Pentecost 5-C/July 14, 2019/Community Lutheran/Pr. Joe Vought
Years ago there was a movie called Grand Canyon. It told the story of a wealthy businessman played by Kevin Kline. This man has it all, until one evening traffic is jammed on the freeway and he takes another route home. He is making his way through a rough part of the city when his car goes dead- no lights, no power, no nothing. The car phone doesn’t work. He pulls over and gets out. Seeing some black men on the street he thinks better of it and climbs back in the car. In time the silver BMW attracts the attention of the youth who gather round the vehicle promising help if he’ll only get out of the car. Several white people in their vehicles see him but pass on by. He is scared and can only sit there. Just as the youth are ready to break windows and beat him up, a tow truck arrives operated by a black man played by Danny Glover. With a Louisville Slugger as persuasion and street-smarts, he rescues the man. Kline’s character is humbled by the experience, he repents of his prejudice and develops an enduring friendship with the black man.
We like to think we know the roads we travel. We take precautions and have cell phones that operate if we have a problem. But then again, you never know when you are going to become the man or woman in the ditch. Jesus tells this story in response to the question of a lawyer. The lawyer’s question is self-serving, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Even when he answers Jesus’ question, “Love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself,” he can’t leave it alone but asks, “And who is my neighbor?” It’s all theoretical debate until Jesus tells a parable. A man is lying along the road after being robbed and beaten. Think of his relief to see a priest walking toward him and then utter dismay to see him pass by on the other side. Then a Levite, who would surely help and yet he too passes by. With darkness descending and his pain increasing, can we imagine his fear and desperation? And then to see a Samaritan, the hated half-breed coming near. All of a sudden this foreigner is bending over, pouring on oil and wine, bandaging the wounds!
“Who is my neighbor?” The lawyer answers his own question: the one who loved God by loving his neighbor. I read a true story of a Sikh man who came upon a boy bleeding on the side of the road from a bicycle accident, how he took of his turban, which Sikhs are required to wear at all times, to bind up the boy’s wounds. Or imagine this scenario: A progressive Democrat is robbed, and a far-right Republican saves her life. A racist white cop is being beaten, and an African-American teenager saves his life. So our judgment, our prejudices must often be questioned. Jesus is always messing with our prejudices.
How often do we see this in the stories Jesus tells or the disciple’s experience with Jesus? God is found in the very opposite place or person where we think God to be. At the home of law-abiding Pharisee, Jesus forgives a notorious woman kneeling at his feet. Disciples forbid children and parents an audience with Jesus and are surprised to hear him say, “Let the children come, the Kingdom of God belongs to them.” Or Jesus declares forgiveness for a tax collector who prays, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” while a Pharisee can only pray a resume of his good deeds. What a strange savior we have. Jesus, born with no place to lay his head, on the night of his betrayal to not only lay out a meal of forgiveness, but to take off his outer garment to stoop and wash disciple’s feet and then to be crucified and laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. “St. Paul in Philippians tells us where God is to be found, “The One who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but came down from heaven, emptied himself, became obedient unto to death even death on a cross… God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name above all other names.”
Godly faith, eternal life is not an armchair debate but walking the road and putting our faith and love of God into practice with the people we meet every day. Because sooner or later we will be that man or woman in need of help. Blanche Dubois said it in a “Streetcar Named Desire,” “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Maybe it won’t be on the road but from a hospital bed with an illness, our own or a loved one, a problem beyond our own ability. God in a stranger caring for us. Christ masquerading in our neighbor or the last person you could ever imagine. So our Lord Jesus ministers to us when we are in the ditch and half-dead in our trespasses. He has looked on us with compassion, gone out of his way to save us and given us life so we may live. Because Jesus loves us and cares for us can we do any less for the neighbor? May the words of the Psalm today be our prayer: “Show us your ways O Lord and teach us your paths. Lead us in your truth and teach us.” And may the Peace of God that passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.