“People of the Ditch”
Sanctity of Human Life Sunday
People of the Ditch
Today, we are observing here at St. Mark, as we do each year at this time, Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. That is done each year because this is the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the Roe Vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973. Today is actually THE anniversary.
The text we are using for this service is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. That might not be the first Bible passage that comes to mind when we consider God’s Gift of Life itself, but I think you will see in the next 15 minutes that it works. When we think about “life stuff” and use this text to do so, it is not the Samaritan that we should be starting with. We need to start in the ditch. As Lutherans, We Approach the Life as People Who Have Been Rescued from the Ditch.
If we are going to be like anyone in this parable, we need to start with the man in the ditch: beaten, bleeding, helpless, and left for dead: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead” (v 30).
Paraphrasing what we have so far, this poor guy was going to Jericho, got mugged, and was left in the ditch. Now what do you know about ditches? Well, I can tell you, being one from the Great White North, that in northern climates in the winter, ditches often fill with snow. The wind blows that snow into white waves—drifts of varying shapes and sizes. As long as they don’t swallow up the road in front of you, they can be fun to look at. But if there’s a “January thaw,” the beauty melts away. The melting reveals dirty snow, dead animals, garbage, and a variety of empty adult-beverage containers. The ditch is a yucky place to be.
“Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw [the poor, beaten man] he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side” (vv 31–32). Yes, the ditch is a yucky place—not where most people would want to be.
Nevertheless, that’s where we need to start. We are people of the ditch. For when you melt away the disguise of our self-righteousness, it’s dirty/yucky in here. We see a corrupt and rotting nature, one that is beaten, bleeding, helpless, and left for dead. And that’s good, in a way. Because when we realize our complete sinfulness, we realize we need a Savior, and then we might just be able to understand the infinite compassion shown by this guy who came walking along the road: “A Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where [the man] was, and when he saw him, he had compassion” (v 33). He didn’t have to show compassion. He didn’t even have to stop. But He did. Jesus is telling us in this story that this Samaritan is Jesus.
Then, astonishingly, He got down in the ditch with us! “[The Samaritan] went to [the man] and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back’ ” (vv 34–35). Jesus, starting with His birth, showed us He is willing to get down in the yucky ditch with us.
A letter received at Lutherans For Life from a woman after she had had an abortion read in part, “I never realized that Jesus Christ was willing to get down into my muck and miry life and lift me up out of the sewage of my problems. He has since shown me who he really is.” Jesus is willing to get down into our mucky and miry lives, too. He came into the filthy ditch of our lives as He hung upon a cross, beaten, bleeding, helpless, and left for dead. He absorbed the filth of our sin into Himself. He heals our wounds with His wounds, stops our bleeding by His blood, prevents our death by His dying, and lifts us up and gives us new life through His glorious resurrection from the dead. That’s what His death and resurrection do for us.
Jesus covers our impurity with His purity as fresh snows cover those filthy ditches in white. “[T]hough your sins are like scarlet [ditch-dirty], they shall be as white as snow” (Is 1:18). He brings us into this “whiteness,” this new life through faith given in the waters of Holy Baptism. He provides for our continued healing and growth as we recall that Baptism and as we share in His Holy Meal. He sets us back on the road with the certain hope of our own resurrection and eternal life always before us.
Now we can walk along the road and be like the Good Samaritan, or more precisely, be like Jesus Christ, who, by virtue of our Baptism, lives within us. As we walk with resurrection hope before us, we keep our eyes on the ditch. We look for the lost, the beaten, the bleeding, and the helpless. When we see them, we better not walk by on the other side. We cannot walk by on the other side. We cannot pick and choose. We cannot look at certain vulnerable people and say, “That’s too controversial; I’m not touching that.” We cannot look at certain other vulnerable people and say, “That’s a political issue; I’m not touching that. People might not like me. We could lose our tax-exempt status.” The love of Jesus Christ does not just tell us we should reach out to all the people of the ditch; the love of Christ compels us to do so.
When we see the embryo “in the ditch,” in that petri dish, vulnerable, helpless, and destined for destruction, we are compelled to speak and defend and help. And not because it’s the right thing to do or the moral thing to do, but because it’s the Jesus Christ thing to do. Our God became incarnate as an embryo, giving value to all embryos.
When we see the unborn “in the ditch,” vulnerable, helpless, destined for destruction, we are compelled to speak and defend and help. And not because it’s the right thing to do or the moral thing to do, but because it’s the Jesus Christ thing to do. His hands that were pierced and the body that died and rose again were formed in a womb, giving value to all who have resided there.
When we see the young woman in a crisis pregnancy “in the ditch,” vulnerable, helpless, feeling destined to make only one choice, we are compelled to speak and defend and help—because it is the Jesus Christ thing to do. As He got down in the ditch with us, we get down in the ditch with her. We lift her up and offer Jesus Christ’s compassion in real, practical ways.
When we see women and men after an abortion decision “in the ditch,” vulnerable, helpless, we are compelled to speak and defend and help—because it is the Jesus Christ thing to do. Like Jesus, we get down in the ditch with them. We offer healing that can come only from the complete forgiveness in Christ. We lift them up and walk beside them.
When we see those suffering from disease or disability “in the ditch,” vulnerable, helpless, destined in the thoughts of some folks to assisted suicide or euthanasia, we are compelled to speak and defend and help, because it’s the Jesus Christ thing to do. For Christ reveals a God who knows about suffering, not just because He’s God, but because He suffered. We have a message of a God present in suffering, at work in suffering, and accomplishing His purpose in suffering.
Ok, it is time to close. As we “walk along the road,” we do so as citizens of this country. We are compelled to pray for our president, our representatives and senators, our courts. We pray for change in our policies and laws and in the attitudes of those who make them.
But we also walk along the road as citizens of heaven. We walk united in Jesus Christ. We walk remembering our unique perspective as Lutheran Christians. For we know what it’s like to be in the ditch, and we know who came into the ditch to save us. We know the power of His crucifixion and the power of His resurrection to heal and restore. We know His message changes hearts and changes lives. That is the message we’re called to proclaim. That is the message we’re called to be. We are people of the ditch who get down in the ditch and help people in the ditch. It is the Jesus Christ thing to do.
Adapted from a Sermon in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 27, Pt. 1.