Posted on August 21st, 2016
Olympic gymnast Simone Biles talks about the dedication necessary to compete at the highest level. “I could choose to hit snooze…. I’m at the gym 300 days a year. I could take a day off. But I don’t. I choose to rise to the challenge.” That’s what’s before you, if you want gold: You can choose to hit snooze, or you can choose to be awesome.
When you watch Simone Biles compete, or Katie Ledecky, or Michael Phelps, you’re seeing the result of extraordinary dedication. Some people inherit money, or good looks – but you cannot inherit being a great athlete, or musician, or surgeon, or pilot, or Navy SEAL. You have to spend enormous amounts of focused time in the pool, in the practice room, studying, suffering, repeating repeating repeating until it’s perfect, until it’s automatic. Perfection requires absolute, comprehensive effort.
The lawyer knows that when he asks Jesus about the Law in today’s gospel (Luke 10:23-37). How do you get eternal life? It requires a total perfection that makes the greatest musician, athlete, or special forces operative look like a slacker. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, all your mind. And, you must love your neighbor as yourself. Not 300 days a year, but 365. Every moment of every day. Every word, every thought, every action.
The lawyer knows he doesn’t measure up. Did you see the 800 meter women’s freestyle? At one point Katie Ledecky was so far ahead, none of the other swimmers were even visible on the screen. Nobody was close. The only thing chasing her was the world record line, and that lost too.
That’s us, every one of us, compared to the law. Not even close.
Not even close was what the priest and Levite wanted to be, in the story Jesus tells the lawyer. It’s understandable – the man in the ditch is nearly dead, and the men who did this to him are probably lurking nearby, awaiting their next victim. The safe thing to do is get away from the danger, keep moving and take cover.
This parable is usually called the Good Samaritan, but I call it the parable of the man in the ditch. That man is helped by someone who comes from the outside, a stranger who makes an extraordinary, sacrificial effort to rescue the man.
Now the situation is this: Samaritans and Jews hated each other. This man was on a dangerous road, and he’s a lost cause – dying. Yet the Samaritan gives everything he has: oil and wine for cleansing and treating his wounds, his beast for transportation, his hotel room, money for more medical care, with a promise to pay whatever future costs there might be. This is heroism, this is extraordinary effort that goes beyond winning a swimming race or gymnastic competition.
Now there are several ways of reading the parable. One of them takes the whole meaning from the last words: “Go and do likewise.” You have to do this, you have to be just like the Good Samaritan, you have to give up everything, sacrifice everything, be perfect even to people who hate you, if you want a shot at the kingdom of God. And that is, indeed, what the Law says: “You must be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” And James, the brother of the Lord, says, “Whoever keeps the whole law, yet stumbles in just one point, he is guilty of all.”
“Go and do likewise” damns us.
“Go and do likewise” damns us. We can marvel at Michael Phelps in the pool, but if the gold medal ceremony ends with “Go and do likewise,” almost everyone would say, “I cannot. It is too much; I am too old, too weak, too inclined to hit the snooze button.”
If we would say this of an athletic contest, what would we say in a moral contest? Go and do likewise: never say a word in anger; never look, even for a moment, lustfully at a woman; give all your money away; be absolutely dutiful to your parents; always say the total truth; never squabble with your spouse; be content with your money and don’t wish you had more; pray without ceasing.
Do these things describe you, to the uttermost? “Go and do likewise” is impossible as a standard of justification for us, that is, of being declared righteous by God, of having a good standing before God. By this measure all of us are weighed in the balance and found wanting.
Our first father is the man who fell among thieves. Robbed of his dignity, he was stripped naked and put to shame.
Where it leaves us is where all humanity is and has been, since long ago a man descended from Jerusalem to Jericho, i.e., since man left the City of God in the service of desire, lust, pride, and self-glory. He journeyed toward Jericho, the city of rebellion, prostitution, self-indulgence. On his way that man, our first father, fell among thieves. Robbed of his dignity, he was stripped naked and put to shame. He was still alive, but there was no life in him. He was half-dead: no longer human, yet not as the beasts. He had a mind but could not concentrate, he had legs but could not walk, he had a voice but growled and uttered curses. His eyes could not stop staring at screens. He saw evil but could not look away. Originally righteous, he was filled by the evil, becoming as the demons who had robbed him.
And is this not you, you who keep on looking at things of which you should be ashamed? You have wandered far. You are not awesome but have hit snooze repeatedly, not praying, not meditating on God’s Word, not listening, talking but saying nothing, always focused on your own lusts, lusts which only harm you and those around you.
Christians are dying in Syria whose names you know not, but you know the name of a dead gorilla in Ohio, or a dead lion in Africa. We can argue passionately about the merits or lack thereof of presidential candidates, but are we tuned into the needs of our neighbor, or the doctrines found in Holy Scripture?
You are not the Good Samaritan – but the Lord Jesus is.
You are the man in the ditch, you are the man stripped naked and put to shame. You are not the Good Samaritan at all – but the Lord Jesus is. He comes from the outside, and He runs to the ditch where we lay, a place where no other man would or could go. He pours in the oil, a token of bathing in the ancient world. The first Christians anointed with oil those who had been baptized; this is called the Chrismation, and later Confirmation. Thus did Anna Leigh receive this morning the oil, the bath, the cleansing that no amount of baby wipes or Johnson & Johnsons baby bath soap can give. The Lord Jesus cleanses the traumatized, cleanses the human race by means of the Baptism He gives.
To this He adds the wine, alcohol to disinfect, but wine that makes glad the heart of man. Our Lord Jesus gives His blood for wine, the blood that marked our ancient fathers’ doors at the Passover, blood we now receive at the Holy Eucharist. This is the sober intoxication, the holy inebriation by which our hearts are made glad not through drunkenness but through the joy of being received by the God who loves us, even us who have wandered so far and lived so selfishly.
He who rode on the beast of burden into Jerusalem for His execution, gives us His own beast going to a different destination, His inn, His Church where He keeps on caring for us. And He leaves tokens, money, denarii to keep on caring for us, with promise of great reward upon His return.
Now it would be very easy to say, “Rejoice and be glad, Amen!” at this point. But is there really no point at all to the concluding words of Jesus, “Go and do likewise”? True, we cannot justify ourselves, rescue ourselves, save ourselves. We have no perfection in ourselves.
But what we have received, we share. “Forgive us our trespasses,” the Lord teaches us to pray, “As we forgive those who trespass against us.” What we receive from Jesus, we share. Going into the world, we will find all of our fellow siblings, all the sons and daughters of Adam who are traumatized by this life, who need what we have received.
Brought into the inn, as we are healed we begin serving the other patients, and hauling in as many as we can from the ditch, sometimes kicking and screaming in the agony of their wounds and their brokenness.
This short life is not for hitting snooze. We may not be awesome in a gold-medal winning sense – but awesome consists not in silver or gold, but in the gifts of Jesus which heal us, join us to God and neighbor, and propel us toward the resurrection. These are the awesome things that give us our joy. +INJ+