7th After Trinity Luke 10 25 – 37
Today we have one of the best known figures in the New Testament. He is not a historical person, but a character in a story told by Jesus. Jesus does not give this character a name, but refers to him as a member of a particular ethnic group. This character is identified simply as "a Samaritan" and we are told of his attributes he is “good”.
The people who hear Jesus tell this story are shocked by the identity of its hero. They view a ‘good Samaritan’ as a contradiction in terms. The Jews around Jesus regard themselves as the good guys and Samaritans are most definitely the bad guys. They detest Samaritans, and Samaritans detest them.
This hatred between Samaritan and Jew is already many generations old by the time Jesus tells his story. It is in fact a vast family squabble, because Jews and Samaritans are related peoples, they are quarrelling cousins.
Jesus shocks his fellow Jews when he tells a story about a Samaritan who is a model of compassion, one who cares for an injured stranger, and cares for a Jew beaten by robbers on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.
The impact would be like one of our police officers telling a story about a kind-hearted drug dealer, helping a constable who had been beaten up by drug peddlers. Jesus did not win any points towards becoming the "Rabbi of the Year" with his story. Yet it has impacted on our social history. Two thousand years later we still refer to people as "Good Samaritans” and everyone knows what that means. We have an organisation that has adopted the title to describe what it does. The Samaritans – reaching out to the rejected in society, regardless of race or creed.
Yet we accept this story – we understand what Jesus is saying. We know that we should love our neighbour and care for each other equally, but there is something about this story that is a bit unsettling. The Samaritan who demonstrates compassion toward the robbery victim is surely a good chap to have around if you have the misfortune to be mugged, but this unknown ‘do-gooder’ possibly makes us feel a little uncomfortable or challenges us, and for three reasons.
First, the Samaritan is a risk taker.
He goes out of his way to help an injured stranger. He’s walking along a road notorious for robberies. He sees a human form lying in the grass, an apparent victim of crime stained with blood. He must have thought - Is the victim real, or is he bait? If he goes over to help, perhaps he will be robbed by the supposed victim and any assistants hiding in the rocks. But still he goes.
Secondly this Samaritan makes us feel uncomfortable.
He spends his money freely on an injured stranger. He bandages his wounds, transports him to an inn, and spends hours watching over him. Next morning, the Samaritan leaves, but puts down a considerable sum of money to cover the stranger’s care, and promises to pay for anything additional once he returns. He lavishes time, attention, and money on a total stranger.
If that wasn’t enough he leaves, promising to return, and here the story ends. Natural curiosity wants to know more.... How does it all turn out? Does the victim regain consciousness? Does he recover? Does he ever thank his benefactor? We don’t know. Maybe the Samaritan gets nothing back for his troubles but scorn. At every step along the way, he acts without any assurance that his efforts will be successful or appreciated. Surely Jesus isn’t expecting us to behave like this – surely not.
I am sure there have been times when we have had an opportunity to show compassion like this story of the Samaritan. I wonder, did we weigh up the risks first? Compassion requires that we take risks and spend resources and do so without any guarantees. Sadly we live in such a world where we are required to think of personal safety – and we would be foolhardy to put ourselves in situations that might turn out to be dangerous. More than ever we need to be aware of the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
But there is another way of looking at the story that Jesus told – remember it is just a story he told to illustrate a point.
Imagine we are travelling along a road, and we can’t afford to be delayed, when we see a body. Suddenly it seems better to be among those who pass by in safety on the other side. But then we look at the victim’s face — bruised, bloody, unconscious — we are hit with a shock of recognition. That is our face! We are the victim, attacked by robbers, stripped, beaten, and left half dead. You are there and so am I, lying in the grass beside the road, and so is every man, woman, and child. It’s the human race that’s been mugged and abandoned and left for dead.
But it is all right, for here comes someone to help us. Oh but overwhelming disappointment, for it is someone from a despised and foreign race. Someone we fear. We want to keep our distance. But he does not fear us. He takes risks in approaching us, and spends time and money on our recovery with no guarantee we will ever thank him. And we learn that his name is Jesus.
Jesus does not simply tell this story. He lives out this story. He is the first and foremost Samaritan.
In his incarnation, life, ministry, death, and resurrection, Jesus takes the risk and approaches us, the human race, sad and sorry sight that we are. He anoints and bandages our wounds, even though many of us treat him as public enemy number one.
He takes us to a place of safety, paying our expenses out of his abundant mercy He leaves us in the innkeeper’s care, the Holy Spirit, the comforter, and He promises to settle the account when he returns again.
It is in that inn we find ourselves on Sunday mornings. Jesus has made provision for us at the table in His inn. This is the place of safety and health, and as we are invited to eat and drink at His table, may we be thankful for his mercy and eager for his return.
Jesus is our Samaritan.
May we show to others assaulted on life’s road what Jesus has shown to us: that risky, spendthrift love which asks for nothing in return, the love of a compassionate heart.
The final words of our service suddenly take on a new meaning for each one of us as we are invited to: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”.
May each of us think very carefully before our standard reply -
“In the name of Christ” Amen; for it is in his name that we will choose to serve or walk by on the other side.