"God for Dummies"

LUKE 10:25-37

FEB 23, 2014



            Let me tell you a little about the textbook publishing company "Wiley & Sons."  You may have never heard of Wiley & Sons, but for me, Wiley & Sons has two claims to fame.  First, my daughter is a sales person for them. Our daughter resources twelve colleges, both community colleges and four year universities, in a section of the Los Angeles basin.  Her territory includes such schools as Mount San Jacinto JC, UC San Bernardino, and Pomona College, but not UCLA.  She has only been working for Wiley & Sons for a year, and obviously you need more experience with the company before you can resource such a prestigious university like that.

            Their second claim has to do with what else they publish. Strangely enough, in addition to scientific, engineering, mathematics and accounting textbooks, Wiley & Sons also publishes the "For Dummies" series.  I can't tell you if I ever used a Wiley & Son college textbook, but I can tell you that I have purchased numerous "For Dummies" books.  I've purchased things like, "WordPerfect for Dummies," "Digital Photography for Dummies," "The Bible for Dummies," "PowerPoint for Dummies," and "Wine for Dummies," just to name a few. 

            I mention that this morning because we might call our passage for today, "God for Dummies."  If we want a simple, easy to understand description of the faith, here it is, and I want to divide it into four sections this morning. 

            Section number one:  the Q & A.  Verse 25.


            Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. Teacher, he said, what must I do to inherit eternal life? He said to him, What is written in the law? What do you read there? He answered, You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself. And he said to him, You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.

            But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, And who is my neighbor? Jesus replied, A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho ...


            Three things to note here about Luke's account compared to Matthew's and Mark's accounts.  In Luke's gospel the lawyer's question concerns eternal life.  That's not the case in Matthew's and Mark's gospels.  In those gospels the question concerns the greatest commandment, here it's eternal life.  Furthermore, in Luke's gospel, Luke has the lawyer answer his own question, while in Matthew's and Mark's gospels, Jesus provides the answer.  Also, Luke's lawyer asks a follow up question, not so in Matthew's and Mark's gospels.  He asks, "And who is my neighbor?"  Jesus responds with a story, the story of the Good Samaritan and Luke's the only gospel writer to tell this story.  He's also the only gospel writer to tell the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Two of our favorite stories from the New Testament and Luke is the only one to tell them. 

            After the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus goes on to pose a question of his own to the lawyer (and remember a lawyer in the New Testament is not someone who works for Koley Jessen, or Baird Holm, or Kutak Rock.  No, in the New Testament whenever you see the word "lawyer," it refers to someone who is an expert in the law).  OK, back to the question Jesus poses to the lawyer.  Look at it with me.  Verse 36.  After telling the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asks,


            Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? He said, The one who showed him mercy. Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." 


            Now, don't miss this.  We have three good questions and three good answers, and the two men agree.  What else could one ask?  One major thing.  It's the going and doing likewise.  You see, the lawyer came to test Jesus, not to learn from him.  Having right answers does not mean one knows God.  Students can get ten out of ten right on a Bible quiz and miss the point.  Jesus did not say to the lawyer, "Great answers!  You are my best pupil."  Rather, he said, "Go and do likewise."  One gets the feeling that the lawyer had no intention of doing that.

            OK, that's section one: the Q and A.  Now for section two: the road.  Remember all those Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour "road" pictures, like Road to Bali, and Road to Morocco and Road to Singapore, and all the trouble they would run into in those flicks?  If they had made an eighth road picture, The Road to Jericho, they would experienced their fair share of trouble.

            The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a notoriously dangerous road.  Jerusalem is 2,300 feet above sea level and the Dead Sea, near where Jericho stood is 1,300 feet below sea level.  So then, in a little more than 20 miles this road dropped 3,600 feet.  I walked it years ago, and it's a road with narrow, rocky outcroppings, and sudden turns which made it, at the time, a happy hunting ground for thieves.  In the fifth century Jerome tells us that it was still called the "Red or Bloody Way." 

            So, that's the road, a notoriously dangerous road.  Now for section three: the characters.  There was the traveller.  Verse 30.


            Jesus replied, A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.


            Let's be honest.  The traveller was reckless and foolhardy.  What was he thinking?  People seldom attempted the Jericho road alone especially if they were carrying goods or valuables.  Seeking safety in numbers, they usually travelled in convoys or caravans.  So, this solo traveller had no one to blame but himself for his plight. 

            Second, there were the passersby .  Verse 31. 


            Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.


            Let's not be too harsh here.  Bandits were in the habit of using decoys.  One in their number would act the part of a wounded person, and when an unsuspecting traveller stopped over him, the others would rush upon him and overpower him.  The priest and the Levite probably knew that trick.  Maybe they were simply exercising caution.  They also, if the man happened to be dead, ran the risk of being unclean for seven days if they touched him, and thus not being able to serve in the Temple for those seven days, so they may have been weighing a choice between duty and duty ... the duty of serving in the temple and the duty of helping his man.  Whatever motivated them, the fear of being tricked, or conflicting duties or just plain insensitivity, they passed by the injured man. 

            Third, there was the Samaritan. 


            But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend. "


            With the arrival of the Samaritan, the background music would have changed in the lawyer's head to something ominous, foreboding.  The Samaritan would have marked the arrival of the villain.  The lawyer would have never guessed that the hero ... Dudley Do-Right ... Captain America ... Indiana Jones ... had just arrived on the scene.

            You may recall that where was a bitter tension between the Samaritans and the Jews.  Samaritans were descendants of a mixed population occupying the land following the conquest by Assyria in 722 BC.  They opposed the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem under Nehemiah.  They were seen as ceremonially unclean, socially outcast, and religiously heretical. 

            The Samaritan here, however, may not have been a Samaritan, in the classic sense, at all.  The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans, yet this man seems to have been a commercial traveller who was a regular visitor at the inn.  And we need to remember in John's Gospel, Jesus was once called a Samaritan (John 8:48).  The term sometimes, not often, but sometimes was used in a derogative sense to describe a person who was a heretic and a breaker of ceremonial law.  Perhaps this man was a Samaritan in the sense of being a man whom all orthodox good people, like the lawyer, despised.

            Whoever he was, a Samaritan by birth or by behavior, note two things about him.  First, his credit was good!  Clearly the innkeeper was prepared to trust him.  He may have been theologically unsound, but he was an honest man.  Second, he alone decided to help.  A heretic he may have been, but the grace of God was in his heart.  Which reminds us that in the end, we may be judged as much by the life we live as the creed we hold. 

            So, that's section three, the characters.  Now for the final section.  Section four:  the teaching of the parable.  Verse 36.


            Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? He said, The one who showed him mercy. Jesus to him, "Go and do likewise." 


            Three things jump out at us.  First, as followers of Christ we must help a person even when that person has brought trouble on himself or herself.  Traveling the Road to Jericho alone was a boneheaded thing to do.  It was a reckless thing to do, but the love of Christ extends to all of us who have ever done anything boneheaded or reckless.  People make poor choices all the time.  That does not eliminate our caring for them

            Second, any person in need is our neighbor.  The lawyer asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?"  That's a question rabbis often asked and debated.  In Leviticus we are commanded to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and with passion rabbis sought to define who a person's neighbor really was.  By the time of Jesus, that definition was very narrow.  In Jesus' day it was a fellow Jew.  That was their neighbor, other Jews.  Some rabbis even went so far as to say that it was illegal to help a Gentile woman during childbirth for that would only bring another Gentile into the world.  The lawyer in posing his question, was trying to see if Jesus held the majority opinion of other rabbis, that a neighbor was a fellow Jew.

            Jesus said no.  A good neighbor is like the Samaritan who cares for people in need wherever he finds them.  A neighbor is anyone in need, anywhere in the world. 

            The third thing that jumps out at us is this:  helping others must be practical, and not just feeling sorry for someone.  No doubt the priest and the Levite felt a pang of pity for the wounded man, but they did nothing.  Compassion, to be real compassion, must lead to deeds.  Go and do likewise.

            The final episode of the Seinfeld show referenced this exchange between Jesus and the lawyer.  A number of people didn't like the final episode because the show ended with all the main characters in jail.

            What happened was this.  Jerry had just received a contract from NBC to do a sitcom and the network was flying Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer to Paris as a gift.  Their plane had problems, however, and they were stuck in Lakeland Massachusetts.  They killed time by wandering around on the sidewalks in this quaint New England town, and suddenly before their very eyes a car jacking unfolded.

            Being New Yorkers, and really the kind of people they are, they make fun of the guy who was being robbed.  Kramer, who has a camcorder in his hands, films the incident as a curiosity. They never yelled for help.  They were 10 yards away, and never lift a hand to help.  They just stood there and watched!  The robber then sped off with the car and the police arrived late on the scene. With the excitement over, Jerry suggest they go get something to eat.

            They turn to walk off when a police officer walks up to them.  The officer says, "Alright, hold it right there."

            Jerry says, "What?"

            The officer says, "You're under arrest."

            Jerry, shocked says, "Under arrest.  What for?"

            The officer replies,  "Article 223-7 of the Lakeland county penal code."

            Elaine chimes in by saying, "What, we didn't do anything."

            The officer says, "That's exactly right.  The law requires you to help or assist anyone in danger as long at its reasonable to do so."

            George says, "I never heard of that."

            The officer says, "It's new.  Its called the Good Samaritan Law."

            Of course, unlike George we all know the Good Samaritan Law.  But it's not good enough to know it.  We need to obey it.  What Jesus said to the lawyer, he says to us, "Go and do likewise."