4Pages: Preaching on the good Samaritan

This article is the first in new ongoing series where we will offer a short reflection on a lectionary reading for the coming Sunday. These reflections will use Paul Scott Wilson's Four Pages of the Sermon as a form to help you move from text to sermon. Each reflection will include short pieces for each of Wilson's "pages," starting with Page Three, where we name God's gracious action in the text. You will also find some questions to help guide you in contextualizing both trouble and grace to your particular community's stories.

You can read a quick introduction to Wilson's model and why it is a form we need for this time especially, here. We hope these reflections will become an indispensable part of your proclaiming the gospel each week in the places where God sends you to serve.


Luke 10:25-37

25 A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”

26 Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”

27 He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

28 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

29 But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. 31 Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 32 Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 33 A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. 34 The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ 36 What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”

37 Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”


PAGE THREE: Grace in the text

Christ makes neighbors out of those lost in death’s ditch.

Jesus is the one moved with compassion, the Good Neighbor who will do anything for others so they may live. He’s also the one who lets himself be taken, beaten, and left for dead–he’s literally setting his face toward Jerusalem even as he tells this parable, where he will be beaten and broken. God in Jesus comes near to us, becoming our nearest neighbor in his victimhood and his mercy, and connects with both Samaritan and the dying man. 

And in answering the lawyer’s question this way, he refuses to re-establish any boundaries, between us and between us and God, in ways that ignore the suffering of our bodies and keep any distance between us. 

In a gracious way, Jesus offers a radically simple answer to the lawyer’s question: a neighbor is anyone—regardless of any factor that might justify any socially constructed theoretical boundary—whose body is close enough to mine for me to identify with.

And Jesus himself enacts this: he comes into the ditch with us, where we have fallen into death, and pulls us out. This parable is, in fact, the gospel itself.

PAGE ONE: Trouble in the text

Confronted with the suffering and broken body of another, too many are unmoved to act.

The legal expert is asking about eternal life, as well as the limits of neighborly expectation, so that he can be sure to count among the righteous. He asks in no uncertain terms, “Where is the boundary beyond which I don’t have to go?”

This parable pulls the legal expert (and the wider crowd) into that tension between right belief and right practice, at the place where right belief and right practice always meet: on the boundaries of our bodies.

What the legal expert initially asks as a hypothetical question of legal and doctrinal extension, Jesus makes into a tangible moment with an all-too-familiar scene. Everyone there knew how dangerous that road was–anyone traveling to Jerusalem via the Jericho Road (largely to avoid passing through Samaria, in fact), would have known the dangers lying in wait there.

Here is this person who was traveling there, who clearly didn’t intend for this to happen, who didn’t intend to become a victim. And yet now he’s left for dead, his body broken open, a bloody mess that can’t be ignored.

And at least two folks—people explicitly charged with maintaining the boundaries that mark our social, religious, political, and moral life—encounter his broken, bloody body. And they walk on. Their bodies are unmoved by compassion for this one who is clearly their neighbor, a child of Israel like them and immediately close to them, left for dead.

The trouble thickens when the one who does have compassion turns out to be someone whose body is a visible offense, whose very being would disgust the priest and the levite and the legal expert and likely even the dying man in the ditch. This Samaritan, whose identity and history and beliefs are an offense to everything Israel believes, is the one whose body is shocked into choosing life at the sight of another’s broken body. His prodigious actions, in contrast to the levite’s and the priest’s and with overwhelmingly excessive generosity, ask: Regardless of our social constraints and boundaries, can the broken body of another shock you into choosing abundant life?

PAGE TWO: Trouble in the world

We are too often unmoved with compassion for those closest to us.

The past two years have only amplified our bent toward social distance. Maybe it is hard to remember now, but in the early days of this pandemic, we collectively feared the possibilities of contagion. “Social distance” became an essential practice. And even as the pandemic wore on and evolved, many of us found ourselves “seeing and walking on the other side,” figuratively and literally. Social situations we would have once engaged without a second thought became tense spaces we would rather avoid: family members whose behaviors were a threat to our health, or friends who practices and opinions didn’t align with our own sense of safety, workplaces reopening and bringing proximities to others we weren’t ready to be near.

Hopefully, we are becoming more aware than ever before of how our social reality is defined by what our minds perceive as a threat to our well-being. We can be so very physically close, and yet spiritually distant and closed-off from one another. And now this story challenges us and invites us to reverse that direction. The Samaritan’s body comes in close contact to the man’s broken body–and the wisdom of his body trumps his mind’s careful logic. The Samaritan’s reaction–made even more excessive with his absurdly lavish actions well beyond what we are capable of–calls into question our own responses today. 

So as you look for ways to name this trouble in our world, ask:

  1. Whose suffering in this past year have we easily justified or even ignored, as the necessary consequence of maintaining “healthy boundaries”–especially right next door to your community?

  2. We are together in this culture, and yet we are not together–what is keeping us unavailable to the surprise of becoming, of being made a neighbor? 

  3. How are we using the physical design of our homes, our neighborhoods, and our wider world to keep ourselves from neighboring? 

  4. What are the social constraints–of class, race, gender, and other ways we construct identity–that keep us held back from other’s broken bodies, even while we can be so physically close to them?

PAGE FOUR: Grace in the world

Christ makes neighbors out of us.

Through this parable, Jesus saves this lawyer from the constraints of social distance and spiritual limitations that keep us from actively neighboring one another. 

In his crucifixion and resurrection, Christ saves us out of the clutches of our social constraints. 

And in proclaiming this parable to our congregations even now, we see how something about life with this God beckons us out of our normal, everyday social circumscriptions, and urges us to see any encounter we have with one another as a possible event of surprising grace. Refusing to harden your heart, to construct spiritual boundaries that can keep us distant from each other even when we are right next to one another, is a radical act!

It’s been a strange paradox of this global pandemic, that while we’ve shared in a global traumatic experience, we have also shared in profoundly beautiful acts of local connection. Maybe you’ve experienced some yourself: neighbors who made grocery store runs on behalf of other neighbors; handmade masks and other gifts left on your porch. Maybe some of these practices have even continued after precautions have lessened, neighbors still checking in to see if they can pick up anything while they’re out. 

What expressions of neighboring have appeared in your community these past two years?

This grace of this week is also an invitation to learn from The Art of Neighboring and other recent resources related to neighboring, how to move past our social constraints with those physically closest to us. 

With a block map like this one, get to know your eight closest neighbors. First, get to know at least their names. Then, learn something factual about your neighbor (i.e. Kyle plays golf, Marguerite’s kids’ names). And if you can, seek to learn something deeper about your neighbor (i.e. their spiritual beliefs, sources of their anxiety). Practice making yourself available to a surprising encounter–don’t merely have neighbors, but instead make yourself someone’s neighbor this week.

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