact, the word describes such a powerful feeling it’s just like a rare bird. It’s hardly every sighted in the New Testament.
And now here’s the kicker. This potent, overwhelming, pure, driving movement of the heart called compassion is always and only used for one person in the New Testament. It’s always and only used for Jesus. Because the Bible isn’t a story about people being inspired to be good and kind to everyone else. And the Bible isn’t a compilation of the best motivational speeches in history that will finally motivate us to be kind. It’s far better. It’s a story about God being good and kind to people who weren’t. It’s a compilation of stories of human callousness and divine kindness. It’s about Jesus and his gut level, powerful compassion for everybody on earth. Not just for the victim of a brutal mugging, but also for the those who walked around the mugging and for those who actually did the mugging. And not just for little Yue Yue, but also for the guy who ran her over and the people who ignored her. And not just for the women in the shelters, but also for the people who sent them there. And not just for those who endured the Holocaust, but also for those who caused it.
And not just for the victims of my indifference and my callousness, but also for me. And for you. Jesus’ compassion was so gut level, so powerful, and so pure that it drove him to the cross. It’s there on that tree that the kindness of God and the callousness of humanity met in a cosmic collision. It’s there on that tree man’s cruelty finally met its match – the infinite compassion of God. That’s what the story of the Good Samaritan is trying to help us do. It’s trying to help us find our proper place inside the story. We don’t rise high enough to be the perfect kindness character in the story. We’re the character in the story that is saved. We’re the part of the story that is caught up and overwhelmed in a divine kindness and compassion that’s so big that the story is properly and only named The Good Samaritan.
But then again, this was supposed to be a sermon about our kindness and here I got so wrapped up in Jesus’ kindness to us that I’ve totally neglected saying a word about ours. Or maybe, just maybe that’s where our kindness comes from – knowing Jesus’ kindness. Maybe, just maybe it’s getting all wrapped up in him – that makes us more like him. Maybe, just maybe knowing the kindness of Jesus is what makes us kind. Or maybe, it’s not a maybe.
You know what I think my favorite part of the story is? It’s what happened when the Good Samaritan first saw the half dead man. He didn’t do. He didn’t act. He felt. He felt a gut level driving compassion that could only be divine. You know how you get a heart that responds like that? There’s only one way. You see Jesus’ heart respond like that to you. It’s only by knowing divine kindness yourself that you can be divinely kind to somebody else. So that when you see them, you feel. You feel deep and gut level compassion. For the homeless lady you see at an intersection. For the sad soul sitting sitting in the cubicle across from you. For your tired wife at the end of a long week. Even for the kid who bullies your son. That’s the genius of Jesus’ story. It makes you kind without ever telling you to be kind. Because when you know The Good Samaritan, you also know you live eternally. And I do mean live. With vibrant love and soulful joy and a vibrant, meaningful kindness. Amen.