Reading: Luke 10.25-37
A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 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.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, 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. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 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. 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.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
The lawyer asked Jesus: And who is my neighbour?
In response to that question Jesus gave us one of his best known parables: the story of the Good Samaritan. This parable is so well known that the word ‘Samaritan’ has taken on a very specific meaning in our everyday language. There is even an organisation called ‘The Samaritans’ which exists to provide anonymous support to those who find themselves in a dark and desperate place. But to think of the Good Samaritan in this way is to sanitize Jesus’ parable, to make it a much cosier story than it really is.
To fully understand Jesus’ famous parable we have to acquaint ourselves with the political and religious landscape of first century Israel. We need to understand the depth of the racial and religious animosity that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans two thousand years ago. In fact, that animosity was already many hundreds of years old when Jesus was speaking of a Good Samaritan to that Jewish lawyer.
When the lawyer asked his question, his thinking was firmly rooted in the Jewish tradition. His God was the God of Israel; his neighbours were Jewish neighbours. It would not have occurred to that lawyer that a Samaritan could possibly be cast in the role of ‘neighbour’. Even when asked by Jesus who was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?, the lawyer does not seem to have been able to bring himself to utter the word ‘Samaritan’. His response was: the one who showed him mercy. Jesus’ final words in this passage must have stung that lawyer deeply: Go and do likewise. That is, go and be like the Samaritan.
The challenge in this well-known and often quoted parable is much greater than we generally imagine. The challenge is also very relevant to the world of 2020. There are many people who are struggling by the wayside at the moment. They may not have been attacked by robbers, but their hurts are just as profound. It is our role to set aside the urgency of our personal journeys, to stoop down from our self-serving and self-satisfied comfort, and to bring relief, love, peace and light in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.