Scripture for Sunday: Amos 7.7–17 (the plumb line); Psalm 82; Colossians 1.1–14; Luke 10.25–37 (the parable of the Good Samaritan)
Once upon a time, a newly ordained curate was sent to take communion to a wealthy, elderly lady, who apparently preferred not to go to church regularly. Bursting with desire to change the world and bristling that this might not be the best use of clergy time, he was told by his spiritual director: “Elderly, wealthy ladies have souls, too.”
They do have souls, and they are our neighbours, whom we are to love as ourselves, a point that Jesus illustrated with the parable of the Good Samaritan.
This parable is so well-known that it is no longer known at all. It is not about doing good deeds, although that is how vernacular language has absorbed it. It is to clear our minds about who is our neighbour, who is to be loved as ourselves.
Jesus chose a controversial, challenging identity for the neighbour quite deliberately to provoke his listeners – and those of us who listen now, two millennia later. The Samaritan represents anyone who might be a pariah, an outsider, alien, scary, different, suspicious. And the outsider was the one dispensing assistance, not receiving it: the parable challenges us not just to give help to the disturbing stranger, but to receive help from them.
It asks us: to whom are we alien, scary, different, suspicious? To no one? That is unlikely.
The thing about the parables of Jesus is that they are meant to put us on the defensive. If they don’t, we are missing the point. Can we rid ourselves of the mind-set that we are the chosen ones, that we are in the right, that our point of view is well-founded and faithful? If not, we run the risk of becoming self-righteous, 21st century Pharisees.
Jesus challenges us to be not only doers of good deeds, but people who confront boundaries of prejudice and charge across them, to offer peace, justice, comfort, compassion, or love.
Who is my neighbour? Anyone who helps me. Anyone who needs my help. Anyone whom I see as different, threatening, dangerous. Anyone who sees me as different, threatening, dangerous. Anyone.
Even a wealthy, elderly lady who, rather than go to church, would prefer to have the curate bring communion to her!