A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, July 10, 2022

By: David May, Rector


We are now fully underway into the long season of the Sundays after the Day of Pentecost.  This season takes up almost half of the year and focuses on the brief few years of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and what it was like to be with him in that short time and what he did that made life bloom.  The liturgical color for this season is green.  You don’t have to look far to understand what the color green symbolizes or why the Church clothes itself with this color this time of the year.  Just look out the window.  Green means that something is alive and growing.  This is our great growing season.

Sunday by Sunday in this long green growing season, the gospel stories place us in the company of Jesus, with people like us.  With people who are positively smitten with Jesus and love what being in his company does – to overcome what seems unovercomeable.  Listening to Jesus – as we do Sunday by Sunday – his first disciples see that his trust in them could make something of them.  They had gone out when he told them to, to help people; and in doing that they found God.

As a starting point and a place to grow from, he told them to go out like lambs among wolves.  Look, sure, you may get eaten from time to time, but never mind.  You will also find God.  These stories in this long, green, growing season can show us how to be lambs and not just more wolves and how to find God.

In this small scene from the life of Jesus and his telling of a simple story, in the gospel reading we have before us this morning, it’s fairly easy, I would say, to distinguish the lambs from the wolves.  If I were to ask you who are the wolves in this scene, you could rattle off the characters easily.  The wolves, in this story are the lawyer, the robbers, the priest and a Levite.  Lawyers, preachers and criminals.  Good.  So, now that we know that, now what?  Well, I suppose, following this line of thinking the moral lesson is, ‘don’t be like these wolves’.  OK, I won’t.  Well, now what?  Well, be like ‘the lambs’ and that’s obviously the good Samaritan.  OK, I’ll try.  Now what?

Well, now that we’ve sorted out the wolves and the lambs, now that we’ve gotten that right, why does there need to be anything else?  If we’re right, why does there need to be a ‘now what’?  The moral lesson is fairly clear; the bad behavior of passing by on the other side of the road as if that poor guys isn’t there has been highlighted in a dramatic fashion.  When we see someone in need like that we will go to him.  We’ll need to sort of translate this story adjusting the characters and details to what life’s like for us, but we can do that.

Except that once we’ve sorted the wolves from the lambs, where does that leave us?  Now what?  Why doesn’t the glow of the promise of the new growing life with Jesus seem to be anywhere in sight.

I would say because I have led us to fall squarely into the trap of thinking like the lawyer.  Remember, he knows the right answer to Jesus’ question about what the Scriptures say about the path to eternal life (which is another way of asking what is the meaning of life):  love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.  He knows the right answer already.  He’s got it right.  But then he just can’t help himself in what comes next.  ‘So, I want to be clear on this: who is my neighbor?’  You know what I mean.  I can’t love everybody in the whole wide world.  I can’t just love everyone.  I’m not even sure what it means to love everyone, and let’s be honest, there is such a thing as ‘a bad apple’?  So, honestly, who do I have to bother with?

So, that’s pretty unattractive, a little coldly calculating.  And it’s pretty human.  It is the kind of thinking that gets us stuck on ‘the other side of the road’ thinking maybe I should just stay over here and keep moving.  Either that or I’ll just end up stuck here, paralyzed, not knowing what I’m supposed to do.  Maybe the man lying half dead in the ditch brought it on himself, maybe he had it coming, or maybe it’s a trap and if I stop to help the robbers will get me too!  The trap we’ve fallen into in following the lawyer’s line of thinking is that we’ve arrived at a dead end with no way out.  Which is what an awful lot of our world feels like right now.

But Jesus’ simple story suggests it would really be better, all things considered, to just abandon and be free from this kind of thinking altogether.  It’s not about getting it right or being in the right.  It’s not about some theoretical question about who is my neighbor.  His story gently guides the lawyer to turn around and try to see the thing he has been missing with his desire to be in the right.  At the end of the story after the entrances and exits of the wolves and the lambs, Jesus asks a surprising question.  “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of these robbers.”  And the lawyer – though not quite able to bring himself to use the word ‘Samaritan’ (people you could feel good about hating)– says, “the one who showed him mercy”.

And all at once, he is within hailing distance of the Kingdom of God with the promise of the Gospel that will make all things new again.

We don’t know what happened to the lawyer.  He knows the answer to his question now but we don’t know where that will lead him.  Only that the last words from Jesus for him are “well then, go and do likewise.”  Take it for a test drive.  See what will happen.  Show mercy.  See how you grow.  Maybe he did.  Maybe he ended up being a lamb in wolves clothing.  We don’t know.  But stranger things happened when Jesus is around.

One of the most vivid images I have in me of what ‘mercy’ means comes from childhood.  As kids when we were rough-housing, kids would sometimes hold each other down on the ground and give each other a pink belly or pin each other and tickle someone til they panicked and couldn’t breathe.  And when the kid pinned on the ground had had enough and there was no way out, he would holler, ‘mercy!’

I remember this kid in my neighborhood pinning a friend of mine down one time.  My friend was like a defenseless turtle flipped on its back with no hope of righting itself, and a predator with shell-crunching teeth coming in for the kill.  This kid had him pinned and leaned in low over the other kid’s face and though it was kind of humiliating, my friend who saw what was coming shouted, ‘mercy!’  We shouted too, ‘mercy, he said mercy! Let him up!’.  But then the kid who’d pinned this other kid down – very slowly – spit into the face of the kid.

Mercy is something you give when you don’t have to; when you have the upper hand and maybe especially when you’re in the right.  And mercy is something you receive when you have no way out.  Which in a nutshell is the story of the Lamb of God’s coming into this wolfish world.  To speak God’s word of mercy for all those and all that is pinned flat on its back.

Because I just can’t help thinking, as it turns out, that when Jesus told this story of the good Samaritan to the lawyer, he was telling his own life’s story too; that Jesus is God’s good Samaritan for us, to cross over and find us – wolves and lambs alike, it seems – to bind up wounds, to carry us to safe lodging with the promise to come again.  His faith in us can make something of us too.

Having received such mercy through his life, this word is already in our mouths to say and in our hearts to do.  That can make us grow in this great, long, green, growing season in our lives where we will find God.

We too live too in hailing distance of the Kingdom of God, through the mercies of God.  Dear friends, to show mercy, to go and do likewise is why we are here.  Amen.