Friday, October 25, 2013

The Good Samaritan - an Oxymoron?

Sundays after Pentecost, Proper 10 [15] Year C

Today’s Gospel reading – Luke 10: 25-37- is the most famous story Jesus told: the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Why even the term “Good Samaritan” has entered into general language sometimes without people knowing the story behind it.

A senior minister friend in Victoria has a collection of sermons about Jesus’ parables: and from 60 books on his shelves he has concluded that preachers could find about 20 to 30 themes in this story.

Our story begins with an expert in religious (’canon’) law asking: ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Just in that one question he suggests that there could be the first four sermon themes –
·        ‘What is the good life?’
·        ‘Do we have to wait until after death to experience this quality of life?’
·        ‘Is it about what I do, or is it a gift?’
·        ‘Or has it got something to do with “choosing your parents – or mentors – well” (and the religion they handed on to you)?’

Anyway, this religious lawyer had just one opportunity to ask this layman, Jesus the carpenter, a question.

~~ Why not spend a moment talking to the person near you and tell each other what you’d ask Jesus if he walked into this church right now?

(Let’s all hear a few).

Someone once asked a rabbi ‘Why do you Jews always answer questions with another question? The rabbi’s response was: ‘Why not?’ – which is an interesting observation and if you look at many of the interactions Jesus has with people you might easily get the idea that he was a rather good Jewish rabbi, so in this story answers the lawyer’s question with another question, well two questions, actually.

Jesus’ questions are: ‘What is written in your law? How do you read it?’

The lawyer said:

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind: and your neighbour as yourself’

This was a combination of two texts – Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. If he’d added another clause from a bit further on in Leviticus 19:33-34 he could also have said: ‘And our neighbour includes aliens’, even refugees and asylum-seekers.

But the crunch comes right here: how to define ‘neighbour’? Perhaps this lawyer had heard Jesus say: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5:43-48): pretty radical, back there-and-then – and everywhere/with anyone.

Jews in Jesus’ day were divided over ‘Who is the neighbour we’re supposed to love?’ The strictest of them – the Pharisees – said ‘My neighbour is only someone who agrees with how I interpret the law’ (= ‘the Bible’: these people are still with us.  Strict Jews believed Gentiles – all non-Jews – were created by God to be ‘fuel for the fires of hell’.

Jesus answers this question with his famous story.

A man (presumably a Jew) walks from Jerusalem to Jericho. This road descends over 25 kilometres from 700 metres above to 400 metres below sea-level: Jericho is still supposed to be the lowest point on the earth’s surface.  The winding, steep road was sometimes referred to as ‘The Red and Bloody Way’: bandits lived in desert-caves near it and robbed people stupid enough to walk that road alone.

So this poor man got severely beaten up, and lay bruised and bloody on the side of the road.

Along came a priest: their job was to offer sacrifices and preserve the traditions of Israel. Then a Levite came – who was something like a modern-day cathedral chorister.

They both had a look at the body, and walked on.  As I have suggested to you in recent sermons if a person touched a dead body they would be ritually unclean and therefore unable to fulfil their religious obligations.  Someone jokingly suggested that this priest was a religious bureaucrat – who was most concerned about mucking up the Temple rosters! And that the Levite was on his way to deliver a lecture on brotherly love, and was running late! 

Anyway what Jesus said next took everyone’s breath away: a despised Samaritan was ‘moved with pity’ (a strong word in Greek – his compassionate feelings came from deep within him), bandaged the poor man’s wounds, soothed his injuries with oil and wine, put him on his donkey, took him to an inn, cared for him over night rather than just dumping him there, ensured ongoing care by paying the inn-keeper to look after him – and offered to pay more later if needed…

And of course, Jesus followed up his story with a question.  “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

To which the man could only reply “The one who had compassion on hum.”

So what’s the main point in this story about life, about good religion? 

Simply: Debating the meaning of words – like ‘neighbour’ – can be an evil distraction. 

The point is not about defining who fits into the concentric circles of ‘who’s in my group, and who’s on the edge, and who’s definitely outside it.’

The point is: if you really love God and others, you need to be a neighbour to whoever needs your help, your healing touch, your listening ear, your empathy, your encouragement, whatever.

Samaritans were despised because they were mixed-race, half-castes,  and they responded – as people from all despised groups do – in one of three ways.  
·        Some – a minority – got angry, and became ‘terrorists’.
·        Some lived with despair and depression and – the majority – with a deep inferiority complex.
·        A few became – like Nelson Mandela in our day – magnanimous towards those meting out condemnation/ injustice.

Or even became compassionate and helpful, like this Good Samaritan.

Let us pray:
God of love, the word and way of your true Son has revealed all that is required of us, and supplied all that is deficient in us.  Trusting in his saving grace, and relying on the guidance of your Holy Spirit, may we love our neighbours wherever we encounter suffering and neglect. For the healing of humanity and the glory of your name.  Through Christ Jesus our Redeemer.


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