5 Pentecost, Proper 10 – July 10, 2022
The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the most well-known of Jesus’ parables. This can make it difficult to really hear what Jesus might be trying to tell us, today. So, let’s try our best to re-imagine this story in different ways this year.
I was reminded that by the time Jesus told this story, the hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans was ancient, entrenched, and bitter. The two groups disagreed about everything that mattered: how to honor God, how to interpret the Scriptures, and where to worship. They practiced their faith in separate temples, read different versions of the Torah, and avoided social contact with each other whenever possible. Truth be told, they hated each other’s guts.
Though we are likely inclined to love the Good Samaritan, Jesus’s choice to make him the hero of his story was nothing less than shocking to first century ears. At the risk of offending, here are some scenarios that might bring home the realization of just how shocking this story was:
An Israeli Jewish man is robbed, and a Good Hamas member saves his life. A liberal Democrat is robbed, and a Good conservative Republican saves her life. A white supremacist is robbed, and a Good black teenager saves his life. A transgender woman is robbed, and a Good anti-LGBTQ activist saves her life. An atheist is robbed, and a Good Christian fundamentalist saves his life.
Think about it this way: Who is the last person on earth you’d ever want to deem “a good guy?” The last person you’d ask to save your life? Whom do you secretly hope to convert, to fix, to impress, to control, or save — but never, ever need?
What Jesus did when he deemed the Samaritan “good” was radical and risky; it stunned his Jewish listeners. He was asking them to dream of a different kind of kingdom. He was inviting them to consider the possibility that a person might add up to more than the sum of her political, racial, cultural, and economic identities. He was calling them to put aside the history they knew, and the prejudices they nursed. He was asking them to leave room for divine and world-altering surprises.
The Rev. Debi Thomas has this to say:
Perhaps what we need to do is locate ourselves, not in the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan, but in the wounded man, dying on the road. Notice that he is the only character in the story not defined by profession, social class, or religious belief. He has no identity at all except naked need. Maybe we have to occupy his place in the story first — maybe we have to become the broken one, grateful to anyone at all who will show us mercy — before we can feel the unbounded compassion of the Good Samaritan.
Why? Because all tribalisms fall away on the broken road. All divisions of “us” and “them” disappear of necessity. When you’re lying bloody in a ditch, what matters is not whose help you’d prefer, whose way of practicing Christianity you like best, whose politics you agree with. What matters is whether or not anyone will stop to show you mercy before you die.
If it hasn’t happened yet — your encounter on that dark road — it will.
Somehow, someday, somewhere, it will. Maybe in a hospital room? At a graveside? After a marriage fails? When a cherished job goes bust? After the storm, the betrayal, the war, the injury, the diagnosis? Somehow, someday, somewhere. For all of us. It will happen.
When it does, it won’t be your theology that saves you. It won’t be your cherished affiliations that matter. All that matters will be how quickly you swallow your pride and grab hold of that hand you hoped never to touch. How humbly you’ll agree to receive help from the enemy you fear. How long you’ll persist in the Lone Ranger fantasy we all cling to before you allow an unsavory Other to bless you.
“Who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asked. Your neighbor is the one who scandalizes you with compassion, Jesus answered. Your neighbor is the one who upends all the entrenched categories and shocks you with a fresh face of God. Your neighbor is the one who mercifully steps over the ancient, bloodied line separating “us” from “them,” and teaches you the real meaning of “Good.”
In his speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way. “The priest and the Levite ask, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'”
Jesus concludes: “Go and do likewise.” Show mercy.
What shall I do to inherit eternal life? Do this. Do this and you will live. Amen.