Read Luke 10:30-37
Before I refer to my sermon, I ask you to spend some time reflecting on the following:
You know the story well, so close your eyes and imagine yourself as the beaten person on the side of the road. Note how you feel. Who comes by? What happens?
The point of including a priest and Levite is that they represent the religious establishment and the higher end of the social scale. Their inclusion in the story is not to say they are necessarily morally deficient, for there could be good reasons for them to not stop; e.g., death or blood defiles according to their religion, and so stopping may make them ritually unclean, or perhaps they are on urgent priestly business. In other words, religious obligation and time pressure complicate their lives.
The one who stops to help is identified as a Samaritan. Samaritans represent the despised in this culture. What is his reaction?
What part of his comprehensive care touches you most?
What enables the Samaritan to stop and help? (Note: the root of the word, compassion, is to “suffer with.”)
Who are the wounded ones in our world? Who are the robbers?
Now look at this parable as an inner story. Who are your inner robbers, who left the child in your life stripped and beaten?
Who is the wounded one in you? What was an early wound?
Who are the priests and Levites in you? How are their attitudes expressed?
Who or what is the reality of the Samaritan for you, i.e. who came to your aid in the outer world?
Who or what is the reality of the Samaritan within you?
Where do you see God in this parable?
Note: at Epidaurus, a healing centre in ancient Greece, there was a quotation from Apollo’s son, Asclepius: “God sends the wound, God is in the wound, God is wounded, God heals the wound.” If you were to accept this as true, what would it say about your wounds?
If this story is indeed a parable, it is therefore a story which aims to turn our ideas, values and worldview upside down. It is what Jesus’ parables are meant to do, but for many years, the church’s interpretation has turned this parable into merely an ‘example story’, i.e. a lesson on how we should act.
The example in the story is not only so familiar, it conveys a principle that all of you would would bless it with hearty assent. Now, I think more of Jesus and his teachings to think that he only told this story to convey the bleeding obvious. Furthermore, you don’t need me or any other preacher to elaborate on it.
If the thrust of the story was about good guys verses bad guys or as an illustration of love of neighbour, the offer of aid by another Jewish person would have been sufficient. We don’t need a Samaritan to make this point. If this is all Jesus is trying to get across, who would disagree? We would all say, ‘Amen’, and go home and feel good about ourselves, because we all do our best to love our neighbour.
However, the whole thrust of the story demands that one say what cannot be said; what is a contradiction in terms for Jesus’ hearers: “Good Samaritan.” Why cannot it be said? Because it challenges the hearers’ understanding of God, then and now, and of whom God approves. Imagine the hatred between Serbs and Muslims in modern Bosnia, the enmity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland or the feuding between street gangs in Los Angeles or New York, and you have some idea of the feeling and its causes between Jews and Samaritans in the time of Jesus.
The Samaritan, who is both a lay person and an outsider, is shown in the story to exhibit the best of the Jewish tradition: he shows compassion. Compassion (love) is what is not shown by elite of Jewish society in the story. Remember what started this story? The lawyer was looking for the way to salvation. And at the end, who has qualified for eternal life? a bl**dy Samaritan; one who has done none of the things a good Jew needs to do according to the law to receive salvation. And it gets worse!
The specific context of Jesus’ parable is his response to the lawyer’s question, Who is my neighbour? The lawyer has asked this, hoping his ‘neighbours’ do not include those of whom he disapproves or dislikes.
For the lawyer it might be hard enough for him to accept a Samaritan as his neighbour, but the story is actually much harder for him swallow than this.
Read the story again, but this time, imagine it from the injured person’s point of view. And let’s make some slight adjustments to make it a little more contemporary to modern day Israel:
Why didn’t they stop and help me? I thought a rabbi was supposed to help others. And that syngaogue worker; I bet she was only going to another flower roster committee meeting. She could have been just a bit late… Oh, here comes someone else. Maybe he will stop and…Oh no. Not one of them! Oh God, why a Palestinian… Anyone but him. No, don’t stop. Keep going. Don’t touch me. O God, don’t let him touch me…
Of course, if the story was meant for a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan, the Samaritan might become an Afro-American. If the story was being told to outback rednecks, the Samaritan would be a tribal Aboriginee, reeling with a bit too much liquor. If the audience consisted of elderly uptight middleclass conservatives, the Samaritan might be a young, tattooed, skinheaded drug dealer. If the audience was the Ocean Grove/Barwon Heads congregation of the Uniting Church, who would Jesus place in the Samaritan’s role? I wonder…
Who in Jesus’ audience wanted to be helped by a Samaritan? Well, probably no one. This is the primary challenge, because the appearance of the Samaritan makes sense on no other basis. If the victim had been a Samaritan and the hero an ordinary Jew, a different question would had to have been asked: Who in the Judean audience would want to play the role of hero to a Samaritan victim? Well, let’s face it, the role of the victim is the inferior role. The role of the helper is the superior one. And who doesn’t want to be the hero? So it would not have been hard to find a Jew who would play the hero to a Samaritan. You’d get to feel superior and pleased with yourself, and it’s not a high price to pay for eternal life. Right?
Who is my neighbour? That’s the supposed context of this story, and it is the most common question asked by those who hear it. But there is another question in this story we must also consider if this story is to be a parable rather than just an example story: Whom will I allow to be my neighbour? In other words, if you were in the ditch, injured, who is the last person to whom you would want to be indebted for the rest of your life, especially if acknowledging your debt would cause you to be outcast and associated with that despised group by everyone in your preferred peer group? Is there anyone or any group that you feel that way about? (Wife beaters? Child molesters? Drug pushers? Racists? Rednecks? Homosexuals? Drunks?) Would you rather die than face the fact that this person or these people are your neighbours?
Your honest answer to this question gets close to the heart of the parable. And your answer might really surprise you as well.