The parable of the Good Samaritan is very likely the most well-known of all the Christian parables. Used by Jesus in an answer to the question ‘And who is my neighbor’, it tells of person who had been robbed and beaten and left for dead on the side of a road.
Two people, whom most listeners of this parable would think would have helped the victim, passed by. But a person most people of that day would have thought would pass by, stopped, gave first aid, and ensured that the victim was cared for so that he could heal.
This all began because Jesus was being tested by a lawyer, presumably from the local town and synagogue. Jesus was becoming more widely known for his teaching, his preaching, and his healing. His criticisms of the oppressive systems of the day, both Jewish and Roman, had not gone unnoticed by those who wished to keep those systems in place.
But Jesus, already accustomed to being tested, had a powerful story to tell, one that gets at the heart of his ministry.
When the lawyer asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus answered him with 2 questions: what is written in the law, and what do you read there? And the lawyer knew that the law says "You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself."
Jesus was satisfied with that answer, and told the lawyer that if he did just that, he would live.
But we know from the reading that the lawyer didn’t stop there. He wanted to know how Jesus defined ‘neighbor’. And so, we have the parable of the Good Samaritan to help all of us understand better what it means to be a neighbor.
Within these texts, are no less than the keys to living faithful lives, and the means to eternal life: loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our strength, all our minds, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
At the end of today’s reading, Jesus asked the lawyer which of the three people were a neighbor to victim, and the lawyer said ‘the one who showed him mercy’.
So one important component to this whole ‘neighbor’ thing, is showing mercy.
The Good Samaritan recognized the gravity of the situation, and acted. Provided first-aid: cleansed the victim’s wounds, but didn’t stop there. He then transported the victim to a local inn, and there, gave the innkeeper money and instructions for the victim’s care, promising to repay whatever was spent on helping the victim heal. This is going above and beyond what was already an unexpected action.
The listeners of the day, those who heard this parable for the first time, would have heard it through the lens of hatred for Samaritans. An argument about the sacred texts, and which were most important, had split the two communities, but it had progressed beyond an argument, and affected the two communities deeply. Anyone listening would have predicted that the Samaritan would have ignored the victim, or even made the situation worse.
The priest and the Levite would have been assumed to be helpers, and yet, they walked by on the other side of the road, ignoring the victim.
This turns the whole story upside down. And in a sly way, criticizes the local powers that be as being unfaithful, or at the very least, less faithful than the despised Samaritans.
All of this is to say that readers and listeners of God’s Holy Word today, through this gospel, receive the gift of wisdom about loving our God fully, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, and we get to strengthen our faith lives with it.
Where are we in this story? Where are you in this story?
Are some of us the lawyer, asking questions with ulterior motives? Are some of us the victim in need of first-aid? Are some of us the priest, or the Levite, passing by on the other side of the road? Are some of us the Samaritan, providing first-aid, and care above and beyond what might be expected?
Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. At one time or another, in our faith lives, we have been or will be any and all of these characters in this important and powerful parable.
What we can do for today, however, is begin to resolve to be the provider of first-aid to our neighbors in need. To recognize the gravity of our neighbor’s plight, and offer our resources to help in their healing.
Who are our neighbors, and who do we call Samaritans these days? And what does it mean when a foundational story in our sacred texts shows us that even the people we despise can have good intentions, can act rightly and justly for someone in need?
Who have we walked past on the other side of the road, in the name of ‘not wanting to get involved’, ‘minding our own business’, or ‘it’s too dangerous’?
We’d be naïve, I’d be naïve, if I didn’t point out that in this day and age, doing what the Good Samaritan did in our parable this morning is not without some risk, not without some danger.
But if we see a neighbor in distress, and we don’t feel we can step in and provide first-aid, literally or metaphorically, at the very least we can call 911, right?
When asked who acted as a neighbor in this situation, the lawyer said, the one who showed the victim mercy.
But when we live in such a merciless time, do we have the heart, the soul, the strength, and the mind to show mercy to a neighbor? To a stranger? Can we show God our love by helping our neighbor’s in need, even if it means going beyond first-aid, even if it means using hard-earned resources to ensure that our neighbors are cared for so they can heal?
I believe we do. We do have the heart, we do have the soul, we certainly have the strength and mind to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to go beyond first-aid.
But here’s the thing: the popular thing these days for some of our siblings, is to denigrate victims, blame victims for their plight, take advantage of victims when they are hurting and helpless.
There’s no mercy there.
A common cry among some of our siblings is that our culture can’t afford to show mercy to our neighbors, it’s too expensive. That those in need will have to find other ways to pay for their care.
There’s no mercy there.
A rallying point for some of our siblings is that those who wish to come into our country so that they can be safe from violence aren’t welcome. That they somehow, in their situation, represent some kind of threat to our way of life.
There’s no mercy there.
There is a growing unrest and resistance to looking at our country’s history, and its use of oppressive systems to break our indigenous siblings, our siblings of color, and our LGBTQI+ siblings, to name just a few.
And there’s no mercy there.
Anyone who shows mercy to one in need is a neighbor. Anyone who shows mercy to one in need shows love to God. Anyone who shows mercy in the face of injury, or insult, or evil intent, shows the world that they are in fact, a good neighbor.
The lawyer in this story wasn’t expecting this kind of lesson. His intention was to expose Jesus as either misguided, or even ignorant of the law. Jesus was neither.
And as if the core message here isn’t good enough, Jesus himself shows mercy to the lawyer, doesn’t he? He treats the one who would trip him up with fancy legal questioning with mercy. Jesus doesn’t ridicule, or chastise, but instead, gives him a way to grow in faith.
The lawyer correctly identifies the neighbor in this parable as the one who showed mercy to the one in need. Jesus tells him to go and do likewise.
Let us too, go and do likewise. Amen.