21 February 2021 Inner Workings Martin Baker
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" 27 He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself." 28 And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" 30 Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" 37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Last Sunday I talked about the visions that have stayed with us over the years. Sights that have filled us with a sense of wonder or awe. Visions that have changed the way we see things.
This morning I would like us to think of stories that we have heard – things that we have been told or learned, good things mainly, that have also surprised us, maybe even shocked us, but stories that have changed the way we have seen the world, ourselves, our understanding even of God.
Maybe they are stories of conversion experiences. Famous, and people who are not so famous, telling their story of discovering the work of God in their lives, and their lives changing from that point on.
The story of the Good Samaritan is a kind of story likes this.
I would like to be able to hear this story again – as if it was the first time. I would have liked to be with the crowd who hears this story for the first time. Felt their shock, their surprise, their amazement, their anger, their embarrassment. Their thirst to hear more stories.
A defining quality of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the thing people remembered most, was the stories he told. Jesus taught with stories. The stories transformed people’s understanding of God and themselves and the world around them. It’s hard to think of a parallel today. A good story you hear, a story you realise is about something wonderful, and after that nothing is the same again, you can’t think about things the same way again. Even things that were so familiar to you.
The story speaks for itself. And so rather than going through this verse by verses I want to focus on two key words in the story. These two words are extraordinary powerful, and, I think when we take them on board, are formative foundational for our sense of what Jesus was about, and what it means to commit to him as a follower as a disciple.
Both words translate poorly into English.
The first word translated in our story as a number of English words. ‘Moved with pity’. It’s what the Samaritan feels when he sees the injured man lying beside the road.
Verse 33. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
In Greek it is a very awkward word that is used. It is (pr: splawnk-NITZ-oh-my.) Splagchnizomai.
It comes from a work, splanksna. Inward parts’. Heart lungs liver and kidneys, to be precise. Back then people saw your emotions not coming from your heart but from your organs. Instead of saying I love you with all my heart. You might say I love you with all my splanksna. My organs. My guts. I love you with all my guts. It’s interesting. We would never say I love you with all my brain either.
We would probably capture this with the phrase gut wrenching.
The Levite and Priest walk by, see the injured man by the side of the road, make some calculation, something in their brains, and not in their guts or heart, and do nothing.
And the Samaritan sees him and has this deep gut felt, Splagchnizomai response.
My guts, my heart tells me I must act.
That’s interesting enough perhaps.
But what makes this really important is that this word, which occurs 12 times in the Gospels, describes how Jesus sees people, sees the crowd, sees us.
Just think for a moment about all the calculations that go on sometimes in our head when we are making a decision to help, to give to care. Are they worthy, are they deserving, are they dangerous, are they one of us? What am I going to get out of this? Are they going to pay for it? Are they going to start coming to church even?
And here we have this awkward work Splagchnizomai.
And it’s not just here.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them. Splanknizomai
4 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
In a parable in Matthew 27 and out of pity for him, (the s word) the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
And Jesus in pity (the s word again) touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.
The Story of the prodigal son
20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, (Splagchnizomai) and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
And again. And again.
Gut wrenching heart felt, spontaneoushealing grace filled risky transforming engagement.
Aren’t we getting a message here?
Jesus is telling us that this how God sees us.
We have all these often-difficult notions of judgement, and fear and atonement, and sin and righteousness.
But I think there is no doubt in our scriptures that this is the first thing. The first thing first. Spontaneous, necessary gut felt transformative healing forgiven compassionate love for us.
It changes everything.
God saying, I love you with all my guts. I wish it was prettier than that, but maybe that’s the language we have to use to get through all the religious jargon and ideology and theory.
You have been overwhelmed by an encounter and there is only one way you can respond.
It’s not spiritual says the priest. It’s not legal says the scribe. It’s what I’ve just got to do say the Samaritan.
At the end of the story Jesus asks the lawyer 36 which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" 37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
The nasty little thing here is that even after telling the story, the lawyer couldn’t actually say it was the Samaritan who did the right thing. He said instead, it was the one who showed him mercy.
He still can’t bring himself to credit the culturally hated Samaritan as the only one who did the right thing.
All my life I had hated this group of people. Feared them. But it was actually one of them who did the right thing.
And the right thing. The one who showed him mercy.
And thankfully the second word today from this story is a much easier Greek word, showed him mercy’ eleos. In ancient Greek mythology Eleos embodied pity, compassion, mercy.
By Jesus day the word was much more associated again with God’s relation with us. I desire compassion and not sacrifice. Mary proclaims God’s mercy (eleos) on all generations. Eleos was not just a simple verb. But was the central quality on God’s relationship with us. Faithful, graciousness. With all our flaws and mistakes, with all our sins, we live in relationship with God’s whose central quality is one of eleos. Compassion, mercy.
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" 37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
It’s really important not to see these as simple moral directives. Be good and nice.
These things, splanknizomai, eleos these things are the very grounding the fundamental quality of our relations with God and with one another.
It’s not a matter of being good people. It’s a matter of being God’s people. Caught up in God’s grace, faithfulness, compassion, caught up in this world of spontaneous and risky care and generosity. Being resurrection people.
The stories are telling us that God can’t do anything else but love us. Otherwise God would not be God and we would not be God’s children.
There is a wonderful saying by that poet the Auden. You cannot tell people what to do you can only tell them parables.
If we had to find just one main point for making sure the church continued, maybe that one good reason would be to tell people the parable of the Good Samaritan.’
At the end of the day it makes all the difference how you read reality. We right ourselves into a story. We set off on this journey passing by, and the future comes to an end once, passing by and the future comes to an end twice third time passing by, compassion a courageous decision. A risk. The future becomes ripe with hope and possibility. Gut felt Compassion kindness. And we find an answer. An answer to this question. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Passing by. Passing By. The Splanizomai. Then Eleos. I want us to be a splanizomai church. Responding with our heart and guts before we do the calculation. Because that is what God is like with us. Allowing ourselves to be caught up in God’s way of doing things. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Go and do likewise, Jesus says. AMEN
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.