The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best known teachings of Jesus. We teach it to our children in Godly Play, we reinforce the ideas of kindness and compassion with our teens through acts of charity, and as adults, we try to be the “Good Samaritan” in our service to others through places like the Warming Shelter and FISH Food Bank. These are all good and noble ways of expressing our identity as Christians in our community, and it aids us in our continuing journey towards understanding and embodying the teachings of Jesus.
But this morning, I want to spend some time really digging further into the characters of the young lawyer and the Samaritan. I want us to look more critically and thoughtfully at this parable and see if there is a deeper understanding of this story that we can begin to embrace.
There once was a young lawyer who had all the answers. And there once was a man named Jesus who challenged the way people had always thought and believed. Now this young man questions Jesus on the law…what must I do to inherit eternal life. He’s looking for the “right” answer. So, to find the “right” answer, Jesus points him to the scriptures and turns the question back on the young lawyer. Of course, because he’s a lawyer, and because he is Jewish, he knows the scripture…to love God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus affirms that the young lawyer is right. Jesus doesn’t challenge him on his understanding and interpretation of the law. For all intents and purposes, the young lawyer knows everything he needs to get into heaven. Case closed. Done deal.
But, the lawyer pushes Jesus further…who is my neighbor. And then we are told the story of the Good Samaritan. Let’s stop there for a moment and think about this need for the young lawyer to be right and have all the answers.
For this young man, the law had become gospel truth. As Douglas John Hall explains in his commentary, when we make the law the gospel truth, it becomes a refuge of rules, boundaries and norms…it’s what keeps those who are in “in” and those who are out “out”. Was this young lawyer looking for the boundaries around appropriate neighbors? Who would have been good neighbors during the time of Jesus---other Jewish community members. Bad neighbors would have been Canaanites, Romans, and Samaritans…they were on the outside of the community, and they were outside of the Jewish law. For the young lawyer, he would have considered himself a “good neighbor” because he lived within the rules, boundaries and norms.
But that’s when Jesus turned the tables on him. He tells the story in a way that highlights how those who would have been thought to be good neighbors, are the ones who act without compassion and mercy…they walk by as a man lay dying in a ditch. While they may love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength, based on their lack of action towards the man in the ditch, they do not appear to love their neighbor as themselves. So who does? The Samaritan. The stranger, the outcast, the one who lives outside of the “law” which has created boundaries, rules and norms.
The Samaritan man is moved with pity. He is moved with a feeling of compassion, grief, sadness towards the plight of another, and he acts in such a way as to ease the suffering of a stranger…he cleans the strangers, anoints his wounds, shelters him, and provides for him during his recovery.
His kindness towards the stranger is a reminder of the kindness, mercy and love of God given to us freely, without rules, boundaries and norms. And this is part of the point that Jesus is trying to make with the young lawyer.
But there is another point too…and that is that kindness and compassion often come from the most unexpected and unlikely sources. Loving kindness and compassion are the marks of a true neighbor; not rules, boundaries and norms. The Samaritan was an outsider, remember?
Sometimes it’s hard to understand in our modern world how much of an outsider a Samaritan would have been, and so it is at this point that the parable loses some of its punch. If we took the word “Samaritan” out of the parable and left it as a fill-in-the-blank, who would we put in that line…who are our most unwelcomed…who lives outside the rules, boundaries and norms? Is it a homeless person, a mentally challenged woman, an immigrant, a gay man, an alcoholic, a drug user? Because we live in polite society, we probably won’t say out-loud who we’d fill-in-the-blank with, but this was part of what Jesus was trying to help the young lawyer understand…the potential for human kindness and compassion does not have to be limited to those whom we would choose to receive these gifts from…true kindness and compassion come from all of God’s children…even those who are on the “outside”.
I want to share one final thought with you this morning as you ponder this idea of kindness and compassion. Think of it as a modern telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan. This story comes from the writings of James A. Wallace:
[There was] a twelve-year-old Palestinian boy, Ahmad Khatib, who had been shot and killed by Israeli soldiers during street fighting near his house in Jenin, the West Bank. The boy had been holding a toy gun. He was taken to an Israeli hospital, where he died after two days. His parents made the decision to allow his organs to be harvested for transplant to Israelis. Six people received his heart, lungs, and kidneys, including a two-month-old infant. His mother, Abla, said, “My son has died. Maybe he can give life to others.”
These parents acted out of a place of true kindness and compassion. They were being the “good neighbors” that we are all called to be and were living eternal life.
So my prayer for you today is to keep at it! Keep living the gospel, sharing the love, kindness and compassion that God has shared with you, and be a good neighbor to someone else.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.