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Edward F. Markquart

Series C
Jericho Road (The Good Samaritan)

Pentecost 7     Luke 10:25-37

It happened on the Jericho Road.  It always happens on the Jericho Road.  The Jericho Road is the seventeen mile road that connects Jerusalem to Jericho.  That road drops 3600 feet in those seventeen miles.  It is a  steep, winding, descending, remote road that for centuries has been a place of robberies. 

The Jericho Road.  The Jericho Road.  It always happens on the Jericho Road.  It is the seventeen miles of violence and oppression.  It is the strip of suffering.  The Jericho Road?  It’s a symbol.  It’s a symbol of suffering in the world.  The Jericho Road is the seventeen rooms of the corridor of the nursing home where Myrtle lives who has Alzheimer’s disease; the Jericho Road is the seventeen rooms on either side of the aisle. It is a place of suffering.  ....  The Jericho Road?  It is a seventeen floor tenement building that I used to visit when I was a child in Chicago; it was a frightening place with great family violence.  ....  The Jericho Road?  It is the seventeen blocks on First Avenue South in downtown Seattle, where many people live who are mentally handicapped or teenagers on the run.  .... The Jericho Road?  It is the seventeen mile border between warring nations, e.g. recently, between Nicaragua and El Salvador, Namibia and Angola, or Israel and Palestine, where thousand upon thousands of people have been killed. ... The Jericho Road?   It is the seventeen miles that goes right through the heart of Calcutta.  ...  The Jericho Road?  It is the seventeen years that my Aunt Billie took care of my Uncle Johnnie with his chronic heart disease. ... You see, the Jericho Road is any place where there is violence; it is any place where there is oppression; it is any place where people are robbed of the dignity and robbed of their love and robbed on their food and robbed of their freedom.  The Jericho Road is always with us.  The Jericho Road.

A parable about a parable.  One day a priest went to visit the Jericho Road.  He was a very religious man, and he saw somebody who had been hurt on the Jericho Road, and he was mortified.  He came and gave that person the last rites, and he quickly ran back to his parish as fast as he could.  The following Sunday, he gave a sterling sermon about the Jericho Road, and he felt so much better.  ... Then there was a pastor who went down to the Jericho Road and he was appalled by what he saw.  It was awful on the Jericho Road, and so he came back to his church, and do you know what he did?  He taught a course called, “The Biblical Understanding and Perspective of Poverty.” They showed films of people who were being beaten up on the Jericho Road, and everybody felt rotten, but they all felt so good that they had finally done something for the people on the Jericho Road.  ...  There was still another person.  He was a revivalist.  Now, he didn’t go to the Jericho Road, but he saw it on television.  He then gathered 65,000 people together in the Jerusalem Dome, and they sang songs about the Jericho Road.  You should have seen them, with their microphones and all the spotlights.  How they sang and prayed so beautifully about the Jericho Road.  ... Then, there was this left wing activist who went to the Jericho Road, and he was incensed.  He was angry by what he saw.  He was an angry man, and he came back and he organized demonstrations in the cities. He got all the young people out of the high schools, colleges and graduate schools; they shut down the universities and they marched on the Jerusalem Monument of the capitol city.  Yes, they were very active for the people on the Jericho Road.   ... But then there was a person on the political right, and he went down to the Jericho Road and did he see that we had moral decay in this country of ours.  He thought, “We’ve got to solve this problem;  we’ve got to raise employment and change the economy so there won’t be so much violence on the Jericho Road.”  So what did he do?  He lessened taxes for the rich, so the rich would have more money to make investments so there would be more jobs for the poor, and he increased the sales tax on the poor, so all people could help pay for the costs of maintaining the Jericho Road.  ...  While the priest and the pastor and the revivalist and the left wing activist and the right wing moralist were all busy, the man on the Jericho Road died. 

The Jericho Road is always with us.  The Jericho Road is any place where people are robbed; where people are robbed of their dignity, robbed of their love, robbed of their food and clothing, robbed of their value as human beings.  It is any place where there is suffering and oppression.

Now the story of the Good Samaritan is one of the greatest stories that has ever graced this earth, and it is told by Jesus of Nazareth.  It is one of the all time favorite stories on this planet.  The story goes like this.  .... One time, a young lawyer came up to Jesus and asked,  “What can I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus, being a good counselor, asked him a question:  “What do you think?”  The young lawyer said:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus said:  “You do this, and you shall live.  You do this, and you will live eternally.”  The lawyer, being a little suspicious and defensive, asked Jesus for a point of clarification:  “Well, who is my neighbor? What do you mean, neighbor?”  Jesus looked at the young man and said:  “Let me tell you a  story.  There once was a man walking down the Jericho Road”... and Jesus told  that classic story.

The first lesson that is to be learned from this parable of Jesus is that it is an attack on non-involvement towards people in need.  It’s an attack against “non-involvement.”  I don’t want to get involved on the Jericho Road. I can think of several examples.  Do you remember the story of Kitty Genovese from years ago?  It was a big story from years ago that captured the American imagination.  A woman was driving into New York City and her car broke down and she was on the side of the road.  Somebody started to beat her up and people drove by, for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes.  Nobody stopped.  Finally an aid car came by and took her to a hospital where she died.  The next day, in all the newspapers and TV stations of America, the question was:  “What is going wrong with America?  Why didn’t anyone come to the aid of Kitty Genovese?”  People had become afraid to get involved, and the story became a symbol of a new sickness sweeping America, a new epidemic, a new disease:  non-involvement when I see other people being beaten up in life. 

Or I remember that story about a test being given at the Harvard Divinity School.  It could be at any divinity school but this test was at Harvard.  It was a very clever test.  Now, when you go to Harvard, you have to be smart, and these smart theological students took a course entitled, “Christians and Society.”  The professor had created a test that was three hours long.  It was a tough test on “Being a Moral Christian in An Immoral Society.”  Half way through the test, he arranged for a break, where the students could take a ten-minute break.  The students were to leave the room for ten minutes, get fresh air, and then come back and take the last hour and a half of the test.  The students were writing as fast and furiously as they could, writing down all their knowledge of morality, what does it mean to be a moral person in an immoral society.  But now it was break time and the students went out into the courtyard, where there was ice tea and cookies.  Out there in the courtyard was another part of the test, although the students didn’t know it. This was the real test. There was a man, all beaten up, there in the courtyard.  He was there, and the students looked at him and drank their tea and ate their cookies and said to themselves, “What should we do?  We have this test to take.”  All the students went back into the classroom to finish the written part of the text.  The professor flunked them all.  ....  Do you understand?  Do you understand the real test? So often the church of Jesus Christ flunks the real tests in real life, because we are so busy with our classes inside the four walls of the church.  The real tests are on the Jericho Road. 

You see, this parable is essentially a parable about people not wanting to get involved with people who are suffering because of safety, because of money, because of time, because of inconvenience, because of busyness with churchy activities.  I don’t have time to be involved with people on the Jericho Road because I am so busy at church.  Jesus condemned that attitude.  Jesus expects that all Christians are good Samaritans.  You cannot be a Christian and not be involved with people on the Jericho Road.  In fact, Christians are people who are always cruising on the Jericho Road. 

Well, if this parable is a condemnation of non-involvement, this parable is also an invitation for us to be merciful and kind to those in need.  We are invited to be people who have a gentle heart of generosity, kindness, mercy and tenderness when we see people suffering.  You can’t pay anyone to do that. 

Let me tell you a story that illustrates this.  Recently, I was visiting a neighboring nursing home, where Myrtle lives and she, as many of you know, has Alzheimer’s.  I went there to visit Myrtle.  There at the desk was the charge nurse who is a member of our parish.  We chatted for a moment and she said:  “Pastor, I can’t handle it anymore.  I can’t handle taking care of these people.”  I said to her, “I remember when you came through the membership class at church, and every Wednesday night, we would ask the people what happened to them the past week, and you would always tell a story of someone you were taking care of, as a nurse.”  This woman, this nurse, has this enormously big heart.   I said to her, “Your problem is that your heart is too big.”  She said:  “What can I do about that?”  And I said:  “I don’t know. Just be grateful that you got it, I guess.”  And then she said;  “You see that lady over there,” and I looked over at another person working in the Alzheimer’s Unit.  “That woman loves every single person here in this unit.”  I looked at that nurses’ aid and I said:  “Is that true?”  And she nodded, “Yes.”  I knew that the answer was accurate.  ....  A short time later, Oscar, Myrtle’s husband came in, and we chatted for a while.  Oscar pointed at the two nurses who so lovingly cared for his aging wife. We were leaning against the wall, talking as people do in hospital corridors. We were watching someone polish the floor, and we were talking about the love of these two nurses.  Oscar finally said:  “Well, you can pay somebody to shine the floor, but you can’t pay anyone to love the patients here in this Alzheimer’s Unit.”  You can pay money to get the floor shined, and the bedpans changed and the linens changed, but you can’t pay money to have a heart of love. Oscar, of course, was profoundly correct.

This parable of Jesus is to invite all of us to have hearts of love, to have hearts of love for anybody who is hurting on any of the Jericho Roads of life. 

Now, the Jericho Road may be no further than your own house.  Your Jericho Road can be in your own kitchen, your own bathroom, your own bedroom of your own home, where you are taking care of your mother or your father or grandmother or grandfather, husband or wife, son or daughter.  For example, my Uncle Johnnie and Aunt Billie. Aunt Billie took care of Uncle Johnnie for seventeen years with his heart problems, along with Alzheimer’s.  You don’t have to go outside your house to find the Jericho Road.  I was talking to my cousin Jimmie about his dad, Johnnie, and he said:  “My Dad doesn’t recognize me anymore.  But I go in there and help him.  He was in a straight jacket one day, and I was looking him closely in the face, eyeball to eyeball, trying to communicate and calm him down, and my dad just reeled up and spit in my face as hard as he could. Yah, it’s not easy.”  .... You see, Jesus invites us to have hearts of love, and you can’t pay anyone to have a heart of love.  You can pay for floors to be shined and beds to be changed, but you can’t buy hearts of love.   You can’t pay them.  It’s a gift from God, and you don’t have to be a Christian to have one.  You find hearts of love among Christians and Muslims and Jews. You can find loving hearts all over the world.  What God wants for people more than anything is to have that heart of love.  ....  And that is the purpose of this parable:  Jesus is inviting us to have hearts of love.

But this parable is also an invitation to be kind and merciful and loving to... our enemies.  Yes, our enemies, people we would love to hate.  Let me explain.  As you know, the Jews and the Samaritans during the time of Jesus didn’t like each other.  In fact, they hated each other.  They didn’t talk with each other.  So when Jesus said that there was a Jew down there on the road to Samaria and he was hurt and a Samaritan came along and took care of him, everyone was shocked.  I mean, Jews and Samaritans didn’t talk to each other.  A Samaritan helping a Jew?  Impossible!  So this was an invitation for Jews to take care of Samaritans and Samaritans to take care of Jews, their historic enemies. This is an invitation for us today, and for people of all time, to love our enemies or to love people we would like to hate.  

Now I learned the meaning of this parable most clearly back in 1980. This story is a benchmark in my life as a Christian.  In 1980, we, Grace Lutheran Church, had just sponsored 25 Asian refugee families. Consequently, in our Fellowship Hall, I was teaching 75 Asians about the Christian faith and was preparing them for baptism.  The day that we baptized 75 Asian refugee people was one of the most memorable days in the life of this congregation. So we were preparing these people for baptism by teaching the parables of Jesus.  We were role-playing the parables, acting them out.  We came to the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Now, everyone in the class was Laotian, except for the Tran Ngyen family, who were Vietnamese. The Vietnamese and Laotian people often hated each other, right after the Viet Nam war.  So that day, I took a Laotian, put him on the ground, wrapped him all up with bandages, had him moaning like he had just been beaten up.  All the class was laughing; they understood the role-play.  First, an older Laotian mother came by, and she bowed graciously, looked down at the injured Laotian, patted him and moved on.  Then a Laotian man came by, looked closely, and left a nickel for the injured person and moved on.  We had three or four people come by, look and move on.  And then, to everyone’s surprise, I asked Tran Nygen to come by, and Tran picked up the Laotian, and took him to his home and cared for him.  I asked the members of the class:  do you understand the meaning of Jesus’ parable?  They nodded that they did. We are to love and care for our enemies. ... Later, and this was the key insight for me, Sa Somphet, the leader of the Laotian community said privately to me:  “You know pastor, that is why many of us find it so difficult to become Christians.  The stumbling block for us is not the resurrection.  The stumbling block for us is not the cross.  The stumbling block for us is to love our enemies.  That is asking too much from us who have just come back from war.”

I would like to suggest to you that there are many people who find it hard to love their enemies.  They would rather bomb their enemies; they would rather destroy their enemies; they would rather get revenge on their enemies. But Jesus, in this parable, is inviting us to love people that we think that we have a right to hate. 

Well, who are our historic enemies in the United States?  History is forever changing.  We have fought wars with the English, the Mexicans, the Germans, the Japanese, and our most recent historic enemy has been the Russians.  For the last fifty years, our historic enemies were the Russian Communists, and Jesus invites us to love our enemies.  ...  Now, this coming Wednesday is July 15th.  Do you know what July 15th is in the life of the church?  It is the feast day that remembers Queen Olga and Prince Vladimir.  If you look up July 15th in the Lutheran Book of Worship, under the feast days of the saints, you will find the names of Queen Olga and Prince Vladimir.  Queen Olga was the woman who insisted that Russia would become Christian and Prince Vladimir put Queen Olga’s edict into effect. That was in the year 988.  Ever since then, on July 15th, we celebrate the birthday of Christianity in Russia.  Do you know that Christianity existed in Russia before in Norway?  That Jesus learned to love caviar before he learned to love lutefisk?  That Jesus spoke Russian before he spoke Norwegian?  Christianity came to Russia, far earlier than it came to Norway.  Today there are millions of Christians who are in Russia.  There are three million Russians who are Lutheran Christians.  The purpose of the parable for today is for us to have a heart of love for all people, including our historic enemies...or any people we feel we have a right to hate.  As history has proven again and again, yesterday’s enemies are today’s friends and partners. This is true of England, Mexico, Germany, Japan, Russia, and soon Vietnam and Korea.  Enemies in the past but friends and allies today. 

Who are your enemies?  Who are the people you like to hate?  The story of the Good Samaritan changes our hearts of hate into hearts of love.   

So there are many levels to this wonderful story of Jesus.   It’s a parable that condemns non-involvement,  “Oh, I am just too busy to be involved. I am too busy to go over to the Jericho Road today.”  This parable is an invitation for us to have a heart that overflows with love and mercy for those who are hurting.  This parable is an invitation for us to love our enemies. 

One day, a lawyer came up to Jesus and asked, “What can I do, Jesus, so that I can inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus, being a good counselor, said,  “What do you think?”  The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus said:  “You do this, you do this, and you shall live.”  The lawyer became defensive and said, “Who is my neighbor?  How would you define the word, neighbor?”  Jesus said, “There once was a man who was walking down...the Jericho Road.  Christians are always walking and loving and caring for people on the Jericho Road.  Amen.

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