Luke 10:25-37 “Like Wise”
I like to be wise. I like wise cracks. I like wiseacres. I like it when kids ask “why?” over and over again. I think all those “why’s” will make them wise one day.
On the plane coming back from Seattle this week I had an extraordinary opportunity to be wise. The stewardess had handed out the State of Hawaii Department of Agriculture declaration form to everyone on the plane. The lady sitting next to me was, however, asleep with earphones in her ears so that she could not hear.
Later, as the plane was coming in for a landing, she awoke and put on her seatbelt, put the tray table in the upright position, and so on. I told her then that she had missed the Ag declaration but that I had filled it out for her. She said “thank-you,” but I could tell she was thinking twice about what I had just said.
I told her: “You are now Frieda Hochstaedter from Stuttgart, Germany, and you have an armadillo in your carry-on luggage.” I told her if she is stopped at the gate that that is why. I did not know her real name of course. She laughed so hard I thought she was going to bust her seatbelt.
So, to be sure, the translation of the word in our scripture νομικος ( in Greek) is loosely translated as “lawyer.” And, I dare say that “lawyer” is perhaps a very loose translation indeed. This man is a wiseacre. He is the guy that has taken the Ten Commandments and multiplied them out into an immense system of prohibitions that no one except he could begin to comprehend. For example, he will have taken the commandment to “remember the Sabbath” and made thousands of prohibitions that might include: “Do not make bread. Do not carry water. Do not cook anything. Today that includes not lifting a finger to press an elevator button on the Sabbath. You have to stand in the elevator waiting for someone else to push the button for you. In other words, the legal statutes are taken to an absurd level. So, this is the guy who comes up with all of this absurdity.
This wiseacre wants to test Jesus’ understanding of the hideous rules that he has come up with. Is this a test? Or, is it a trap? Whatever it is in the mind of the wiseacre, Jesus is ready to have some fun with him. Let us just call this a battle of wits.
“What is the greatest commandment?” becomes the question. Jesus answers (and I know that in some red-letter bibles it seems that it is the wiseacre that answers, but it really has to be Jesus. This matches the other Gospels): “To love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. And to love you neighbor as yourself.”
Interestingly, this response is not one of the Ten Commandments at all. It is from Deuteronomy 6:4. In this regard, the question is not being answered at all. The wiseacre might as well have been asking for the weather report on Mars because he is not going to answer his question. The proper response would have been “The first commandment of Moses is the most important that we should have no other God but the one true God.”
Instead, Jesus points out not that there is only one God, but that we must love God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and MIND. And, this part about the “mind” really is not in the Old Testament reading at all. Before there were three paths to loving God; now Jesus adds a fourth. We can love God with our minds.
A wiseacre would love to hear such a thing. Maybe through one’s own mental cleverness one can reach God? One thing is for sure, we should not switch off our brains when we come to church. We should use our brains when we pray and read our bibles. We should apply our minds to everything we do.
This last week on Wednesday, a crew of us from Waimea went up to Hanalei to help the church recover from the flood. Thank you Jared, Mahea, Laura, David Somers, and me. So we are all up in Hanalei restoring the church. Jared opened up a closet door in one of the rooms, and do you all know what he found? That is right, he found WATER! That is to say he found cases and cases of bottled water.
Now, at first I thought that it was really clever to have cases of bottled water there in the church office area. Then, however, we noticed the dates on the bottles. Some of the water dated back to 2001. There was seventeen-year-old water in that closet. Maybe we should just call that closet the “Water Closet” because there is nothing you can do with cases of 17-year-old water except flush it! I ended tipping out all the water and taking the bottles to recycling.
I was perhaps foolish in doing this. It crossed my mind later that I could have set up a “bottled water” premium car wash and charged a lot of money for those who would want their cars purified with bottled water! Or, as a pastor I might have saved the water for baptism—emersion in ancient waters!
Where was my mind? The crux of the matter is that when you set up a hurricane supply, you must be mindful to “rotate stock” every season otherwise you will end up with a mountain of undrinkable water which will be of no assistance to you in the end.
WE have to be mindful of God as well. We cannot just put God in the corner of our lives as a ready supply, church is not a God closet, but rather we must be checking in with God constantly and having a useful prayer life that will be ready to handle the big crises when they come. We must love God with our all our minds! Be mindful of the Almighty. Take stock in God, and remember to rotate that stock!
The other thing that the wiseacre and all of us hear from Jesus (that is what was not mentioned in Deuteronomy 6) is that not only are we to love God, but we must also love our neighbor as our self. The wiseacre in wanting to get one over on Jesus still asks the question: “Who is my neighbor?” What a mindless response to the greatest commandment! It is like asking, “How do I get out of loving others?”
Jesus responds by telling a great parable that we have come to know as “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” And, the “good” in the title is supposed to remind all of us that Samaritans were in that time considered to be collectively bad. It is a little bit of a racist title to the story. Samaritans were considered outcasts by their Jewish brothers and sisters because they were not worshipping God in the Temple in Jerusalem. So, they did not believe in the centralized religion. They were kind of the protestants of their day!
The use of a parable at this time in the scripture forces the wiseacre to use his mind, however. He has to consider the intent of Jesus in telling this story. He has to place himself in the various roles of the characters that Jesus mentions. We do the same: Am I the victim left on the side of the road? Am I the priest that walks the other way? Am I the robbers that do the terrible deed in the first place? Lastly, am I the good Samaritan that helps out in the end?
When I was flying back from Seattle this last week, I was confronted with this very question in a unique way. You see, I only own really one warm jacket that is good fro snow, and I did see snow driving over Snoqualamie pass to get to Eastern Washington. The jacket is from when I was a volunteer firefighter in Washington. The jacket states on the front that I am a firefighter. On the back of the jacket is also the firefighters’ emblem. So, when I wear this jacket, everybody knows that I have been a firefighter at some point in my life.
Great, I get on the plane in Seattle wearing this jacket so that everybody sees me wearing it. About forty minutes after take-off, it was announced by the flight crew, “We have a medical emergency in row fourteen. Is there anyone with medical training on board? Is there any doctor, nurse, EMT or firefighter on board? Please come to row fourteen.” Now, I was sitting in row thirty-five. I could see actually three people getting up out of their seats, and I was quite sure that they were more qualified than I would have been.” Yet, the question came to me in a very strange circumstance that being a good Samaritan is a bit of a scary thing!
Being the robbers, the Levite, or the priest is relatively straightforward and unremarkable. Being the victim or the Good Samaritan is really scary. Why is loving your neighbor so scary? The robbers might come back for you. The priests might shun you too! What if the victim actually dies and you have a dead body on your hands?
What if I get up out of the seat of the plane and go forward to help but the other passenger dies in my hands. The whole planeload of people are going to look at me as a disgrace to that jacket that I was wearing, right?
A happy ending for this story of the person on the plane: Everything turned out okay. The passenger was fine in fact. The plane did not have to turn around. No emergency medical team met us in Honolulu. And, I was very thankful for the Good Samaritans who got up to help during the flight.
At the end of our Scripture, Jesus tells us to go and do likewise. Specifically, Jesus tells the wiseacre to have mercy on others. If you love God and your neighbor as yourself, then you will know mercy in your heart. Wise guys are not really wise because they tend to live without that basic mercy running through their hearts. They always have a reason why they will not get involved.
Who is your neighbor? Anyone in need. Anyone who scares you just a little to get involved in his or her life. Anyone who needs an ounce of mercy in this world. And, when the world kicks you and makes you hurt, know that it is God’s great mercy over you that will heal your life when the true believer of Jesus’ words will come and show you the mercy you need.