Scripture for this Sunday: Amos 7.7–17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1.1–14; Luke 10.25–37 (the parable of the Good Samaritan)
We all want to be the Good Samaritan! Isn’t that what Jesus’ parable is all about – being willing to help our neighbours? Is this truly the point that Jesus was making with his story about a hated Samaritan helping an injured Jew? What were the questions that Jesus was asked?
A lawyer came and asked about gaining eternal life. Jesus answered that question with one of his own, and the lawyer answered for himself. But then the second question, which seems to have originated in pride, asked for clarification about who is our neighbour. That’s the one that elicited the story of the Good Samaritan.
So what’s the point? It seems to be less about doing good deeds (although that definitely falls within the remit of the gospel) than about perceptions and boundaries and prejudice.
A challenge when reading this story today is this: how can we possibly recreate the shock factor of having a Samaritan in the leading role? After 2000 years of familiarity with the story, the choice of Samaritan has rather lost its edge.
If we were American today, at least for many, the term “undocumented immigrant” might capture some of the sense of it. Or what about the people who tell me that they cannot recognise the centre of the city in which they grew up, because it has been taken over by convenience shops run by south Asian families (who are actually probably British by birth in any case)? For them, perhaps we need to tell the story with a person of Pakistani origin in the Samaritan’s role. Of course, race doesn’t have to be the only factor.
In any case, this is one of those parables that benefits from re-reading and placing ourselves in each of the roles: victim, priest/Levite – not just the Samaritan.
If we place ourselves in the role of the injured man, then there are questions to be asked. Starting with: Who takes care of us?
- Is it the passer-by of Pakistani descent from Rotherham?
- Is it the lady from Poland who serves us tea in the train?
- Is it the nurse from Spain who is one of many people from the EU who prop up the NHS in Britain?
- Is it the Filipino sailor who spends months at sea to bring us our daily provisions?
Who is our neighbour? Actually: who is not our neighbour?
When have we been helped by someone who falls outside our comfort zone? When have we refrained from involvement because we didn’t want any trouble, or it might cause inconvenience? Still we all want to be the Good Samaritan. But if we truly want to follow Jesus’ teaching, then we have to examine our ideas about who is our neighbour.
Caring for a neighbour can be done in many ways – by us, and for us.