The parable of the Good Samaritan
This is another of those really well-known parables, one that many of us will have heard as children. It often comes with the message – be nice. But there’s another message in it. Jesus told this parable to highlight how the culture his hearers were living in gets in the way of doing God’s will. The priest avoided the injured man, more concerned about his own possible uncleanness as a result of contact with him. The Levite too, a sort of church worker, who would be on all the rosters – was more concerned with the laws of their culture and religion than with care for a fellow human being. But the Samaritan was from outside that culture – he was from the hated next-door people, who were similar enough to rouse a lot of animosity. Just think about NZ and Australia, head-to-head over the cricket!
The Samaritan wasn’t bound up by outdated and man-made religious laws, or by Jewish cultural expectations and behaviours. Who is the Samaritan for us? Maybe when we are accepting help, we need to lay aside all preconceived ideas, all prejudices, and take the care offered for what it is – love at the hands of another. When we are young and healthy we have a lot of choice about who we associate with. We can drive and travel, choose houses and churches in the areas where we want to live. But poor health and the passing years limit those choices. I’m sure that for many of you there was a time of adjustment to living here in Longview, and of accepting help from those offering it, even though you didn’t know them, or they may have been from a culture you were not accustomed to.
The parable of the Good Samaritan has many layers, and that of graciously accepting help is an important one. Usually however the emphasis of this reading is on giving help, being a good neighbour, because everyone is our neighbour. Can you imagine how the Samaritan would have been feeling? Maybe he spotted the man lying in the road, but then saw the priest approaching. Phew, he thought, that’s ok, I’ll leave him to care for the guy. After all, he’s one of his lot. I wonder if he would have been perplexed when the priest studiously avoided him! And then when the Levite did the same thing, was the Samaritan still hesitating, wondering if he was the one who should go?
Or maybe he came along later, and didn’t hesitate at all, he just knew that here was a person in distress. He went to great lengths to assist the victim – treating him and transporting him to a place where he could be further helped, and even promising to pay what was owed. He paid over 2 denarii – that’s two day’s wages, maybe $300 in our money. Who would pay $300 for the care of a total stranger?! Would you? Would I?
As in so many of the parables, Jesus is surely exaggerating here for the sake of memorability. He makes a strong point by scaling up the good deed. But it sits as something to aspire to, to really love a total stranger just because he is in need.
Jesus calls us too to love our neighbours – not just the people on ether side of us, but everyone whose paths cross ours. To love them no matter what the circumstances are, no matter how inconvenient, or how we’re feeling. This is something everyone can do. You may feel that your days of pouring oil and wine on wounds, and loading someone up on your donkey, are in the past now, but a kind word, a smile, a loving gesture, can mean so much to those you meet.
Our challenge then is to be the good Samaritan, and also to accept care from unlikely sources, to put all prejudice aside, and be part of the kingdom of heaven on earth, as we all seek to love each other that little bit more.