June 3

by Pastor Jim
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds. 
Luke 10:33-34a

The Good Samaritan.  Actually, the phrase “good Samaritan” never occurs in the Bible, though it has become very popular in Christian circles and often applied to hospitals and even a Lutheran retirement community.

Why “good”?  Adding that word rather implies that some of them, perhaps many of them, were not so good … and that’s precisely what Jesus was getting at in telling the parable.

You know the story.  A man, robbed and beaten and left by the roadside, is simply passed by when a priest and then a Levite come along.  Then a Samaritan appears and tends to his wounds.  When I first heard this parable in Sunday School … many decades ago, now … the sense I picked up, and perhaps which was taught, was that the Samaritan was simply a lay person who was more caring than were the religious leaders who passed right by, crossing to the other side of the road.

Maybe the priest and the Levite were afraid that it was a trap … that the man who lay there on the road was a setup, a robber himself, and that if you came near you would suddenly be set upon by his robber buddies lurking behind a nearby bush.  That made sense to me as a child, and such things have been known to happen even today.

But that isn’t what Jesus was aiming at, and the “expert in the law” to whom Jesus spoke knew this very well.  This “expert in the law” had challenged Jesus with a “test” question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus, sizing him up, returned his serve by asking “How do you read the law?”  “Love God, love your neighbor,” the man replied with a deft backhand — a volley returned quickly by Jesus with, “Sounds good; do that and you will live.”

Well, that one definitely put the ball back in the legal expert’s court — yet he was ready once again with a smug forehand, “OK, but just who is my neighbor?”  And that’s when Jesus hits the pause button, leaving the ball hanging in the air mid court, puts down his racket for a moment and says, “So let’s talk about this.”  He then tells the parable in which the issue that really got in the legal expert’s face was not the matter of the priest or Levite passing by but rather Jesus’ use of a hated Samaritan as the “good guy” in the story.  Yes … hated Samaritan.

You may remember that Israel, at one point in the Old Testament, had a civil war and got divided into two parts, with Jerusalem the capital of the south and Samaria the capital of the north. Later, both got conquered, with the northern kingdom ending up an ethnic melting pot of Jews and invaders, such that the south considered them … well, not to put too fine a point on it … half-breeds, mongrels.  Samaritans. This led to really bad attitudes on both sides.

So who is my neighbor?  Jesus looks right in the legal expert’s eyes and says, “How about we start with the Samaritans?”  By the time Jesus gets done telling the parable, the legal expert was no doubt a bit squirmy and squinty-eyed — waiting for, but really not quite ready for, Jesus’ final drive across the net — which came in the form of a question: “So … which of these three proved to be ‘neighbor’ to the man?”  The legal expert just couldn’t spit the word out; he just couldn’t say the words “the Samaritan” and so, in defeat, he grudgingly mumbles “the one who had mercy on him.”  To which Jesus replies, “Go and do likewise.”

Today, if Jesus were to tell the parable in Israel, I have absolutely no doubt it would be “the Good Palestinian” — with the same point being made.  If he were to tell the parable here in America — today –, how might that title change?  And then, bringing it even closer to home, each of us can ask, how would it change if Jesus told it to me?

Heavenly Father, forgive us for when we disparage or even demonize others for whatever the reason.  Help us, in this oh-so-polarized age, to be part of your desired reconciliation and healing.  In Jesus Name.  Amen

Leave a Reply