A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 11 July 2010 by the Rev. Ewing W. [Bud] Carroll, Jr. The scripture readings that day were Deuteronomy 30:9-11 and Luke 10:25-37.
Kathy was returning to her home late one night. As she passed under a street light by her apartment, a man with a knife grabbled her. Lights went on in the apartment building as Kathy screamed. “Oh my God, he stabbed me! Please help me!” As windows opened, one by one, a man yelled out, “Let that girl alone.” And the attacker ran off. Kathy struggled to her feet. But as the lights went off, the attacker returned and stabbed her again. Kathy cried out, “I’m dying. I’m dying!” Again, the lights came on. And the attacker ran away. But he returned a third time and found Kathy slumped on the stairways of her building. He stabbed her again. All this happened within twenty-five minutes. Someone finally called the police and they arrived within two minutes. But Kathy was already dead. Later, when police detectives were investigating Kathy’s murder, they discovered at least 38 of her neighbors had witnessed at least one of the killer’s three attacks, but none came to her aid or called the police.
In today’s Gospel story, a very familiar one to most Christians, a man was attacked by robbers and left to die on the road to Jericho. According to Scripture, three people saw him: two, prominent religious leaders, left the man to die. Fortunately, a third person, a Samaritan stranger, enemy of the Jewish people, stopped and through his acts of compassionate love, saved the man from a certain death.
Jesus told this story to a lawyer, an Old Testament scholar. He and Jesus engaged in a verbal tennis match, bouncing back and forth with questions about law, justice, love and faith. When all was said and done, the basic question the lawyer asked Jesus was: “Who is my neighbor and how much do I have to love?”
I find we Christians are often like that lawyer. “Lord, just let us love the nice people. People we really like and feel comfortable with.” It’s easy to ask, ”Who is my neighbor?” The more difficult question is, “How can I be a good neighbor?” The lawyer knew the right answers to Jesus’ question. But he wasn’t prepared to hear what Jesus had to say about compassion in every day real life. What is the Samaritan Compassion that Jesus talks about?
Firstly, Compassion is based on need, not worth. Frankly, I think the wounded man was stupid to walk alone on the road to Jericho. Local people called it, “The Way of Blood” because so many robberies and deaths occurred there. The robbers stripped the man of his clothing, wounded him and left him half dead. Sadly, the priest and a Levite, a temple worker, both passed by “on the other side.” They weren’t “bad” people, any more than those 38 people who failed to assist Kathy were bad. But they lacked compassion. For whatever reason, they saw the man but ignored his needs.
Secondly, compassion feels something. A church leader was visiting Shanghai in the 1930’s. He later reported to his Mission Board that the first night he was unable to sleep. Why? Because of the hack, hack, hack sound of people with TB – sprawled on the pavement outside his hotel. The second night, was a bit better. By the third night, he slept like a baby lamb. “Wonderful,” said his mission board colleagues. “Hardly,” replied the man. God forgive me for being so comfortable I had no feeling for those people.”
The Greek word here for feeling is very colorful. It means the Samaritan could “feel something deep down in his guts…” Not some pretty picture or a fairy tale with a happy ending. More like being smashed to the ground by a fast-moving freight train. A feeling that stirs and troubles; a feeling that keeps us awake at night until we do something helpful. The Samaritan helped the wounded man, not because the man was worthy, but because he had strong feelings of compassion for him.
Thirdly, Compassion does something. The lawyer knew Old Testament Law, but he didn’t know New Testament Love. He was a good thinker but a bad helper. Samaritan Compassion requires us to move “towards” people and their problems, not “Pass by on the other side.” To do something useful in their time of need. Jesus uses six verbs to describe the Samarian’s compassion: he went to the wounded man; he bandaged his wounds; he poured oil and wine on the wounds; he put him on his donkey; he brought him to an inn; and he cared for him.
Fourthly Compassion costs something. If you were part of this story, which person would you most like to be? I remember Rev. Hans Lutz telling years ago about a group of Hong Kong factory workers who were studying this passage in their weekly Bible study. Guess who most of them said they would like to be? Any ideas? The innkeeper. Why? Because he received money to care for the wounded man? Compassion, like faithfulness ,is usually inconvenient, difficult and costly. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book The Cost of Discipleship, “There is no cheap grace.“
Little Maria was late for supper. When her mother asked, “Where have you been?” she replied, “I stopped to help Janie. The front wheel on her bicycle broke.” “But you don’t know anything about fixing bicycles,” her mother replied. Little Maria’s answer? “I know Mommy, but I just stopped to help Janie cry.”
The lawyer’s final answer to Jesus’ question bout who is a neighbor was, “…Someone who shows mercy.” Jesus’ reply was “Go, and do likewise….”
Christ calls us to live as we have sung this morning, “Neighbors are rich and poor, black and white, near and far away…Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love.” We can’t change or help the entire world. But like Marie, we can begin where we are. O Lord, help us to stop…and to help whoever is crying. Amen.