The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.[a] “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 neighbor 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 neighbor?” 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,[b] 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 neighbor 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.”
Who is our neighbor? A few years ago, I was asked this question in an unusual place. I was at a Presbytery meeting where we were electing a new General Presbyter. She is a lovely person, but wasn’t the General Presbyter for very long as she has since moved to another call. Well, that afternoon, folks were asking her all sorts of questions, but they weren’t asking a question I was keenly interested in, as well as many of my colleagues.
So, I did something I’ve not done in the 18 years I’ve been a part of the presbytery. I went forward with a question. My question was something along the lines of our Presbytery’s focus on transformation by listening to God’s work in our neigbhorhood. We were seeing the primary way of thinking and acting in our Presbytery start to move. We had spent lots of good money on consultants who had become good friends from the Missional Network along the way . Together, we had done some great work in getting us into this process.
Her response, “who is our neighbor?” I realize I was putting her on the spot, and that setting wasn’t the best, but, it’s a question that needed to be asked and produced a good discussion even after that evening.
In our parable this morning, Jesus is hanging out with his disciples and others. In the crowd, there is a lawyer who asks Jesus about the greatest commandment. Jesus’ answer can be summed by “loving God, loving others…nothing else matters.” as my friend Bart Campolo used to say. Jesus specifically says, loving your neighbors as yourself.
The lawyer, for some reason, feels like his ego is on the line and wants to justify himself, so asks, who is our neighbor?
Jesus replies with a parable, the one of the “Good Samaritan”.
A man is robbed, everything is taken from him while he’s on a journey…he’s beaten, left for dead. Yet, he’s still hanging on. But, he has one thing left even if everything else is stripped away, his humanity.
Along comes priest, then a Levite. Both of these folks have high positions in society, important people. They probably came from great families with good connections to have these kinds of positions. They also had places to get to, in their defence, others were counting on them. Plus, they understood that if they helped, they would be unclean, in those days, to touch a bloody person meant days of cleansing and purification. It would be inconvenient. Now, before we pass judgement, how many times have we passed up things, how many times have we not gotten involved with someone because of time or convenience…maybe we’ve passed by an accident, or saw someone arguing in public, or something small or great…I know I’m guilty at times.
Yet, then comes a Samaritan. Jesus has just welcomed the 70 or 72 messengers back in the previous story that we talked about last week. They had gone into Samaria, some were welcomed, some were not…maybe some still had bad feelings towards Samaritans…who knows. The Samaritan, someone not Jewish, not religious, a merchant also…not part of the ruling religious cast, stops, gets dirty, helps this man. He didn’t ask if he was a Jew, or an illegal, or why he was on this particular road…he didn’t blame him for his circumstances or for “being in the wrong place at the wrong time”. No, he was moved with compassion…which is the same phrase that is used elsewhere in Scripture to describe how Jesus felt about folks who were in desperate places.
In other words, this Samaritan felt the same way that Jesus, God’s son, felt. That folks who don’t have a “religious” inkling may be closer to God’s heart than some that call themselves God followers.
And, this Samaritan follows through, bandages the man, takes him to an Inn, has his needs paid for…and even checks in on him the next day.
It seems like Jesus is saying that your religion, even your beliefs, mean nothing unless they line up with your practice or praxis.
When Jesus asks who was the true neighbor back to the lawyer, the lawyer responds that it’s the one who showed mercy, the Samaritan.
I don’t believe that Jesus was interested in winning an argument, really, at this point, I think the lawyer wasn’t interested either, it was a genuine conversation…something that seems to be lacking in much of today’s culture. In that conversation, the lawyer, and those listening had a sense of hearing the deeper nuances of this story…they were curious, and they experience a sort of conversion, change, transformation through listening.
That’s what parables do.
They don’t give us measurements of success, they aren’t always feel good stories, they are not mean to be morality plays, they don’t even give us clues on how to grow the church bigger…They are organic and are meant be shared authentically and without a desire for winning. They are like seeds that are then planted in our hearts and grow into deeper meanings for all of us.
As we think about this parable, may we let it grow within us. As we’ve seen in the past week, folks are more and more isolated, and filled with hate and prejudices…we as a church, have an obligation to our neighbors, and our neighbors are everyone, especially those on the margins or in need…and we have a greater joy in being good neighbors to all who we meet, inviting them into our lives, our church, and our community.
An invitation this week!
As you are watching TV, looking up things on your smart phone, reading the paper, walking through the city or your neighborhood, in a conversation at work, ask yourself, “Who is my neighbor?”
Take some time to journal your thoughts/reactions.