Gospel Luke 10:25-37
The parable of the good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
26 ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’
27 He answered, ‘“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, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’
28 ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’
30 In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half-dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”
36 ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’
37 The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’
Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
The Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son are among the best loved of all Jesus’s teaching.
The Prodigal Son—or Parable of the Lost Son—is the more complex in my view, especially when you realise the message is as much about the elder brother (or lost son) than about the Prodigal who repents and is found.
The Good Samaritan on the other hand is fairly easy to understand, but is so important that it bears repetition and further thought, every time the Luke passage is set in the lectionary.
It’s fair to assume that when the man who is introduced as an “expert in the Law” asks for Jesus’s interpretation of the Law, the answer is already well known to him. We can find it in Leviticus chapter 19:
18 ‘“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord. 33 ‘“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not ill-treat them. 34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
Not much doubt about that then. On the other hand, it’s also fair to assume the lawyer well knew this was not the interpretation applied by the Jews, regardless of what was laid down in the books of the Law.
The lawyer probably thought he took good care of his immediate Jewish neighbours—helping them in hard times—providing for their needs—and lending them money interest free. But the Samaritans were clearly not eligible for consideration. On the contrary, they were reviled and thought unclean, even though they believed themselves Jewish and worshipped the same God on Mount Gerizim rather than in Jerusalem. In effect, they were untouchables, as we will discover.
Why was this, especially when care for the stranger and alien is a repeated theme throughout the Torah? Here’s another sample from Deuteronomy 10:
17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.
A good sermon will need examples, and today these are not hard to find. We are surrounded by people who need our help.
We, like the Jews and the Samaritans, are a tribal people at heart and habit. We are most comfortable with, and care most about those like us. But now we live side-by-side with people of many different tribes as did the Jews and Samaritans.
Whether or not we live in multiracial parts of the country, or whether our neighbourhoods are made up of rich or poor—still we are close to places that are very mixed indeed and pass through them regularly.
How do we react to those sitting begging? What is our deep-down instinctive reaction when surrounded by people of another tribe, who are fundamentally unlike us? How did increasing immigration and asylum seekers impact on our attitudes? Who do we help, and how?
In Jesus’s parable, the priest was not a bad man. He saw the need, but he would have rendered himself ritually unclean were he to touch a dead body and one that was unclean anyway.
Likewise the Levite was not a bad man. He checked that the injured man was not one of his tribe—that would have been obvious from the victim’s dress—but like the priest, he did not bother to discover whether the injured man was alive or dead.
It’s no different really from the occasional reports from the streets of London when a homeless person dies and crowds of passers-by step over him, assuming him to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol—not wishing to intervene.
As familiar as the parable of the Good Samaritan is, it needs constant repetition, because the messages are so necessary to understanding what Christianity is all about. Each of us must wrestle with our conscience.
The Christian faith, following Jesus, reaches out beyond our tribal walls. Supporting homeless charities. Donating to Crisis for Christmas. Volunteering in a homeless shelter. Reaching out in other ways. At the very least, acknowledging that the person who needs our help is a human being—a child of God, made in his own image.
The Good Samaritan might be an easy parable to understand, but it is one of the hardest to follow. Deep down, the message is simple. Who are our neighbours? Our “neighbours” are those who need us. Amen