I have not personally walked from Jerusalem down to Jericho
But I have driven a small rental car down this very road
with my wife Sarah, and my sister, by my side —
And I can tell you,
when Jesus describes the trip from Jerusalem to Jericho,
as “going down”
he is telling the truth.
My sister was living just outside Jerusalem after college
And we went to visit her
And we decided to head out of town to sightsee
and we took this very road down to Jericho
And I remember as we drove down the mountain
All you could smell the brakes
Because you had to pump them all the way
As you descended more than half-a-mile in elevation
Winding back and forth
through the barren dirt terrain and the towering rock formations
reminiscent of the Star Wars’ planet of Tatooine.
I can tell you that when you travel this road
It feels like you’re in a dangerous place,
Like Sand-people might jump out from behind any one of the cliffs.
As I drove, I remember specifically
being aware of NOT getting cell reception
And wondering what you’d do if something should go wrong
out there in the middle of nowhere!
In Jesus time and still today,
This road is a place you wouldn’t want to break down or get stuck.
And so it is — in Jesus’ story –
that a man is traveling down this isolated and treacherous road,
Well-known to be a place in which people were easy targets for robbers
and for bandits who could find many-a hiding place
to lie in wait for their victims;
who would have no way to call for help.
Jesus tells a story of a man who makes his way through this barren place
And, sure enough, bandits jump him, pummel him, strip off his clothes,
Take everything from his pockets:
his cash, credit cards, and passport,
and leave him bloody and half-dead,
utterly exposed to the elements and desperate for help.
But things immediately begin to look up for the man,
Because here comes a priest – we’ll call him a pastor – a holy man,
Known to be a helper,
who was perhaps on official business to the temple in Jerusalem.
He would have been well-known to have the best interests of others at heart…
But he hardens his heart and chooses to pass by
on the other side of the road from the man.
And then, in Jesus’ story, still hopeful, but not quite as much, a Levite,
Also, a holy man, a second-ranking figure to the priest;
also well-known to be a good man and helpful to others comes by
and we think he might help…
But he, too, passes by on the other side of the road.
And so we think — if these two,
perhaps some of the best humanity has to offer,
have passed over the man in the ditch — what hope does he have?
But, in Jesus’ story, he brings a Samaritan down the road.
And here I think we could understand Jesus
to be inviting us to think of the person
In our lives about whom we have the lowest opinion.
Perhaps we have distaste for the person who is transgender
or an enthusiastic gun-rights advocate,
perhaps they are a democrat with a Black Lives Matter sign,
or a republican with a Let’s Go Brandon placard,
maybe this is a person who is vehemently pro-life or outspokenly pro-choice…
Whoever makes our blood boil, that is the Samaritan coming down the road.
Because Samaritans were hated.
And maybe it helps to understand the history —
That during an ancient war in Israel,
most of the Jews living in the northern region of Israel called Samaria
were killed or taken into exile,
and all that were left behind were people so unimportant that nobody wanted them.
And since that time, these Jews had intermarried with other people
And so, they were considered half-breeds by all “true” Israelites.
These lowlifes had perverted the national way of life.
They were people, yes, but people who didn’t get it.
People who, if they died, would make the world a better place.
Perhaps the clearest way to say it
is that the Jews hatred Samaritans so much
that it was common for Jews to walk miles out of their way
to avoid walking in Samaritan towns and countryside
and risk passing them on the street.
So along comes this despised Samaritan,
Who doesn’t cross to the other side of the road,
But is moved with pity at the sight of the man in the ditch
And comes close and bandages his wounds
And brings him to an inn and the care of the manager there
And leaves enough money for him to be taken care of for about two weeks
And promises to return to the inn and settle any further expense
That accumulates during this man’s recovery.
And Jesus asks, “which one of these men
The priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan
Was a neighbor to the man in the ditch?”
With this question, Jesus’ asks us to consider
what it would be like to be helped
in our hour of desperate need
By someone we loathe.
And Jesus invites us to see in the face of the person we detest most,
the face of someone God loves so much
that he would give the life of his own Son on the cross.
In his own life and ministry Jesus was open to each person he met
He came near to those who others overlooked,
And he intends his church to do the same:
To welcome and love those who look differently,
and live differently
than you might or I might.
Is it just me — or does our country and our world
need the witness of the church,
and to hear the calling God extends to us —
to see what it looks like to respect and care for people
who are different than ourselves,
Rather than vilifying and attacking those with whom we disagree.
With his story, Jesus is of course making a point
about who is in the kingdom and who is not,
And it seems to me he is saying
anyone who follows his actions of love and service
Are full-fledged members of God’s family
Blessed to bear fruit that brings the grace of God into the world.
Jesus is also pushing us to consider what it means for us to be a neighbor to those in need through the example of the Samaritan’s radical and lavish actions.
And truthfully, we might wonder why the Samaritan stops to help
and the other two continue on their way.
The text doesn’t say,
But I have my guesses (and maybe you do too).
My guess is that the two holy men who do not stop
are worried about what might happen to them if they do.
Maybe they wonder about those Sand-people or bandits
or whoever might still be around
And might beat them up, leave them naked, and half-dead.
And my guess is that the Samaritan
Doesn’t consider what might happen to him if he stops
But considers what will happen to the man in the ditch if he doesn’t stop.
I don’t know about you but I feel convicted by this story.
It causes me to reflect on opportunities I have missed to be a neighbor.
I mean, have you ever known the right thing to do or say, and done nothing?
Have you ever known someone needed your help,
But your own insecurity somehow paralyzed you from acting
And you passed by without stopping to help?
God forgives me and God forgives you for those missed opportunities
And for the times we didn’t stop to help.
And, even better, Jesus frees us from our paralysis
and leads us to reach out to a neighbor in need.
This past week Channel 12 news featured a story about the shortage of blood
That the Virginia chapter of the American Red Cross is experiencing
And called upon a local Elite Donor
to tell the story of why he gives blood
in order to inspire others to help in a time of great need.
This Elite Donor is the Director of Rehab Services at VCU health
Macon Sizemore, a longtime member of Epiphany.
He and Karen raised their family in this congregation
and he has served as a council member.
In the story Macon said he began giving blood 40 years ago
just after college and fell into a groove from that point.
Macon has given blood… are you ready for this?
206 times…so far.
206 pints of blood equals about 25 gallons of blood.
Which is enough blood to fully supply more than 20 adults
To put his generosity in perspective–
Among 25 million people who have given blood to the Red Cross
Macon is in the top 1% of givers throughout their history.
“But it’s not about 200 units or 25 gallons,”
Macon said as he was interviewed,
“Each pint can save several lives
And so why not give and help somebody?”
Jesus invites us to follow him in stepping out of ourselves
towards people in need and to be a neighbor.
A neighbor, very literally, is simply
someone who comes close to another person.
But you know as well as I do that you can have neighbors on your street
That you are physically proximate to
but you’re still personally unknown to one another.
Every time you chose to truly be a neighbor to another person –
To really come near to their everyday, ordinary life –
And put your emotional, personal self on the line — you take a risk.
If you invite someone to your home or to an event or gathering,
You risk that they will say no…
but what if you ask they do come and make your party better?
If you introduce yourself to someone at church whom you don’t know
you risk they may say you’re supposed to already know them…
but what if you go for it and make a new friend?
If you sign up to join a ministry team at church
You risk getting involved only to find out
you could be spending your time in more valuable ways…
But what if God surprises you and uses your gifts
to enhance the ministry of our congregation
By advocating for the poor,
Or feeding hungry people,
Or raising children in faith?
Jesus’ story about travelers on the road from Jerusalem down to Jericho
Invites us to stop and reflect and consider what kind of world we want to live in.
And he shares God’s vision of a world in which
people stop for one another,
help another, and risk themselves for one another.
This is kind of world God intends
And the kind of lifestyle God makes possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
In baptism, God makes us Elite Donors
Who are ready to risk ourselves;
Who are ready to freely give of what God has entrusted to us.
Who are able to empathize with someone different from ourselves.
In baptism, we are free to begin a new journey now,
ready to be a neighbor,
Ready to come close to the person in need,
ready to take the risk of friendship,
and ready for the risk of extending words of faith and encouragement.
My dear Elite Donors –
God has equipped you,
God has given you his mercy and love,
and passes these gifts on to others through you.
God loves you.
Go and do likewise.