“One day, the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to a country with the express purpose of showing him how poor people live. They spent a couple of days on the farm of a very poor family. On their return home the father asked his son, “How was the trip?” “It was great, Dad.” “Did you see how poor people live?” the father asked.
“Oh yeah,” said the son. “I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them.”
The boy’s father was speechless. Then his son added, “Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are.”
The parables of Jesus turn the world as we know it upside down. They don’t just trade one set of rules for another. They go one step further, inviting us to think and live in a whole new way. The question for this morning, however, is whether the Parable of the Good Samaritan is so familiar that we’ve long since squeezed every twist and every hint of surprise out of the story.
Yes, we have tried hard to tame this morning’s parable. Any number of churches and religious organizations have funds set up in the name of the Good Samaritan offering money to help people who are passing through in need of a meal or a few gallons of gas. Nonprofit and for profit organizations create awards in the name of the Good Samaritan to single out particular employees or volunteers who go above and beyond what anyone expects. And stories of Good Samaritans who reach out to help someone in need quickly make their way across various televised, print, and social media platforms.
I wonder though if any of you have ever heard a sermon about the Good Samaritan during Stewardship season. Does this morning’s parable fit at this particular time of year when this church is in the middle of a pledge drive where we ask people to make a financial commitment for the coming year? Does this parable make sense on Endowment Sunday when we ask people to consider including the church in their will to provide for the well-being of generations of faithful Wapping Community Church people still to come?
If you have ever heard a Good Samaritan stewardship sermon, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the one who preached it. To be sure I’ve preached a number of sermons on the Good Samaritan parable over the years. But I don’t recall ever trying to draw a connection between the Good Samaritan and our church’s annual Stewardship Drive. At least not until this morning…
One way to understand the Parable of the Good Samaritan is to try and insert ourselves in the role of the main characters in the story. Why is it that the priest and the Levite decided to pass by the man beaten in the ditch without stopping to help? And why did the Samaritan stop and offer what he could?
If I were to tell you in this stewardship sermon that the actions of the priest and the Levite and the Samaritan were dictated by their own personal wealth, that assertion would be a stretch on my part. I don’t have any idea about the financial status of the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan.
What I can conclude from the parable is something about the motivation of the three men. In other words, I may not know the bank balances of the priest, Levite and Samaritan. But today’s story does indicate to me something about what was in their hearts.
The first two men in the story, the priest and the Levite, chose not to stop and help the beaten man. According to custom they should have stopped. Basic human compassion would have dictated that the two men reach out to the beaten man in some way. Instead, they kept on going. Meanwhile the Samaritan, the one who was the safest bet in the story to ignore the beaten man without breaking stride, was the one who actually chose to stop.
Rather than trying to deduce the mindset of the priest and the Levite though, I really want to know why the Samaritan stopped. Why was he the one who reached out to the beaten man when everyone else in the story crossed the road and looked the other way? Why did the Samaritan go above and beyond; bandaging the beaten man’s wounds after pouring oil and wine on them, hoisting the beaten man onto his own animal, taking the beaten man to the inn, paying the bill and agreeing to square the balance in case more money was needed? Why was the Samaritan the one who showed Christ-like compassion?
The Parable of the Good Samaritan offers us a window into the mercy of God. In fact, it reinforces a theory that has held true for me over years of observation. The more of God’s mercy we recognize and experience in our own lives, the more willing and likely we are to be generous toward someone else.
It’s one thing to understand the concept of mercy on a purely intellectual level. Most of us can agree that the idea of mercy is a good one. And we can appreciate hearing examples where mercy is available to those who need it.
It’s another thing to understand the concept of mercy as a matter of the heart because we have lived it and felt it. The kind of mercy that we have received because it was born out of our own wrestling with doubt and fear and our own struggle with suffering and grief. Times when you and I recognize God’s gracious role, and the gracious role of others, in pulling us through.
The Samaritan in the story, stranger, foreigner, and outcast that he was, viewed life from a different perspective than the priest and the Levite. As someone who had been treated like a second class citizen his entire life, he likely saw himself in the man beaten and lying in the ditch. The suffering and the pain etched in the face of the beaten man mirrored his own pain and suffering, leading the Samaritan to react as if he himself was the one in the ditch and the one who needed to be saved.
When we examine the Parable of the Good Samaritan through the lens of mercy, when we picture times you and I have been wounded and beaten down, we remember how God’s love and God’s forgiveness saved us. Because of God’s mercy shown to you and to me at times when we needed it most, we too were likely to be more generous toward others.
And it’s not only about you and me personally. When I look out over the life of this Wapping congregation, I can see signs of God’s mercy everywhere. All the ways this church moves towards people who are hurting, people who are facing illness and people who are hungry for food and spiritual growth. The undergarments we send to people in need at the Manchester Area Conference of Churches and the food we collect to feed those who are hungry through the South Windsor Food Bank. The blankets we purchase through Church World Service on Mother’s Day, providing warmth and comfort to people around our world, and the meals we provide to people in this church and in this community who are struggling with personal sickness and grief. The Foodshare truck that offers much needed surplus food to low income folk in our parking lot every other Thursday and the truck that collected hundreds of cans and bottles in our parking lot last Saturday in support of Boy Scout Troop #2 in the Northeast neighborhood of Hartford. The Community Conversations that help us understand and appreciate the faith traditions of our neighbors, all the supportive and faithful one on one counsel provided by our Stephen Ministers, and all the ways this building is used to support invaluable community endeavors like AA and NA and Scout groups and youth activities.
There is so much going on around here that sometimes announcements get long before worship starts. But it’s all because you hear about mission and ministry opportunities. It’s all because you hear about the mercy you can offer through this congregation. And the mercy you and I and others receive through this congregation.
Because God has been so merciful to you and me over the course of our lives, helping us through fear and doubt and suffering, we in turn are more likely to be generous to others. And because the people of this church have been so merciful to us through times of fear and doubt and suffering, we are also more likely to be generous to others. That’s the way mercy works.
It happens to be the way Stewardship works as well. God has been good to us and the church has been good to us, even in the toughest moments in our lives. Stewardship is a time in the church year when we remember God’s goodness and the goodness of our church community. And when we remember the mercy we have felt and experienced, God invites us to respond by offering a pledge to the church as a sign of our generous gratitude.
Listen then as you fill out your church pledge card for this upcoming year the question Jesus asked at the end of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. “Who was the neighbor to the beaten man?”
The lawyer in the parable knows the answer. “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus responds, “Go and do likewise.” Amen.