March 5, 2017/ Lent 1: Narrative // First Congregational United Church of Christ, Ashland, Oregon //
Rev. Christina G. Kukuk // “This Do, and Live”: Psalm 15; Luke 10:25-3
Samaria went by another name. The reputation of that region avoided by good pilgrims in Jesus’ time went way back, in fact. As far as Jesus’ audience is concerned, of course, none of it was good. It was in Samaria, at Shechem, that Jacob’s daughter Dinah was raped and then bloodily avenged in Genesis 34. It was in the same area that Abimelech, son of Gideon, hired a bunch of thugs to murder 70 of his brother rivals in Judges 8 & 9. Samaria is where the evil king Ahab builds an altar to Baal for his equally infamous wife. When the Assyrians conquer the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE, this inter-sibling rivalry between the regions Jacob’s sons called home only gets worse. The Assyrians deport many of the region’s original inhabitants, who are second cousins of those down South in Judea, to locations unknown while residents of other conquered nations are brought in to repopulate their towns. That only makes things worse. The Samaritans viewed themselves as direct descendents of Joseph and called themselves “guardians” or “observers” of the original Torah (just the first 5 books) and the original temple (at Mt. Gerazim). But to others the name Samaria evoked violence and murder. That part, we and the first audience of this parable may know. (Pause)
There is one small biblical story that counters this stereotype. But it is less familiar. During one of those conflicted periods between the North and South of David’s divided kingdom, a group of Samaritans captures 200,000 Judean women and children, as well as much booty. That’s keeping in type. But a prophet named Oded condemns the army, in II Chronicles 28:8-15, tells the people, “Hear me, and send back the captives whom you have taken from your kindred, for the fierce wrath of God is upon you.” Believe it or not, they listen. The chronicler tells us that some repentant Samaritan leaders (listen to the vocabulary here),
…got up and took the captives, and with the booty they clothed all that were naked among them; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kindred at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria.
“The cycle of violence can be broken,” writes Amy-Jill Levine. Even by the enemy. (Pause)
Jesus’ audience doesn’t know yet that Jesus is going to us the “s” word when he begins the parable we hear today. They do know that this lawyer is in trouble, because lawyers in Luke always are. (Luke has a very low opinion of lawyers.) And the first question this lawyer asks, the audience knows, is the wrong question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is a one-time accomplishment, to get it taken care of. The tense is wrong. Jesus changes the question, “What do you read? How do you interpret it?” The lawyer answers with good wisdom according to the rabbis at the time, “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, strength… Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Jesus says, Good answer. Then he changes the tense, “Doing this, you will live.” Live like this, it’s not just a one-time deal. But the lawyer wants to push it, so he asks Jesus, Who is my neighbor? Jesus responds with parable:
“Some person was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…” when he is beset by thieves, beaten up, and left in a ditch to die. When Jesus begins this story we call the “Good Samaritan,” his audience would have seen themselves in that generic traveler on the road, a person set-upon, abused, beaten, robbed, and left behind. The question, if you are lying in a ditch, is “Who will help me?” Jesus sets this story up like a good joke. “Three men walk into a bar.” “A priest, a rabbi, and imam are going out for dinner…” “Three goats are crossing a bridge.” There’s a pattern to these stories. His audience would have known what to expect. There’s a priest passing by, and then a Levite passing by… And if a group of three began, “priest, then Levite,” Jesus’ audience knew the third passerby should be… an Israelite. But Jesus surprises. The third passerby is not an average Israelite as they’d expect. This isn’t one of those feel-good stories about how we help one another out of the ditch. The third passerby instead has a name that is synonymous with rape and murder. The third passerby is a Samaritan.
The more I learn about this parable, the more I think, if we could really hear this parable the way Jesus’ first audience heard it, we wouldn’t call it the Good Sam Fund. We would have to call it “The Good Rapist Fund” or “The Good Terrorist Fund.” If we heard this parable the way Jesus’ first audience heard it, we’d have to call it the “Good Klansman Hospital,” not the “Good Samaritan Hospital.”
Jesus is startling his audience on purpose. When the lawyer comes to Jesus, he is not asking how to live continually in the present. He is asking what one thing he can accomplish so that he doesn’t have to worry about anything after death. When Jesus asks, “Which one of these was a neighbor to the person in the ditch?” the lawyer is caught. He has to answer. But even he cannot use that dreaded word “Samaritan.” He has to say, “The one who showed mercy, I suppose.” Jesus says, “Go, and you do likewise.” Go, Jesus says, and you live, too. It may be your enemy who saves you. Could you receive his help?
I have to tell you: Sometimes, I don’t think I can follow this Jesus. Some days I’m not so sure.
Samaria today has various names: the West Bank, Occupied Palestine, Greater Israel. “To hear the parable today, we only need to update the identity of the figures,” writes Amy-Jill Levine. And then she imagines that she, an Israeli Jew, is on her way from Jerusalem to Jericho, is attacked by thieves, beaten, stripped, robbed, and left half dead in a ditch. Who would help her? She imagines, two people who should have stopped to help pass her by – the first, a Jewish medic from the Israel Defense Forces; the second, a member of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church USA. But the person who takes compassion on her and shows her mercy is a Palestinian Muslim whose sympathizes with Hamas, “a political party whose charter not only anticipates Israel’s destruction, but also depicts Jews as subhuman demons responsible for all the world’s problems.” Would she be able to receive help from such a one? Could she anticipate compassion in the heart of even one like that? Could we call this parable the parable of the “Good Hamas Member”? Were Jesus a Samaritan, today we’d have the parable of the “Good Jew.” (Pause)
Some days, I’m not sure I can follow this Jesus. But God help me, I want to. He lives in some kind of realm or world where even the category of enemy crumbles and falls. He challenges me every time I want to cut myself off from an enemy. Every. Single. Time. As we begin this journey toward Jerusalem, this journey through Lent toward Easter, I wonder if part of what we get to learn again every year is how to live a little more in that world, where even our enemy might save our lives. Who is it for us? Who is it for you? The “Good Black Lives Matter protestor?” The “Good Right-to-Lifer?” The “Good Breitbart Editor”? This parable gets more upsetting the more I understand it. The question the lawyer asks is not, “Who is my neighbor?” but “Who is my enemy?” Who can I afford not to love?
Jesus’ answer is: No one.
May God show us the way. Amen.
 Amy-Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, ( p. 104.
 Levine, 115.