The Rev. Stephen Norris preached this sermon for St. Andrew’s on July 14, 2013

By Doing We Become 
Luke 10:25-37

            Why does Jesus call the Samaritan good, and not the Priest or Levite?  What makes the Samaritan so good?  The Samaritan wasn’t a priest.  He didn’t devote his entire life to religious practice.  The Samaritan most certainly wasn’t a Levite.  He most certainly wasn’t born into the right family.  In fact, the Hebrews looked at the Samaritans with disgust.  They most certainly weren’t God’s chosen people.  And the Hebrews reminded them of that fact by labeling them as “unclean”.  To the Hebrews, the Samaritans certainly didn’t make the cut.  So why does Jesus lift up such a person in today’s gospel story?  Why would Jesus call such a person “good”?

Maybe Jesus’ description of the Samaritan has to do with how the Samaritan responds when he runs into this man who fell among robbers and was left for dead.  In other words, maybe Jesus is redefining the importance of ethics for his followers.  Perhaps Jesus is saying that our behaviors and actions are important.

You see, I think Jesus, in today’s gospel, is making the link between beliefs and actions.  And I think he uses the Samaritan, someone very far away from the religious and cultural establishment of the day, to emphasize his point.  I believe Jesus, by telling this story and using the characters he uses, is emphasizing to the questioning lawyer that a person’s behaviors and actions tell the truth about the assumptions and values of one’s heart.  Whether we know it or not, for good or for ill, our actions do speak volumes about our beliefs.  Our behaviors and actions tell a story about what and who we believe in as people.  We can even take it a step further and say that our actions and behaviors tell a story about who we really are.

Michael Panicola, in his introductory book on Healthcare Ethics declares, “While we may not always act in ways that are consistent with who we are or ought to become, and while no one action may completely define us as a person, we absolutely cannot escape the fact that who we are affects how we act, and how we act affects who we are becoming as a people in relation to other people, to God, and to creation.  A focus on action or behavior alone tends to overshadow this great truth that Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas and other great philosophers and theologians made so clear, that is, our actions say something about who we are and determine to a great extent who we ultimately become as a people.”

If it is true that our actions and even our inactions flow from who we are and to a great extent form our futures, doesn’t it follow then, that in today’s gospel, Jesus may be trying to help us make the connection between doing and being, or being and doing?  Because if Panicola and Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, Aquinas and Jesus are right, then it is out of our very being that our doing emanates and it is by doing that we become.

But which is most important?  Is it doing, or is it being?  I don’t know the answer to that question but what I do know is there are many people who are often left behind or fall through the cracks of the many broken institutions and systems of our world.  The Priest and Levite might just represent those systems and the parameters or boundaries of a heartless and rigid society that falls short as it tries to mediate justice and distribute its finite resources wisely, to treat people fairly and with equity, in order to accomplish the greatest good for the greatest of its numbers.  And indeed, this is a good and noble quest.  But what about those who are left behind, those who fall through the cracks, those who desperately need to experience goodness and mercy in some form or fashion.

On this past Monday, Pope Francis held a Mass on the tiny Sicilian island of Lampedusa, a treeless strip of rock which is only four miles long and is the main port of entry into Europe for African migrants trying to escape the oppression and poverty of a life in Libya and Tunisia.  He celebrated and preached behind a makeshift altar made from recycled wood and shipwrecked migrant boat parts.  The foci of the day were those who died trying to escape Africa in order to find a better life for themselves and their families.  “Who wept for these people who were aboard the boats?” Francis asked in his homily.  “For the young mothers who brought their babies?  For these men who wanted to support their families?  We are a society that has forgotten how to cry.” he said.

On Monday, Pope Francis emphasized to the world-wide Christian church that our vocation as followers of Christ is to embody God’s goodness and mercy for those who desperately need to experience goodness in some form or fashion, especially those who are ignored or left behind by the human structures and institutions of this world.  In being merciful and good, we allow the light of Christ’s love to shine through us to radiate comfort and healing to those our world ignores.  We can be good and merciful by being in solidarity with those who suffer, those acquainted with grief.  We can be good to them by crying with them, by praying with them, by being the oil and wine which God pours into their broken hearts to mend their wounds.

If our faith shapes our works, and our works shape our faith, then our actions and inactions really do define us as a people.  Perhaps this is why Jesus gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Perhaps it is of eternal importance for us as individuals and our society as a whole, as a faithful people who have experienced the good works of God, that we allow his good works to become our good works, to flow out through us into his world–thereby creating even more goodness and mercy.  Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he told the lawyer that if he wanted to live that he must go and do likewise—that by his acts of goodness and mercy he would then create the life of goodness and mercy he desired, both in himself and in his world.

It’s not enough just to get fed a steady diet of God’s mercy and compassion.  We are fed this diet so that we can gain the strength necessary to become agents of God’s goodness and mercy in the world.  Doing good and showing mercy makes us a good and merciful people, and being good and merciful people produces a good and merciful world.  We are called to become good and merciful business owners, the good and merciful teachers, good and merciful students and priests by first partaking and then doing.  We partake of God’s goodness and mercy by receiving Christ’s body and blood each Sunday.   And then we go from here and do likewise, all for our own transformation and for the transformation of a better and more merciful world….  AMEN!!