Oh Lord, uphold thou me, that I may uplift Thee. Amen.
A lawyer who wants to back Jesus into a philosophical corner asks him what must he do to inherit eternal life. Jesus knows that this Levite is well versed in his own traditions and so he asks the lawyer to answer the question for himself. Dutifully, the lawyer gives Jesus the classic Jewish answer drawing from two well-known pieces of scripture – Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. Good, Jesus says, you know the right answer, don’t play games with me, go and do as your tradition tells you and you will live.
But the lawyer wants more. In the way of all lawyers, he wants to know the limits of his liability. And who is my neighbor, he asks Jesus? Here is where he hopes to box Jesus in. Will Jesus give the classic answer and define the neighbor as only the fellow Jew and so alienate a portion of those in the crowds who are always listening to him or will he expand the notion of neighbor and open himself up to ridicule by his Jewish colleagues? In modern terms, the lawyer might have expected Jesus – if he had any legal education at all – to come out with some sort of the following statement: “A neighbor (hereinafter referred to as the
party of the first part) is to be construed as meaning a person of Jewish descent whose legal residence is within a radius of no
more than three statute miles from one’s own legal residence unless there is another person of Jewish descent (hereinafter referred to as the party of the second part) living closer to the party of the first party than one is oneself, in which case the party of the second part is to be construed as neighbor to the party of the first part and one is oneself relieved of all responsibility of any sort or kind whatsoever.”
But Jesus does not bite. He does not give some sort of definition that can be adjudicated, rather he tells a story, a story we know as the Good Samaritan.
It is perhaps the most well known of all Jesus’ parables. It has been used for centuries as an object lesson meant to describe right behavior, a story about the doing of good deeds. But it is much more than that. It is multifaceted, a parable with immense implications for anyone who takes it seriously. For today, I want to look at one facet of this parable; I want to say that it is a story about stewardship. A story about the use of the gifts we have been given, how we use our time, our talents and our energies in the world.
I am always hesitant to say the dreaded “S” word. So often people simply check out when they hear stewardship, they turn off because somewhere close behind that word there is usually an appeal for money. But not to worry, I am far more interested in talking about how we ought to order our lives, the perspective we ought to have about life that allows us to see the truth and act
on it – the truth that everything we have, from this life that we treasure right down to our tennis shoes, is a gift from God.
The parable of the Good Samaritan could be called the parable of the Good Steward. The Samaritan who helped the wounded traveler not only performed a good deed but he made choices about his time and his energy and his money that reflected in concrete terms what it means to love one’s neighbor and therefore what it means to love God. First, he stopped along his journey. We do not know where he was going, how much of a hurry he was in, what he needed to accomplish, but we know he took his gift of time and stopped to care for the man who fell among robbers. Second, he bandaged up the man’s wounds and placed him on his own beast and slowly walked him to an inn. He used the gifts of his own efforts, the work of his hands and his feet to aid a fellow traveler. Third, he generously used his own resources, the gift of his own finances to make sure that the injured man had the care he required to regain his health.
It wasn’t just that the Samaritan did a good deed. The priest and the Levite saw themselves as doing good deeds as well. They just believed that the greater good could be served somewhere else, that God could be better served somewhere else than on that lonely stretch of road. While the Samaritan understood the fundamental nature of his life – everything he was and everything he had was gift and there was no choice but to give back.
A story was once told about a monk who had planned a long trip to Jerusalem to see the Holy Sepulcher. One day, he
finally began the journey with the money he had saved over forty years. Soon after he left the monastery, he passed a field along the side of the road where a pale emaciated man was digging roots out of the ground, and he said to the monk, “Good morning Father. Where are you going?” The monk replied, “I
am going to Jerusalem to see the Holy Sepulcher, where Christ was buried, and I am going to march around it three times and pray.” The man in the field said, “That trip will cost much money.” “Yes,” relied the monk, “all my life’s savings.” Then the man suggested, “Father, why not march around me three times and give the money to me so that my wife and children might have food? And the monk did. He never saw where Christ was buried. But he did see where Christ was risen and alive.” (Nikos Kazantzakis)
A religious faith that remains solely philosophical, purely religious, one that keeps itself unsoiled from contact with a hurting world – passing by on the other side – is a fraud. We cannot believe in Christ without somehow acting like Christ. Moreover, these actions need not proceed from some guilt-induced understanding that we must do good deeds to be good people. Rather, acting like Christ in the world more appropriately takes place when we understand that we are immensely blessed and we can’t fully appreciate those blessings without sharing them with others.
What are we called to be? We are called to be imitatio Christi – imitators of Christ. Imitators of the man whose living centered around giving – the gift of his love, the gift of his suffering, the gift of his life. Being the Good Samaritan isn’t a matter of doing good deeds, it is a matter of living as good
stewards – giving joyfully from the bounty of our lives to honor the God who has given us so much. All things come of Thee O Lord, and no matter what we do, of Thine own have we given Thee. Amen.