Proper 10; Ordinary 15C
The walking dead. That’s who the priest and the Levite are in this text.
The man in the ditch may be half-dead, but the ones who pass him by, they are the walking dead. That’s what happens to us when we not only ignore God’s law but, in the words of Nehemiah, do not obey God’s commandments and “turn a stubborn shoulder” and “stiffen our neck.” Verse 29 of the Luke text points backward in time to Leviticus, Ezekiel and Nehemiah, the law and the prophets.
“Who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asks. He knows the answer to that, too. He’s heard Leviticus 19 all his life. “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.” And, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” And also, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Pretty clear, isn’t it? Who is my neighbor? Well, “your people” and the “aliens” who are to be as “your people.” Foreigners are as citizens in this God-land. Could this be any more explicit? Further, understanding this divine truth and acting on it is a matter of life and death – not just for the alien, but for you. The lawyer knew this, too.
“You shall keep my statues and my ordinances; by doing so one shall live: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 18:5).
“But the children rebelled against me; they did not follow my statues, and were not careful to observe my ordinances, by whose observance everyone shall live; they profaned my Sabbaths” (Ezekiel 20:21).
Did you catch the inclusivity in that Ezekiel reference? Following those God-given statutes means life for everyone. Failing to follow them brings everyone down – the ditch-dwellers and the passers-by alike.
The victim is half-dead, the merciless are the walking dead. The combination is one of mutual destruction.
Perhaps that will preach this week. The refugees crowded in camps; they are half-dead. Those of us watching and doing nothing? We are the walking dead.
The victims of the Orlando shooting? They are tragically dead. Those of us who spewed hate from our pulpits about the LGBTQ community or said nothing when others did? We are dying from the inside out, whitewashed tombs that sparkle outwardly while just below the surface we are rotting.
Those reeling from bombs in Istanbul – they are like the one beaten and left for dead. Those who look at the carnage with sadness but refuse to open our borders, wallets and hearts to the vulnerable – we are zombies surviving by preying on the vulnerable.
The generations of African-American men incarcerated, out of sight and out of mind – they are half-dead. Those of us who refuse to advocate for prison reform, fair legal systems and justice for all – we are the walking dead, numb to others and oblivious to the abundant life God intends for everyone.
Sound harsh? It is. Does it seem too in-your-face for a summer Sunday morning? If this parable has become a familiar and sentimental story, then it is time to start meddling.
This Lucan parable is so much more than a “do the right thing” story. It is that, too, don’t get me wrong. It should prompt us to stop and help or at least not step over those hurting in our path. However, it goes so much farther, as Jesus always does. It is a living, breathing example of a “you have heard it said, but I say” teaching.
Jesus knows this lawyer knows his Scripture. The issue isn’t head knowledge. It is heart knowledge. This isn’t so much about eternal life as it is about abundant life, genuine life, actual life and death for everyone, not just in the heavenly future but in the earthly now.
No less than life and death is at stake in knowing who our neighbors are and showing mercy. And it is not just the life or death of the man in the ditch; it is the life or death of the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan and the innkeeper. Following God’s statutes, obeying God’s commandments, observing God’s ordinances summed up in loving God and loving neighbor is a matter of life and death for all creation.
In “Between the World and Me,” Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, “The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos.” It is the Dream that walks to the other side of the road and condemns us all to death when God desires nothing other than life abundant for everyone. Everyone, remember?
“I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice” (Genesis 18:17-18).
“But the children rebelled against me; they did not follow my statues, and were not careful to observe my ordinances, by whose observance everyone shall live” (Ezekiel 20:21).
Or how about that passage from John 10 about the Good Shepherd who came “that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” The sheep of the flock and the others that do not belong to that fold alike.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is a story about eternal life, abundant life, earthly life for everyone and to make it less than that is infra dig to the gospel.
In the wake of Brexit a Catholic commentator wrote:
“The culture of exclusion replaced the culture of encounter.
Pope Francis spoke in the same Charlemagne speech of the need for a culture of dialogue in which people learn to see others as partners in a conversation, ‘to respect the foreigner, the immigrant and people from different cultures as worthy of being listened to.’
Such a dialogue ‘reminds us that no one can remain a mere onlooker or bystander’ for ‘everyone, from the smallest to the greatest, has an active role to play in the creation of an integrated and reconciled society.’”
Encounter over exclusion. Good Samaritan, innkeeper, those are the ones to emulate, not the priest or Levite. No one can be an onlooker, a bystander, one who passes by; everyone has an active role to play in the creation of an integrated and reconciled society – in sharing the inheritance of eternal life, life abundant, present and future life. If we don’t want to be half-dead or the walking dead, then it is time we saw everyone as our neighbor and actively start showing mercy like the Samaritan, like Jesus – it is a matter of life and death for all of us.
- In the Amos text appointed for this week, Amos is warned never to prophesy in Bethel for it is the king’s sanctuary. Note the irony of Bethel being the king’s sanctuary. When do we turn God’s house into the king’s sanctuary?
- The Luke 10 text points several times to Luke chapter 7, specifically to the story of Jesus raising the son of the widow and forgiving the sinful woman. What do you make of the connection between these stories and the parable of the Good Samaritan?
- This parable is found only in Luke, but the lawyer’s question has parallels in Matthew and Mark. In those two Gospels the question isn’t about eternal life, it is about which commandment is the greatest. What do you see as different and similar in those two questions?
- There is another occasion in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus is asked about inheriting eternal life. Take a look at Luke 18:18-20. How is this exchange connected with the one in Luke 10?
- Considering the plumb line imagery in Amos. Where do we see God’s plumb line? Where and when do we place the plumb line for God?
- Amos, by his own account, comes out of nowhere to speak God’s word to the height of power. Are there “dressers of Sycamore trees” we in the church should be hearing?
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