Jazz Sermon on the Good Samaritan
Jazz Sunday Conversation
July 10, 2016 Maple Grove
This is Jazz Sunday, and one of the ways jazz works is that you have the same theme and the same progression of chords, but first the saxophone will play with that melody, and then bass will riff on it a while, and then the piano will improvise on that same tune. A jazz piece is always rooted in the same theme and chords, but you never know exactly where it’s going to go.
So today we’re going to try a jazz sermon, or rather, a jazz conversation on the theme of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. First the priest and the Levite will take it for a while, then the Samaritan will play a few bars, and finally the beaten man will take us home. We’ll all be rooted in the same story, but who knows exactly where your conversations are going to go. And in between each conversation, the band will do its thing.
The Priest and Levite
The priest and Levite have taken a lot of criticism over the years—and for good reason. They were looked up to in their community, they had the opportunity to help a man in need, and they simply didn’t do it. I’d like to humanize them a bit, however. Even though they did not stop to help, they may well have had several very good reasons. Some scholars suggest that if the beaten man were bloody or worse yet, dead, touching him could have rendered them ritually unclean and unable for a time to do their priestly duties. Whether that is true or not, there are other reasons not to stop and help a man along the road. Maybe they were busy, running late to help an aged parent or on some crucial errand for God. Maybe they were scared that the beaten man was a set-up, and once they stopped robbers would jump out and beat them too. Maybe they’d already stopped to help three others that day and were just worn out. Maybe, even though they wouldn’t want to admit it, they just didn’t want to get involved.
The priest and the Levite didn’t stop to help a man in need, right in front of them. I’m not saying I approve of the way they acted. I’m just saying, they may have had their reasons. So here’s your first question for discussion around your tables: What reasons have you had for not helping someone in need?
The last words Jesus says about this story are, "Go and do likewise." Go and do what the Samaritan did. And what did the Samaritan do? He had compassion for the man, he bandaged his wounds, he took him in his own car to a place where he could recover, he paid for his care, and he promised to come back in person and check on him. In other words, he didn’t just help the man from afar. The Samaritan spent time with the man, touched him, formed a healing relationship with him. Maple Grove’s mission statement includes three words: Invite, Grow and Transform. And the description for Transform says to form life-changing relationships while serving others. That’s what the Samaritan did.
Jesus says first that the Samaritan had compassion for the beaten man. Many of us feel compassion for others. Fewer of us go ahead and do what the Samaritan did: form life-changing relationships while serving those in need. "Which one," Jesus asks the lawyer, "was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" And only one answer is possible. It’s not about emotion or knowledge, it’s not about being liberal or conservative, it’s not about religious doctrine or having a good reputation. The one who was a neighbor was the one who did something, who took the time and the resources and the risk to form a life-changing relationship with someone in need.
We know the right answer, don’t we? It’s the doing that’s hard. And we do neither God nor ourselves any favors if we read this story today and talk about this story today, and don’t change our lives. So here’s your question: What is one concrete way that you can go and do likewise? What is one specific way you reach out and form a life-changing relationship with someone in need?
The Beaten Man
I once read that you can tell the main character in any parable by who is mentioned first. Read some parables and see what you think. Even though we call this the Parable of the Good Samaritan, listen to how it begins: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. . ." Sure, Jesus is inviting us to ponder how we are like the priest and the Levite. And sure, he’s challenging us to go and do as the Samaritan did. But the main character is the beaten man. Could it be that who we really are in this story isn’t the priest, and not even the Samaritan, but the beaten and helpless man, forced to rely on the compassion of a despised Samaritan?
I suppose you know something of the feelings Jews in Jesus’ time had about Samaritans. Their hatred of Samaritans was part ethnic, part historical, part religious. They hated Samaritans. So here’s how it might have been: the beaten man looked up from the ditch only to think, "I’d rather die than let that dirty Samaritan be my neighbor." Could it be that Jesus was suggesting that we are in no position to decide who is and isn’t our neighbor, because sooner or later, we need them all.
I’ve got a photo from The Columbus Dispatch, November 30, 2014, of OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett writhing on the ground with a freshly broken ankle, and kneeling over him, gently touching him in prayer, is Devon Gardner, the quarterback from that team up north. Quite possibly J.T. Barrett thought, "I’d rather lie here and suffer alone than be prayed for by someone from Michigan." But in Jesus’ story, we don’t get to decide who our neighbors are.
So here’s your last question: If you were in trouble who is the last person in the world you’d want to have stop and help you?
That’s your neighbor.