July 14, 2013 Psalm 84 Luke 10: 25-37
Rev. Catherine Purves
I’ve walked along that road, the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. It was years ago now, but it’s something that you never forget. I was with a group, but we had all spread out, so it was a solitary walk. This “road” is little more than a dirt path through the desert that winds its way through steep rock formations. I could see why it would have been an easy place for robbers to lie in wait for vulnerable travelers who couldn’t see around the bends, and there was really nowhere to run from trouble. I can’t imagine that the road has changed much in the 2,000 years since Jesus told this story; at least, I can’t think how that road could be any more primitive or dangerous. So, I don’t think it will be too hard for me to put myself into this well-known parable in an effort to give us a new slant on an old story. I’m going to try to re-tell it from the perspective of the Levite.
Before I start, we should note that the Levites were a priestly family, but in Jesus’ day they tended to be teachers of the Law. They, of all people, should have known what they should do, or not do, in any situation in order to satisfy the Law of God. Levites were serious, studious, and faithful. They, along with the priests and the other Temple scholars and teachers, were the religious leaders of their day. The lawyer who first posed the question to Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” may have been a Levite. So it is interesting that Jesus decided to fold him into the story, so that he could envision for himself what he would do if he were walking along that dangerous road from Jericho to Jerusalem. Let’s try to join him there now.
Oh, I hate this road. Miles of nothing but rock and dust, no water – in this heat, and at every turn the possibility of bandits. Put a foot wrong and you could lie in a deep ditch, or a ravine, for hours or days. I really hate this road. But it is the quickest route to the holy city, and how I long to be in Jerusalem. As the psalmist wrote, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord.” (Psalm 84: 1-2) Oh, to be within those walls again, and not out here on this barren and desolate road. “Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.” (Psalm 84: 3-4) But I am stuck on this highway to Zion. Living God, get me there safely. “O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob!” (Psalm 84: 8)
I see up ahead a priest walking. He too is in a hurry to get to the holy city. His duties await him, and they are many. He must offer the sacrifices for all of the people. He must be in prayer for them before God. He must lead the worship of Israel. Still, as the psalmist wrote, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.” The work of the priests is vital to Israel. But he seems to be slowing down. What is that up ahead? I can’t quite see. It’s something by the side of the road. He has passed by it now. I guess it was nothing. The priest seems to be walking faster. Yes, I agree, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” (Psalm 84: 10) He is hurrying to resume his duties in the Temple.
Whatever it was that he was looking at is lost to my view round the bend in the road. I will think about my own labors over the Law to pass the time until I reach the blessed gates of Jerusalem. What must I do to inherit eternal life? It is a puzzling question. How do I order all of the laws of Israel? Which are the most vital to my life before God? And how can I teach that way to others? There are so many roving rabbis, and each seems to have his own formula. Certainly, it is written that, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.” That must be the first and the greatest commandment. As the psalmist wrote, “my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.” Yes, that is how we must live to attain eternal life.
Oh, what is this? I see now what the priest must have seen. It is a person lying in a ditch. He looks quite badly injured, half dead. It must have been robbers. Oh, I hope they are gone. This is such an awful road. I hate this road. It is just so dangerous. They might come back. I should hurry on. I’ll be in Jerusalem soon. I could send some people back for him. Wait, I am forgetting the priest. Surely that was what he was planning to do, and he will reach Jerusalem before I do. Perhaps help is already on the way. I will hurry on, just in case, so that I can warn others of the danger. Yes, that’s what I’ll do. I hate this road.
I will pray as I walk. I will quicken my pace. “Happy are those whose strength is in you…As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs… They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.” (Psalm 84: 6-7) As I walk through this dreadful valley, oh strengthen me Lord God! The road is bending again. I will just look back and see how the injured man is doing. Perhaps the Lord will have come to his aid and he will already be continuing his journey.
What is this I see? It looks like a Samaritan. Yes, it is! Why would he be traveling to Jerusalem? He has stopped. He is bending over the injured man. He is helping him. I can’t believe my eyes. He is tending to his wounds. He has placed him on his own donkey. He’s turned around and is walking back toward Jericho. That’s right – I did pass an inn not too far from there. I should have thought of that. Amazing that a Samaritan would do that for a Jew! But at least I don’t have to worry about that injured man any more. That’s a relief. Finding him like that on the side of the road was very upsetting. But I can be thankful now that he has been rescued. As the psalmist wrote, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.” God certainly blessed that injured man. It’s strange, though, that the Lord would use a Samaritan.
Now, where was I? Oh yes, still pondering the greatest commandment that would lead to eternal life. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind… and your neighbor as yourself.” Yes, I mustn’t forget that last bit, “and your neighbor as yourself.” That’s important too.
But, who is my neighbor, and how must I show that love? Certainly, my fellow Jews, widows and orphans, and the righteous are my neighbors…but what about strangers, foreigners, and sinners…what about unknown injured people by the side of the road…and what about Samaritans? The psalmist certainly wrote, “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars…O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.” (Psalm 84: 3, 12) Everyone! Everyone at your altars! Sparrows, swallows, Samaritans? Am I, then, to love… everyone? Are all people my neighbors?
It was and is a dangerous road to walk down, that road from Jericho to Jerusalem. It is a road on which you will be challenged to answer important questions, a road where you will encounter all sorts of people – priests and lawyers, robbers and their victims, people like you and strangers and foreigners. It’s a place where you must deal with your own fears and prejudices and overcome them. It is where you must work out your relationship with God and with your neighbor. All of us must walk down that road.
A lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” And Jesus told this parable to answer that question. At the end of the story, the lawyer answered his own question. And Jesus said to him (and to us), “Go and do likewise.”