Sermon delivered by Howard Baston, pastor of First Baptist Church in Amarillo, T.X., on Mar. 8 2009.
I don’t think it’s any mistake that these two stories are side by side– two stories that carry completely different messages. As these two stories rub shoulders, we begin to feel the friction, the different messages popping off the pages like sparks.
The first story begins when a lawyer, an expert in the Jewish law, asks a question. He’s testing Jesus. “Hey, teacher. What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
This first story continues with questions being posed and answers being given. The lawyer asked a question. Then Jesus asked a question. The lawyer gives an answer. So does Jesus. In the second part of this same story, the lawyer asks a question again, and then, after the story, so does Jesus. The lawyer answers, and then Jesus gives another answer.
Ironically, the lawyer already knows the answers to his own questions. But having the right answer doesn’t mean that we truly know God. As Fred Craddock has said, you can make a 4.0 in the classroom studying the Bible and miss the real point altogether.
The lawyer inquires, “If I want to live forever, what do I have to do?”
“What does the law say to you?” Jesus answers the question with a question.
“Well, the law says you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind. And you love your neighbor as yourself.”
“You’ve answered correctly,” said Jesus. “Do this, and you will live.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do. You’ve answered correctly.” Notice the command in verse 28. “I want you to do, and you will live.”
The focus narrows away from love of God to love of neighbor as proof of love of God. The story that follows about the Good Samaritan is not so much about loving God but, because we love God, we love our neighbor. In fact, Paul himself in Romans 13:8-9 and Galatians 5:14 says the same thing. The whole law is summed up in “love of neighbor.”
Jesus tells the story. It’s hard for us to understand this story today because the context is lost on us. He tells a story about a man who is going down from Jerusalem. Because of the height of the Holy City, one does go down when one travels away from Jerusalem in any direction. He is going to Jericho. And there were,then as there are today, those who lie in wait for travelers on the road. They wait for a point of vulnerability when they can pounce. And they pounced on this poor man, beating him, stripping him, leaving him half dead.
A certain priest was coming down that road. He saw the beaten man, but he passed on the other side. We’re not sure why he ignored the poor man. Perhaps he thought it was a plant by robbers to trap a traveler.
That happened then – happens now. One thief pulls his car over to the side of the road and lifts the hood, you stop to help, thugs jump you from both sides. My uncle Ken told me the story when I was a boy of stopping at a service station in Arkansas as he headed down a dusty road. The attendant warned him, “As you head down this road, don’t stop, no matter what. Some thugs have been known to feign sickness in the road in order to jump unwary travelers.” As my uncle headed down the road, lo and behold, there was a human body prone in the street. He remembered the advice of the filling station attendant, and instead of putting on the brakes to slow down he jammed the accelerator. “It was like a miracle,” he chuckled. “The man jumped up out of the street and was immediately healed.”
Maybe the priest had good reason. Or certainly he should not come in contact with a corpse, because that would defile the priest by the law. He shouldn’t get too close – perhaps the man was already dead.
Another religious leader, a Levite, likewise does the same thing, passing by on the other side (v. 32). To get involved would keep him from conducting his temple responsibilities.
But then a Samaritan passes by. Now, a Samaritan was a little bit Jewish, but not all the way Jewish. They were descendants of that mixed population occupying the land after the conquest of Assyria in 722 B.C. They had their own place of worship, and they were considered social outcasts by Jews. They were half-breed which, in some ways, was worse than being a Gentile. Samaritans were despised by Jews.
The Samaritan sees the man, and he had compassion upon him – like Jesus has had compassion for others in this gospel. He stopped. Bandaged up the beaten body. Anointed him with oil and wine. Carried the man on his own beast. Brought him to an inn and took care of him. He told the innkeeper the next day, “I’ve got to be on my way, but you continue to give him lodging and care. When I return I will repay you whatever else you’ve had to spend on him.”
Remember, the lawyer had just said that you receive eternal life by loving your neighbor as yourself. So Jesus poses a question in verse 36, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And the lawyer replied correctly, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” And Jesus said to him – I want you to look at verse 37 – underline the words, the command – “Go and do….”
The answer to eternal life, according to Jesus in this instance, is going and doing. And this is not an isolated instance in the New Testament. We are to have faith in Christ. It is our faith, and our faith alone in Christ that saves us. And yet, while it is our faith that saves us, it is only the kind of faith, James reminds us, that goes and does that can grant us eternal life. We must have the kind of faith that has weary feet from well-doing. Faith like that of the Samaritan in this passage is “doing faith.”
This is no isolated incidence. In fact, when it comes to the separation of the nations, the separation of the sheep and the goats, the criteria of judgment is works (Matthew 25). In fact, I’m going to make a bold claim: Every time God’s people are judged in the New Testament, they are judged by their works, as much as Baptists have sometimes tried to believe and teach otherwise.
As Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, He says to the goats, “I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was naked, and you didn’t clothe me. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me in. I was in prison, and you didn’t come to visit me. I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink.”
“Why Lord, when were you hungry and we didn’t feed you, or thirsty and we gave you no drink, or naked and we didn’t clothe you, or sick and we didn’t visit you?”
And Jesus says, “Look around…look around at the little folk in your community. When you don’t take care of them, you don’t take care of me.”
Then He said to the sheep, “I was naked, and you clothed me. I was hungry and you fed me. I was in prison and you visited me. I was sick, and you dropped by.”
“Oh Lord, when did we do that?” And Jesus said to the sheep, those chosen, those who made it to an eternal life of the righteous, “When you did it to the little ones, you did it unto me.”
The goats inherit eternal punishment; the sheep inherit eternal life.
Some of you here this morning needed to hear the first story. Some of you need to hear “Go and do.” It’s so easy to live a selfish life, be trapped in our own will and our own wishes, to try to amass more wealth and more power and more prestige, to treat this life as if it’s a game of Monopoly where the one with the most pieces and properties wins at the end.
If you view life this way, I pity you. This is not a game. And the one with the most pieces at the end dies and leaves all the pieces. It is those who go and do, those who treasure up eternal rewards who win the game.
There is no one in this congregation too busy to use the gift that God has given you in this church to bless your brothers and sisters in Christ and to reach out for His Kingdom. I don’t care what your hourly income is out there – nobody is too good to go and do, to take up a towel and wash feet in here. And I mean nobody. And if you think you are, you are like the fool who wants to build bigger barns and sit back and survey his success. Jesus calls him a fool, because when he dies he can take nothing with him (Luke 12).
What’s at the center of your life?
Many of you need to hear this message of “go and do.” Every week we present opportunities for you to go and do. Teach someone English as a second language. Hand out food and clothes at Buchanan Street Chapel. Watch preschoolers during worship so their parents can learn how to be better moms and better dads in worship. You can be a chaplain, ministering to shut-ins. You tell me when you’re ready to do something. We’ve got something for you to do. Robby stands up here every week and gives you opportunities with First Baptist Church. You can serve from Amarillo to Africa. There are no excuses.
Some of you need to hear “go and do.”
And yet, some of us need to hear the second story which tells us not to go and do, but to listen and learn.
The story that rubs shoulders with this story does not say “go and do.” In fact, quite the opposite. This story says “listen and learn.”
We know from John’s gospel that Mary and Martha are the sisters of Lazarus and that they were some of the very best friends of our Lord. He stayed in their home on more than one occasion. But I don’t want you to miss the radical nature of the story. Jesus is invited into a woman’s home. No mention is made in this gospel about her brother, Lazarus, being present. He teaches a woman. Rabbis did not allow women to sit at their feet. They did not allow women to be their disciples. However, as we have already seen in Luke’s gospel, Luke 8:1-3, women were counted among the most important of Jesus’ followers. Much is made about their role throughout the story of His life, including the grandest event – the Resurrection, which is first proclaimed by a woman.
You may or may not like that, but those are the undeniable New Testament facts. Neither Jesus nor Paul was busy shutting women out of the inner circles of discipleship. They were busy welcoming women in. So the same Jesus who sits down with a woman and talks with her at the well now spends some time with two sisters – Mary and Martha.
I can just see Martha now. She is working in the kitchen. She has a green bean casserole ready. You know, the kind with crispy onions on top. She’s trying to get it out of the oven and set it over to stay warm even as she is about to pop in the dinner rolls. The brisket was ready to go, but the meringue on the coconut pie had yet to be browned. Of course, the sink was absolutely full of dishes. She was up to her elbows in soap suds. It’s just one of those occasions when you don’t need two hands, but you need six hands.
“Where is…where is Mary, anyway? Why doesn’t she get in here and help me in the kitchen? Doesn’t she know I’m preparing a meal for our friend, for our Lord?” About that time, she takes her shoulder and wipes the sweat from her brow, clangs some dishes – hoping, perhaps, that Mary will hear them, come to her senses and come to her aid. But Mary just sits.
Look at verse 39. Mary just sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to the Lord teach. Listening – I love the way Luke puts it – to the Lord’s word.
But not Martha. Martha wasn’t listening. Martha wasn’t learning. Martha was doing.
Look at verse 40
“Can’t the Lord see what’s going on here? Can’t he see how Mary is treating me? Lord, tell my sister to come in here and help. Doesn’t it matter to you that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Tell her to help me.”
Martha just seems to me to be one of those women who makes everything difficult. She couldn’t have him over for just a simple one-dish chicken casserole. It had to be complicated. There had to be course after course and appetizer and entree and side dishes, each one made to absolute perfection. Then the dessert. Martha just makes things hard.
Some of you are like that. You just can’t relax and enjoy your company when you are serving them. You have to make things difficult. Martha would never have said, “There’s the tea pitcher, help yourself.” She would have been up and down, waiting, serving, pouring glasses the whole time during the meal.
“Lord, it’s not fair. Do something about it. Tell my sister to help me.”
But Jesus makes an interesting response. “Martha, Martha.” I like the way he says it twice – Martha…Martha (verse 41). “You are worried and bothered about so many things. Life doesn’t have to be this complicated, Martha. I don’t care whether you have dessert or not. I just like being with you and Mary. I like being with my friends. Actually Martha, I wish you’d quit worrying about the meal and sit down and you, too, would partake of the word of God like your sister. Martha, only a few things are necessary, and only one thing is really needful. ‘We do not live by bread alone, but out of every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord’ (Deuteronomy 8:3; Luke 4:4). Martha, the real, true bread is right here in your home – the bread of life, my words, the words of your Lord. How can you be worried about overcooking the pasta? Mary has made the better choice. The things you are preparing will perish. But what she has chosen – hearing and receiving the word of the Lord – can never be taken away from her.”
Some of you need to hear “go and do.” That is, at least go and do things for the Kingdom and quit doing things for yourself. Go and do things for the church.
There are others of you who are doing more than your share, and you need to hear the words “listen and learn.” What it means to be a follower of Christ is not simply doing, though that’s an important part. But it also means, essentially, being. We can “do,” but if we do not “be” then we have missed the essence of God’s Kingdom altogether. And yet one cannot be without, in the end, doing.
Some of you need to hear, “Martha, Martha. Calm down. No more, please. Sit down and just listen – listen to God’s word.”
I always admire folk who hunger and thirst after God’s word. We have every opportunity here for you to study God’s word. We have Sunday morning Bible study with age-graded classes. We have Sunday morning’s sermon which is always a proclamation of “Thus sayeth the Lord….” We have Sunday evening which is often a chapter by chapter and verse by verse study. There is Tuesday noon – we’re going through the book of Acts. There is Wednesday night – we’re studying Jeremiah. There are women’s Bible studies. There is Discipleship Training. This church is very much about listening to the word of the Lord.
Some of you here need to remember the importance of this Book and the importance of God’s word – listening and learning how the Lord wants us to live our lives. It is not always just about going and doing. Sometimes it’s about listening and learning. Sometimes it’s being like Christ – more so than just doing things that Christ might do.
From kindergarten on, we are trained in the skills of achievement, of “to do.” We are utterly ignorant about the skills of aliveness, of “to be,” about how be fully alive to life. Soren Kierkegaard captured our confusion between achievement and aliveness powerfully when he wrote: “The greatest danger, that of losing one’s own self, can pass off as quietly as if it were nothing. Every other loss – that of an arm, a leg, a spouse, five dollards, etc. – is sure to be noticed.”
Eugene Peterson has said that sometimes we do too much going and doing. Sometimes we’re too busy. He said sometimes busy equals betrayal. He applied it to a pastor, but I would say it is true of all Christians, as well. The adjective “busy” said as a modifier to pastors should sound to our ears like “adultery” to characterize a spouse or “embezzling” to describe a banker. It’s an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront for a Christian to be too busy. (Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, p. 17)
Sometimes we’re busy because we’re vain. We want to look important, and we allow people to overcrowd our schedules. We don’t want to disappoint people. And we want people to think that our schedule is just almost unmanageable. And it will be, if you let it get that way. I’m speaking to myself firstly here, you realize.
Sometimes we’re busy because we’re lazy. We want everyone else to write our agenda for us. We don’t want to disappoint people or their expectations of us. People invite each of us to so many events.
Sometimes we’re busy because we’re lazy. C. S. Lewis said that only lazy people work too hard.
What about the real work of listening and learning? What about the real work of developing spiritually? How about the quiet place beside the still waters? How about the hush of the perpetual motion? How about putting down the balls, stop juggling, and sit down at the Lord’s feet and listen and learn?
Which story is for you? “Go and do” or “Listen and learn.”
“Which one, Lord?”
“Yes,” He replies.