Readings: Amos 7:7-9, Luke 10:25-37
Open our hearts and minds, O God, to your word, that we may grow in faith and understanding and live in your love for us and all people. Amen
I find that whenever I hold a conversation with an expert in the law, church or state, I don’t do so well. I get irritated with absolutes and frustrated with surety. Somehow my mind doesn’t fit easily into logistical rules, set boundaries and determined outcomes. And I totally know that law is way more than that – but still, that is how I feel when I engage in legalistic talk, for whatever reason.
In fact I found just this yesterday when I was participating in an AC Neilson survey – so often the neat and tidy questions needed re-wording - in my view – cause they didn’t fit me – some person somewhere had decided these questions would unearth the real me – and they didn’t.
I think it’s quite probable that the lawyer who gets into conversation with Jesus might have been one who I would have had trouble with - one of those clever clots who was out to ‘test’ Jesus’ adherence to the law of Moses, the law that this person had devoted his life to interpreting and protecting.
For there is a hostile intent is there not? The lawyer asked the question hoping to trip up this man Jesus who, on the surface at least, appeared to follow the law but somehow broke down all the accepted boundaries of interpretation.
But Jesus, as always, is on to it. In response to the question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he asks back: What is it that the law says? “To love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind and your neighbour as yourself” is the prompt and authoritative response. Ok round one to you Jesus. Mm - a bit more prodding from the lawyer – “and who is my neighbour” he asks, still hoping that he can trip Jesus up, get him to push the boundaries of the conventional definitions, get him offside with the accepted interpretation. And he is not disappointed. Jesus answer is the parable we know as the Good Samaritan.
So how do we breathe new life into one of the most well known stories of the Gospels, one that may have become so familiar as to be a little dull.
First of all the title as we know it – time and different understanding have blunted its meaning, a meaning that was about as pointed as you can get for the time considering the huge tensions between Jews and Samaritans Good Samaritan was pretty much the same as today saying good terrorist or saintly drug dealer.
And what about characters in the parable. How can we gain new insights into them. One thing we did when I was in Amberley was, with the children, rewrite the story for our time and locale. The traveller was the local farmer coming home from the A&P show, the local hotelier was obvious, the passerby’s were I think someone late for a church meeting and another good person making assumptions about drunkenness. And the Samaritan was a tattooed bikie roaring along the street on his Harley.... That certainly helped refresh the story and made us think about it for our day.
Today maybe if we take just one of the characters – let’s spend some time with the victim, the beaten traveller.
The first thought that absolutely fascinated me: what if he, the man on the road, had had the chance to accept or reject help – as William Loader suggests in his poem on the parable:
He lay on the side of the road bloodied and bashed,
Someone was coming. Footsteps. Someone had seen.
Someone stood by him leaning over.
He raised his eyes to look.
Then summoning his spirit, cried out:
“Get away you Samaritan bastard”
And sank into sighing.
The Samaritan drew back quickly and was on his way...
Christ wants us to see each person as a vital, loved, valued part of our community, our world – but even with the best of intentions we hold to preconceived notions and sweeping demonization’s of groups of people. You know the sort of thing – all Iranians are terrorists, all Aussies are underhand bowlers at heart, all homeless are lazy, all rich people are heartless .....we could go on.
This takes us further: are we cutting ourselves off from a chance of life by refusing to engage with someone or something that we choose to distrust without real knowledge? I wonder if the Samaritan and the traveller had a chance to talk sometime after – to get to know each other as God’s beloved, to realise that each other was not to be despised, that they were each a unique person with loves and fears, family and dreams. And they could love each other in the midst of that.
Jesus is categorically telling us this here – that no person or race or group is beyond God’s love and therefore our love. The fact that we often find Christ in the most challenging and unexpected circumstances, in the hand offered across boundaries that divide surely tells us to stop beside the helpless traveller, even if we might be snarled at.
Back to that beaten traveller – what did he do with the knowledge that those he looked up to, those he would have expected help from, that they walked on by. When he healed from his wounds how did he feel about them the next time they met? Did he want to berate them, let them know it would take him a long time to forgive them, if ever, hope that they would get hurt sometime so they could see what iti was like. Did he accept their excuse of having to obey the law, in this case their defilement by the dead – or soon to be dead - so they could carry on with their religious duties? I don’t think so somehow. Because there was a new truth for this man who had receive hospitality from the so called enemy and that was: if the Law, or a particular understanding of it prevented the priest and the Levite, prevents us from rescuing human life in this way, then there is something flawed with that understanding. It stands contrary to the heart of the law which is that single commandment binding together love of God and love of neighbour.
Do we realise how incredibly powerfully this story challenges our world views, our assumption of who is our neighbour and how we should be with them?
Not just in what it means to live in God’s law but also to remember that the despised one, the Samaritan, not only stopped when others didn’t but he helped in the most extravagant way, showing a mercy and a hospitality to the wounded traveller way beyond what the situation called for or the silly fellow deserved for travelling alone on a dangerous road. How would the traveller feel about this debt that could never be repaid to a person that he would have nailed to a cross if he could have?
There is only one response for the wounded and rescued travellers of this world that will do – and that is to actively live out that very same generous and life-giving love, not just to those that we consider deserving or approachable or whatever limitation we want to put on it – but to those who are wounded and half dead, to become an instrument of generous love and compassion, just as the Samaritan did. This, says Jesus, is the way to eternal life – living a life of boundary breaking hospitality – let us do likewise. Amen