I won’t be putting out a weekly for the next two weeks, so a bit extra now might be in order.
Today, we pondered the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
You’ll remember my puzzle: does it change anything in this story for you if the traveller in this parable – the one whom the robbers strip, beat, and leave half dead – if this traveller is Jesus?
Or maybe you’ve always thought this. But what does it do to the story for you to think of it this way – say if you are in a position to help someone in this situation, or if you’re in that situation as the one needing help?
I tried to work with these ideas in the sermon today, so I include it below for those who might be interested in exploring the idea further. And one other thing that I recommend highly is that you click the link to the YouTube video or its more fully explained original from Amnesty – it’s in the sermon text.
Anglican Parish of Stirling
Luke 10.25-37 The Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Sometimes I miss what’s right in front of me – miss it for years on end. And it’s usually to do with something I know really well, like the good Samaritan.
I’ll explain. Today someone asks Jesus a very important question – who is my neighbour. Jesus replies with a story of a traveller; a traveller on a dangerous road who gets beaten, stripped, robbed of all he has, then left for dead.
I know this story – we all know this story so well. Yet what I’ve missed over the years is this. Where was Jesus when he told this story? He told it when he was travelling a road which was filled with danger for him. Travelling this road could easily see him beaten, stripped, robbed and left for dead. And we all know that at its end, it did.
So Jesus is consciously the wretched traveller of this parable. He’s walking the road to Jerusalem with its terrible end weighing on his mind. Anything he says on this journey will number among the last words he’ll get to say. So every word must count. The message of this parable is, then, vital to his mission. Its message – loving-kindness can end feuds and bring reconciliation. Jesus tells a story to help heal the feud that surrounded him right there and then: the ancient feud between Jews and Samaritans; children of the very same God.
Over the past weeks, we’ve dipped our toes in the hot water of this feud. We’ve been focussed on the Elijah/Elisha stories. But I’ve tried to keep us up with this other story in our gospel readings; Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. Jesus and his disciples have been travelling through Samaria on their way from Galilee up to Jerusalem. Maybe you’ll remember how very unwelcome they were made by the Samaritans. That was because Jesus and his disciples were headed to the place the Samaritans hated most; the rival Temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans worshipped God at Mount Gerizim – Shechem. They still do.
Two disciples even asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans for their lack of hospitality. That’s quite a feud – to be prepared to see a local population destroyed over a religious difference; the same tragedy we’ve seen at work in the lands of Islam in recent years. Jesus knows the antagonism there in the villages he visits, and he feels this poison festering even among his own followers – and all as he journeys to his death.
In the midst of all this, today a lawyer challenges Jesus with a cynical rhetorical question – And who is my neighbour? The lawyer’s trying to get Jesus to affirm his religious prejudices; who’s out and who’s in – the very division confronting Jesus in Samaria. And who is my neighbour? Jesus doesn’t angrily rebuke the man. Jesus responds with his best remembered parable. He tells this gentle parable which has the power to transform – to end the feud by revealing the emptiness of prejudice.
In this parable, the beaten up traveller is Jesus himself. I heard this in a sermon over 35 years ago, and it electrified me then. But now that I’ve finally noticed what I missed for so long – Jesus was himself on the road to his death – It’s even more amazing. And on the way, he felt the tribal hatred between his deeply loved children – some of the most corrosive hatred you can experience. And he responded from within this double pain with his healing story about a compassion which crossed the bridge and still stuns the world with its power.
What it makes me think of immediately comes from another Gospel – where Jesus describes the last judgement in Matthew 25, and people are welcomed into the Kingdom for the kindnesses they’ve offered to people in need.
35 … I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. … 40 Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. Mt 25.35-36, 40
The beaten up traveller of this parable turns out to be the one with the keys to the Kingdom. Jesus asks the lawyer who was neighbour to half-dead traveller. The lawyer concedes that the outsider – the despised Samaritan – was the one who showed mercy. Jesus tells the lawyer, Go and do likewise – be neighbour to someone you’d normally have nothing to do with.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7XhrXUoD6U Or see this in its original context at https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/05/look-refugees-in-the-eye/
We tend to read this only one way; make sure we’re kind to people in strife even where we’d normally despise them. And that’s partly right. We should show mercy to outsiders. That’s what Jesus has revealed: God does this for us. In Jesus’ death, God has come to where we are; reached out and taken hold of us. Through Jesus’ death, God has reached out to take hold of us outsiders. So in Jesus resurrection, God has given us new life too. God has shown us mercy.
But hang on – the mercy has come through the action of the one who suffers. Who brings on this kindness; challenges the feud to end; challenges the prejudice to be abandoned? It’s the one who suffers; it’s the injured person’s need. Help is needed; whoever it comes from, help is needed. There’s no option for being picky – beggars can’t be choosers, they say.
And that’s what’s behind the gospel too. We need mercy, regardless of who offers it to us, because of our mortality; our vulnerability; our need; our humanity; our pain. That’s what inspired the Samaritan’s mercy just as surely as all those weaknesses of ours are the occasion of God’s compassion for us. They are the means of our receiving God’s grace.
Who are you not prepared to receive help from? Is there anyone whose help you’d so despise that you’d rather suffer than receive their compassion? For the Jewish professor of New Testament at Vanderbilt University, Amy-Jill Levine, the Samaritan would be a member of the Hamas militia.
Who is the Samaritan for us? Who would you least like to help you out of a terrible situation? Because that’s the gospel’s other great challenge to us today. Amen