|Calvary Episcopal Church, Rockdale
7th Sunday after Pentecost
July 15, 2007
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
Today’s Gospel is a well-known reading that contains two of the most familiar sayings in the New Testament:
what is known as the Summary of the Law or the Two Great Commandments, spoken, here, by a lawyer – an
expert in the Law of Moses – in a botched attempt to trip up Jesus in his teaching; and the Parable of the
Good Samaritan – one of Jesus’ best-known parables.
Samaritans made an appearance in the Gospel reading two weeks ago, too, you may recall, when Jesus came
to a Samaritan village and was turned away simply because he was on his way to Jerusalem, – a victim, it
would appear, of discrimination.
The Samaritans and the Jews did not get along. They had once been one people, but that was a long time
before Jesus. King Saul and King David had united the twelve tribes of Israel into one nation, 11 centuries
before, and so they had continued through their reigns and that of David’s son, Solomon. But Solomon was
not, in fact, the wonderful and wise king that one part of the bible would have us believe. Reading the Whole
of his story a very different picture of the man emerges, and at his death in 922 B.C.E., his mistreatment of
the people made it impossible for His son to hold things together, and the kingdom broke in two: two tribes
under David’s line, under his grandson, in the Southern area, called Judea, and centered in Jerusalem; and
the other ten tribes, in rebellion against David’s heirs, occupying the Northern area, called Israel, and
centered in the City of Samaria!
For nearly two hundred years, the two nations existed side by side, never getting along, often at war, and
regularly forming alliances with outside nations against one another…, until 722 B.C.E., when the Northern
Nation – which was called Israel – fell to Assyria.
As was the practice at the time, the leaders of the nation – the rulers, the bureaucrats, the merchants, the
educated – were deported by the conquerors and replaced with immigrants from other lands – strangers, in
this case, to the land of Israel, and followers of other gods – pagans, in fact!
This northern land would never again be a nation in it’s own right. The imported strangers would eventually
adopt the local religion, but that religion would become frozen, in most ways, just as it was in the 8th Century,
when the country fell.
The people of Samaria would, for instance, never recognize the Jewish Scriptures beyond the first five books
of the Bible – the Torah of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus Numbers and Deuteronomy, which were the
writings in general use at the time of the conquest.
The inhabitants of the land to the South – Judea: the part of the Davidic kingdom that had continued to follow
King David’s successors after Solomon – would come, eventually, to be called Jews; their religion would
develop into Judaism; and the whole people would eventually become known by the name once held by their
short-lived one-time rival: Israel.
But the Samaritans would never be a part of them.
To the later Jews, the Samaritans were idolaters – worshipping in the wrong place and in the wrong way. And
as a people they were, to the Jews, what might be called (to borrow the all too familiar racist language of the
mid-Twentieth Century) mongrels: people of mixed race, diluted and “polluted” by those pagans the
Assyrians had brought in.
By the time of Jesus, the Samaritans had been separated from the Jews for nine and a half centuries; and
they had hated one another for nearly a thousand years!
I go into all this detail because most people have never heard a clear explanation of who and what the
Samaritans were – are, really, since they still exist, today, a tiny little remnant, but still living in the same area,
after three thousand years – and because it’s important if we are really to understand much of Jesus’ doings
and sayings – like today’s parable.
And our failure to realize the parable is based on the racist hatreds of the two main inhabitants of the land –
the Jews and the Samaritans – means that we miss half the significance of this most well-known of all Jesus’
And there’s more to the story that most of us don’t understand, as well.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,” Jesus, begins, and he’s set upon by thieves, beaten and
left “half dead,” lying on the road.
Along the road comes, first, a Priest, and then a Levite!
These represent two of the three orders of the sacrificial religion of the Jews, the highest representatives of
the Temple Faith!
And one by one, they not only pass him by, but they cross to the other side of the road, to pass him.
Now crossing to the other side may sound like just a detail Jesus threw in for emphasis, but it’s not: it’s an
important element in the story – and a clue to what Jesus is saying!
Because these are not simply unfeeling, uncaring men. They are high functionaries of the living God. As
such, they are required to be careful to remain ritually pure at all times, so that they’ll be free to serve at the
Temple sacrifice – which was their central role.
But one of the things that would render them ritually Unclean – a term that means nothing to us, but the world
to them – one of the things that would render them ritually unclean would be to touch a dead body, because
such uncleanness would make them unfit to offer the Temple sacrifice, until they had undergone the long
and rigorous rituals of cleansing to remove the impurity!
So Jesus has put together the elements of his story very carefully: the man who is “half dead” and who,
therefore, could die at any minute, who is first seen by two Temple officials who must remain ritually pure at
all times, if at all possible. If they stop to help the man, if they touch him, and if he should turn out to be dead
– they’re unclean. If he’s alive, and they’re helping him, and he dies in the process – they’re unclean! Unable
to participate in the worship of the Lord God – the most important thing in life, for them!
They are Jews, like the man – good Jews – like the lawyer who asked the question! To make them bad men,
for this story, would have been too easy – they would have been no more remarkable than the Thieves who
hurt the man in the first place, and that’s not what Jesus was about. The parable is not about bad people; it’s
about what good people might do even in the name of serving their Lord if they’re not very, very careful!
So they were good men. Faithful men. If the man were NOT in danger of dieing, … they would have helped, we
can be sure. But, ironically, it was the very fact that he was close to death that made them make a choice –
and they chose to safeguard their ritual purity – and pass by on the other side, far from the danger of
Then along comes the Samaritan; the “dirty Samaritan;” the “mongrel Samaritan!” The lazy, shiftless,
untrustworthy, no good, godless Samaritan. (And if any of those terms seem familiar to us, it’s because that is
precisely what Jesus intended!)
The Samaritan: who sees a man wounded, in pain and in danger; who, without thinking about who and what
the man is, or what it might mean to be seen to help him, acts! The Samaritan: who stops, who binds up the
man’s wounds; who cleanses him and administers first aid; who places him on his own donkey and carries
him to the nearest inn; who puts up his own money to pay for his care, and promises however much more it
“Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
Well that’s a no brainer.
And, in fact, that’s just what the problem is.
The Lawyer had asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
But he already knew the answer: That very question was a “no brainer” to the 1st Century Jew: “You shall
love the Lord your God with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor
Plain as could be. But he’s a lawyer so he’s got to ask another question. “And who is my neighbor?” Just like
And just like us! ‘Cause that’s what this is all about. Like the lawyer, like the Priest and the Levite, we make
things too complicated. We go beyond the “no brainer” to our own peculiar ideas; our own hang-ups!
Oh, certainly, there is so much to know about God; about Scripture; about the faith. Important stuff. Stuff that
can make a difference in our lives, in the way we live our lives. That’s why I put so much effort into teaching;
why most of my sermons are teaching sermons! It’s all so important!
But the lawyer helps us strip things down to the essentials; and on the essential level, it’s all very simple:
Love God. Love your neighbor.
The lawyer would complicate things; the Priest and the Levite. So would we!
But Moses, in our first lesson, this morning, like Jesus, has it right.
“For this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off… But the
word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”
It’s just that simple. A no brainer. Love God. Love your neighbor. Doesn’t take a lot of thought; a lot of
analysis. Doesn’t take a lot of figuring – a lot of opportunity for our own hang-ups, our own prejudices to get
Love God. Love your neighbor. It’s just that simple.
The commandment is part of us – written, Moses tells us, in our very minds and hearts; made a part of us by
our God and Father. Made a part of us so that there’s no need to think, to figure – like the Priest and the
Levite. Made a part of us so we can do it.
We can do it! So only one thing remains: to let go of our preconceptions, our prejudices, our fears – and to
just do it! To let go – and let love!
In Jesus Christ’s Name. Amen.