Lawyers and other neighbours
I speak to you in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit – Amen
If my memory serves me correctly, I don’t believe that there are any lawyers here today?
Wonder if you can help me out a little, just in case… Are there any lawyers here… today?
Didn’t think so… so I have a joke for you…
A man was walking along the street when he noticed a bottle lying in the gutter. He picked up the bottle and decided to rub it for good luck. To his amazement, a genie appeared.
"I will grant you three wishes," said the genie, "but I must warn you, there is a catch. For each wish I grant, every lawyer in the world will receive double what you ask for. Do you understand?"
"I think so," said the man.
"Right," said the genie. "What is your first wish?"
"My first wish," replied the man, "is for a Rolls-Royce. I've always wanted a Rolls-Royce."
"Then you shall have a Rolls-Royce," answered the genie, "and all the lawyers in the world will be given two Rolls-Royces. Now what is your second wish?"
"I could use a million dollars," said the man.
"Very well," said the genie. "You shall have a million dollars. But you do realise that means that every lawyer in the world will become two million dollars richer? Now what is your third wish?"
The man thought for a moment. "Well, I've always wanted to donate a kidney."
Well, you don’t have to go searching very far to find jokes about lawyers
I simply typed in: ‘lawyer + jokes’ and in .30 of a second I got nearly a million hits
So I refined my search to be: ‘lawyer + jokes + Christian’ and in .27 of a second got 132,000 hits
It seems even us loving Christians have a lot to joke about when the topic of lawyers come up
Most of us have had some dealings with lawyers at one point or other in our lives, and I imagine if you are like me, not all have been favourable
One time I was taking a former employer to small claims court for wrongful dismissal and after the first lawyer, that I liked, went on maturity leave and I was left with the managing partner, who interrupted our meeting with a call from his daughter who was traveling in Spain. I understood this and didn’t really mind until I got the bill for his services, which included the 45 minutes I sat in his lobby while he was on the phone.
But, I have also had favourable experiences as well
Wanda Cole introduced me to Steve Portelli, a very nice guy and a lawyer in town and each time that we run our ‘Marriage Prep Saturday’ here, he has come and provided a presentation and answered questions – and done us and the couples an excellent service
And when I really think of it – I have had numerous dealings with lawyers, especially over buying and selling four houses, and nearly all have been very positive experiences
However, I, like I suspect many of you – when you heard in our gospel reading that “A lawyer once came forward to test Jesus” were immediately thinking of the stereotypical lawyer that gets presented in our abundance of lawyer jokes.
It seems that our human tendency is always to reduce the situation to the negative attributes
In all the jokes that I looked through, all painted lawyers in an unfavourable light
In Jesus’ time, amongst the Jewish people, "Lawyer," was not our contemporary understanding,
A lawyer was a scholar of the Torah, one who was learned and well-respected in interpreting the Jewish law, which includes the Levitical Codes and purity laws.
So, are we to see this lawyer in the same stereotypical ways of our modern lawyers?
This lawyer would have been very well respected, a leader in the community
This lawyer would have been zealous for God’s law, and therefore shouldn’t he been seen as one of the good guys?
Well, in all the other occurrences of lawyers in Luke’s gospel, they are not very favourable - and it is written that he came to test Jesus – so we might be excused to reducing this man into the group that were against Jesus, like many of the scribes and Pharisees
From my sermon preparation – it is clear that most people do not think that the lawyer in our gospel had noble intentions – most biblical scholars believe that his test was to undermine Jesus’ authority
However, others don’t paint this lawyer in an adversarial role.
In fact, the text might suggest otherwise. He calls Jesus "teacher," respectfully.
And Jesus engages him as an equal, responding to the lawyer's first question with a question. Jesus agrees with the answer.
Jesus responds to the second question with a story followed by a question, and again the lawyer and Jesus are in agreement.
It does not seem that Jesus takes the lawyer's "test" as that of an antagonist.
It should also be viewed that Jesus commissioned him to serve, following the teaching of Jesus
Jesus declared to his correct response to whom is the true neighbour – to Go and Do likewise
In fact the very task that Jesus sent him to do was to serve as the Good Samaritan did
This parable, known as ‘The Good Samaritan’, is probably the second most famous of all the parables
The first being ‘The Prodigal Son’, also only found in Luke
Like other stories so well known in our culture, its scope goes well beyond the original audience of the lawyer or even our Christian understanding
There are hospitals called ‘Good Samaritan’ – there relief agencies named after it and there are even laws dubbed “good Samaritan laws”
In the final episode of Seinfeld – Jerry and the gang are put in prison because they broke the ‘good Samaritan law’ and didn’t come to the aid of another and in fact it was another source for jokes for them
In a more serious setting, it is the topic of great debate, when, in our society a news story occurs like the couple that happened only a few months ago:
First, in New York City, all caught on security cameras, where a homeless man was mortally assaulted when he had come to the aid of someone that was being attacked, only to be stabbed himself and then left to die as numerous people walked by.
Or even closer to home, on the Toronto Subway, where an elderly man was robbed while onlookers did nothing
We are outraged that this happens
…Quite simply, the notion of the Good Samaritan is part of our culture, part of the moral fibre of our society
And yet… it has something much more to speak to us, Christians… it is a parable found not in the Old Testament or Torah and therefore it is not shared by either Jew or Muslim
It is unique to Luke’s gospel and is an important part of Jesus’ teaching
It is more than some safe ‘after-school special’ – where there is a ‘moral of the story’ - that we are to be nice to everyone, care and help out those that need and don’t walk on by
Simply put …to us it speaks of God’s love
It speaks of a love so broad that it is shocking to the hearers
To understand this we must first understand the lead character in the parable
Briefly stated, a Samaritan is someone from Samaria. During an ancient Israeli war, most of the Jews living up north in Samaria were killed or taken into exile.
However, a few Jews, who were so unimportant that nobody wanted them, were left in Samaria. Since that time, these Jews had intermarried with other races.
They were considered half-breeds by the "true" Jews.
They had perverted the race. They had also perverted the religion.
They looked to Mt. Gerizim as the place to worship God, not Jerusalem.
They interpreted the Torah differently than the southern Jews.
The animosity between the Jews and Samaritans were so great that some Jews would go miles out of their way to avoid walking on Samaritan territory.
Then there are the other characters
Although not technically a character, we should consider the Jericho road, because it held attributes that would have played a large role in the story and immediately the Hebrew listeners would have understood the unique setting that Jericho road played.
Martin Luther King, Jr., in his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, on the day before his death, described the road as follows:
I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering road.
It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred feet above sea level [actually about 2100 feet or 640 metres]. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're about twenty-two feet below sea level [actually 846 feet or 258 metres].
That's a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around.
Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure.
And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?"
But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"
Dr. King suggests some motivations for our next characters, the Priest and Levite, who walked on by
Justifications for their lack of loving action
And it has long been held that since they were religious men, and when they encountered the half-dead man they would be worried about ritual impurity with all the unclean spilt blood
But one can just as easily explain that they were going down towards Jericho and away from Jerusalem, away from religious duty and also like our lawyer in the story they could easily look to scripture and find the commandment to love your neighbour
And so precisely because they were religious men they should have stopped and helped out
I believe, like Dr. King last suggestion, that the answer is not confusing or in need of a whole lot of cultural understanding
I think the simple truth that Jesus is using the characters of the Priest and the Levite to draw out a big surprise and shock for the hearers – a shock of the identity of the third traveller
I believe that the Priest and Levite are shown to be most concerned about themselves
All, the priest and the Levite see, is a burden, a hassle, an obligation, a problem.
They do, what was done in New York a few months ago or on the Toronto Subway
Nothing… in the hope that it will be someone else’s problem
Then there is the half dead man – we don’t really know much, at all, about this man – and I believe intentionally so
He has been beaten and stripped of his clothing, so he has also been stripped of anything that might identify him by social class, or perhaps even nationality
We might assume that he is a fellow Jew, because he is coming from Jerusalem – but so was the Samaritan - he is helped simply because he is a person in need
Through our Christian history, this parable has been interpreted in differing ways, we tend to see the story at face value, a story that Jesus used to teach a point, However, many of the early church fathers look at it with a deeper meaning and understood it as an allegory - Origen presented it in one such way:
The man who was going down is Adam.
Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers.
The priest is the Law, the Levite is the prophets,…and the Samaritan is Christ.
The wounds are disobedience, the donkey is the Lord’s body,
The inn, which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church. …
The manager of the inn is the head of the Church, to whom its care has been entrusted.
And the fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Saviour’s second coming
This presents a powerful other layer of understanding, and although I believe in a more straight forward understanding, believe that Jesus had a lesson for both us Christians, and also in the moment - for the lawyer
This allegorical interpretation presents the lawyer, who for some was in questionable status, in a very favourable light
After the lawyer correctly identified the Samaritan as the true and good neighbour, Jesus instructed the lawyer to Go and do likewise – the same as the Samaritan
Therefore, this puts the lawyer in the same shoes as Christ
and is called to do the will of God into service toward one’s fellow person
service at a sacrifice to ones own interest
Again, this is beyond the mere moralistic story
The story for us Christians, calls us to a much bigger picture than doing good deeds to those in need
We are called to be Christ in the world – we are called to represent our Lord – who represented all of us on the cross
And we are called to shockingly reach out beyond limitations
Beyond cultural and racial lines
We are called to challenge the world beyond its comfortable understanding of who is in and who is out
This should come as no surprise, because just before this encounter with the lawyer, Jesus had sent out the 70 disciples into the mission field and told that that who ever accepts you – accepts Jesus
They came back with wonderful stories of the power they processed to do good in His name – in the name of Jesus
Barbara Johnson wrote a little parable that is a perfect commentary on this issue of living out our faith in light of the Parable of the Good Samaritan:
A man fell into a pit and couldn't get himself out.
A subjective person came along and said, "I feel for you down there."
An objective person came along and said, "It's logical that someone would fall down there."
A Pharisee said, "Only bad people fall into a pit."
A mathematician calculated how he fell into the pit.
A news reporter wanted an exclusive story on his pit.
A fundamentalist said, "You deserve your pit."
An IRS agent asked if he was paying taxes on the pit.
A self-pitying person said, "You haven't seen anything until you've seen my pit."
A charismatic said, "Just confess that you're not in a pit."
An optimist said, "Things could be worse."
A pessimist said, "Things will get worse."
Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the pit!
Sometimes God helps us out of the ditch directly.
Sometimes God uses other people.
Sometimes we may be the guy in the ditch.
Sometimes we may be the innkeeper.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ – fellow Christians – I challenge you to look at this parable in a new light – forget for a moment the cultural understanding of the nice moral story and …
Be like that lawyer and let your inquiries lead you onto greater things
Be transformed from following with your head… to Going and Doing likewise
Be like the good lawyer and turn from being an expert in the law to being an expert in the Love of God… and sharing that love to all who God defines as neighbours
Be Christ’s representatives in the world – Be Christ’s doers in the world
In closing I would to conclude with a prayer that is directly from our Colossians passage today
May [you] be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. (Colossians 1:9c-12) - Amen