This was in the news just over a week ago:
Good Samaritan stabbed in laneway
Police are hunting for a man who attacked a good Samaritan in a Brisbane laneway on Friday night.
The man suffered wounds to his neck, back and hand after he attempted to stop another man from stealing a handbag in the suburb of Milton.
The reporter didn’t have to explain what a ‘Good Samaritan’ is; everyone knows that!
I wonder if everyone who reads such stories realises that the Good Samaritan is a character in one of Jesus’ parables. I doubt it, really.
But we know all about the Good Samaritan, don’t we? Well, maybe we do, but a little recap never hurts.
A teacher of the law asks Jesus a question. He reckons Jesus won’t have a good answer.
Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
That’s the same question the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ asks him. Jesus points both men to the Law of Moses. This time he asks,
What is written in the law? What do you read there?
The expert in the law gives the right answer!
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 neighbour as yourself.
So Jesus says,
Do this, and you will live.
End of conversation. Not.
Jesus has put the teacher of the law in an uncomfortable position. He has answered his own question. He knows what is right in his head, but he also knows he doesn’t put it into practice. There are ‘certain’ types of people he doesn’t treat as neighbours. So he looks for some wriggle room, some way of getting off the hook. So he asks yet another question:
And who is my neighbour?
Jesus doesn’t answer that question either. Instead, he tells him how to be a neighbour—and who can be a neighbour. And what’s more, Jesus complicates the lawyer’s life no end.
Let’s look at the parable. A man goes down from Jerusalem to Jericho. That’s down a long way. Is it very sensible to walk that road alone? I mean, he’s mugged and left as good as dead by the side of the road. Shouldn’t he have been more careful?
A levite and a priest pass by. It may be that levites belonged to a kind of ‘second-class’ priesthood, but they were renowned for their holiness. They ministered in the temple; the one thing they couldn’t do was approach the alter of sacrifice. That was the job of the priests.
The levite and the priest see a man, a fellow Jew, a brother in faith, lying in the ditch. They walk on. Perhaps they’d be unclean if they touched this man. Perhaps they thought the thieves may still be round, or they’d get home late, or they didn’t care, or they were having some ‘me time’.
Someone finally helps the man. But he was a Samaritan. A hated half-Jew heretic. Jews and Samaritans really did hate each other. Remember at the end of Luke chapter 9? A Samaritan village was unwelcoming, and James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy it!
As things are turning out, the ‘good guy’ in this story is the usual ‘bad guy’.
I wonder if the teacher of the law was feeling pretty uncomfortable right now about where this was heading? I think he may have been. I would be, in his shoes.
He’d asked a question to try to catch Jesus out. He’d given the right answer himself, and it could have stopped there. But he went on further. And now this Galilean hick preacher was starting to suggest some pretty uncomfortable things.
Firstly: anyone, even you and me, even a Samaritan, can love their neighbour. This can still shock us today. I recall a conversation with a friend of mine years ago. She was amazed that a non-Christian she knew was such a good person. Why should we be so amazed? Jesus could see it; why shouldn’t we? Jesus applauded the faith of the centurion in Capernaum, and Jesus sees the love in a Samaritan’s heart.
Can we look for the love in the hearts of others? It’s a good way to deal with prejudice. Otherwise, we might believe that all Muslims are haters, or all gays are promiscuous. If we fail to see the love that God may have placed in their hearts.
As winter starts to bite, we are collecting blankets for Sri Lankan asylum seekers. It’s a way of loving our vulnerable neighbours. We’re doing it through the local Tamil Support Group, which is headed by a Hindu. The asylum seekers may be Hindu too. Does that matter? It doesn’t and it shouldn’t.
The Spirit of the risen Lord Jesus Christ works through whomever it wishes. As John 3.8 says:
The Spirit-wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.
That’s who can be a neighbour. What about how?
The Samaritan walked toward the person in need, the priest crossed on the other side of the road. The first thing is notice the needs around you.
It can take courage to be a neighbour to others. And let’s face it, the consequences for the recent Brisbane ‘Good Samaritan’ were dire. But that might sound like we have to grit our teeth and do things we hate so we can love our neighbour. Our hearts need to be softened, so that our teeth can stay ungritted. We need spiritual resources for the ‘how’ to notice our neighbour.
This is where Paul helps us in his letter to the Colossian church. Paul writes:
In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
Faith, love, hope. They often go together in the New Testament. We’re quite familiar with that wonderful verse from 1 Corinthians 13.13:
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
But here in the Letter to the Colossians, Paul says something else about faith, hope and love. He says that hope in Jesus Christ produces faith and love.
We can hope in other things, lesser things. We can put our hope in science, or in the political process. These things have their place. But if these things become our main hope, our absolute hope, then faith and love will escape us.
Hope in Jesus Christ brings a confidence that empowers us to care for our neighbour in need. Trusting that we have a living Saviour and a risen Lord directs our paths in his ways. Hope in Jesus attunes our ears to hear the rustling of the Spirit-wind and helps us to follow the Spirit’s leading.
Do you notice something Jesus seems to take for granted? Anyone can be a neighbour to others, but our neighbour is anyone in need. Doesn’t matter who they are, the race, creed and colour are irrelevant.
We love our neighbour through hope in Christ that enables us to faithfully serve our Lord.
We’re not often called to be heroes, or put ourselves at risk. We are always called to walk toward the needy, and not away from them.
As Jesus says, Go. And do.