TEXTS: Colossians 1:1-14 and Luke 10:25-37
For this reason … we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10)
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.” (Luke 10:30)
In “American History According to Hollywood,” the Old West was a wild and dangerous place—a place where larger-than-life villains ruled by force of arms.
In the frontier America of the silver screen, anarchy has always held sway. The atmosphere of the typical Hollywood western is permeated with gunsmoke. It’s a place where bullets dart like horseflies across the prairie, and ordinary folks cower in fear until some larger-than-life hero comes to save them—somebody like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood … or if you’re a lover of newer versions of old classics … Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, et al. in The Magnificent Seven.
Historians tell us that—while the reality of life on the American frontier was considerably less violent than Hollywood’s portrayal of it—there is a germ of truth behind the screenplays.
As for the Canadian frontier—historians tell us that it was a much tamer place, thanks in large part to a concerted effort by British authorities to ensure the rule of law in the developing territories west of Fort Garry. The North-West Mounted Police force was created for that purpose—and it was very effective.
There were instances of lawlessness and violence, of course—Fort Whoop-Up near Lethbridge being a notorious example—but, relatively speaking, the Canadian west was quite a civilized place. And I think we can say that Canada is still a pretty civilized, law-abiding place. Certainly, Canadians—for the most part—retain a deep-seated respect for the law of the land (so-called “Freedom Convoys” notwithstanding).
The Hebrew people in Jesus’ time had an even deeper respect for the Law—for the Torah. In fact, their feelings about the law transcended simple respect. Torah was a beloved thing. Torah was good. Torah was sweet. Torah was their delight. Then, as now, faithful Jews lived for the observance of the Law. For them, the Law came from God, not from human beings—and God’s commands could not be subject to argument. Torah demanded all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.
For centuries, the struggle to observe the Law kept the people of Israel and Judah focused on the living God. The prophets amongst them recognized that obedience was the best sacrifice one could offer to such a Deity. Even so, the struggle to observe all the fine points of the Law continued. Now—and it probably goes without saying—the outward observance of the Law was always easier to attain than true purity of heart.
Certainly, outward observances were more easily monitored by others—especially by the self-appointed “morality police.” And the people who paid attention to appearances were content to think of themselves as righteous. But then, along came Jesus—this famous teacher and healer, a rabbi who spoke of God and God’s kingdom as no one else had ever done—and he confounded them!
When someone sick came to him on the Sabbath, he did not hesitate to heal that person. When a woman who was an outcast—a Canaanite—asked him to heal her child, he listened to the pleading of the foreigner and granted her request. He did not keep himself aloof from tax collectors, even though other Jews considered them traitors because they served the interests of the occupying Romans.
Jesus did not seem to care much for the outward niceties of the Law. Indeed, he declared that the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath!
Those who heard him would have understood—correctly—that what Jesus was saying about the Sabbath, he extended to the whole body of Jewish law. According to Jesus, God intended the law to benefit the people, not to burden them and become a hardship. But this was a radical idea. Many who heard Jesus were deeply offended—and probably more than a little frightened, as well.
We can understand that, can we not? They did not want to lose the security of their traditions—the certainty of that which was familiar. Many of us would feel the same way, I think. Also, Jesus was asking them to think for themselves—and that is a tall order for human beings in any era!
Others, of course, were attracted to this charismatic young teacher who spoke about grace rather than perfection—about how God’s perfect justice was tempered by God’s perfect mercy and delivered through God’s perfect love.
Jesus filled Galilee with his loving presence, and people wanted to know his secret. They wanted to have what he had: a peace that could come only from close, daily communion with God. They desired to enter—to inherit—the kingdom of heaven, of which he spoke. So they came to Jesus to ask him about it. People from all walks of life sought him out.
We find several instances of that in the Gospels. The one in today’s reading from Luke occasions the telling of one of the most beautiful stories in all of Scripture. We know it as “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.”
In Luke’s account, a lawyer comes to Jesus, and asks him: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
And Jesus refers the inquirer to what he (being a lawyer) must already know—the Mosaic Law: “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
The lawyer answers correctly with words from the Shema, quoting its magnificent injunction to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind—and our neighbour as ourselves.
Jesus commends the man’s answer: “Do this and you will live.”
But the lawyer finds a stumbling block in the last part—the part about “loving your neighbour as yourself.” And so, he asks the probing question, “Who is my neighbour?”
In the story that Jesus tells to illustrate his answer, the wounded man is bypassed by two of the most respectable members of the religious community—a priest and a lay assistant. They pretend they don’t see the dying man. It is easier to pretend not to see, much less bother.
They are both so busy, you understand. They have important, holy business to attend to. Their hands are clean. Their clothes are fine—they must not become soiled with blood and dirt!
But the Samaritan (whom they would have considered an outcast) is not troubled by such concerns. He stops and offers help—the kind of help that takes responsibility, that is not “here today and gone tomorrow.” He takes the victim to the inn. He treats the wounds with his own hands. He stays with him through the night. He pays the bill, and he comes back to check on him.
No questions are asked here, except the one posed by Jesus: “Which one of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the wounded one?”
The answer—obviously—is: “The one who showed him mercy.” And the simple command of Jesus is: “Go and do likewise.”
Some years later, the apostle Paul would pick up Jesus’ message and spread it throughout the ancient world. Paul urged his fellow Jews to see past the minutiae of the Law in order to embrace the holy freedom proclaimed by that itinerant rabbi from Nazareth, whom we know as Jesus the Christ.
Paul—who as a young man had dedicated his life to the Torah—came to see how impossible it is for any of us to keep the Law perfectly. But—instead of being filled with despair over the human condition—Paul found good news to preach:
[God] has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13-14)
Jesus has shown us a way to God that is not dependent upon our ability to obey outward rules and regulations. What he offers us is a chance to walk in the light of freedom.
With the power and grace of God through Jesus Christ, we can indeed go out and emulate the Good Samaritan. We can “do likewise.” We can show mercy to our neighbours. We can “lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work as we grow in the knowledge of God.”
So our Scriptures for today have given us some good things to remember—to take with us, as we journey into the future. First, there is the vision of the Good Samaritan from our gospel lesson, along with the words of Jesus, “Go and do likewise.” Then, there is Paul’s advice to the Colossians: “Bear fruit in every good work. But at the same time, grow in the knowledge of God.”
What can that mean, I wonder—to “grow in the knowledge of God”?
In part, I think, it means realizing—and really caring about—the fact that each human being was created in God’s image. And so, each person we meet is of infinite value in God’s sight.
Mother Teresa once said that her goal on the streets of Calcutta was to see that no one died unloved and alone. She was not able to save the lives of most of the dying, because the people were so sick when she found them. But she could give them a clean bed, a loving touch, and a measure of comfort.
We cannot always undo the effects of evil—but we can make sure that evil does not have the last word!
Bear fruit in every good work. Grow in the knowledge of God. Love your neighbour as you love yourself … and trust that the law of God is thereby fulfilled.