Today I was looking at the Parable of the Good Samaritan (which could also be known as the parable of the rubbish priest, or the come-uppance of the smart teacher, but enough). Its one of the passages that many people know- if you want to have a look at it, turn to chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel, around verse 25 onwards.
First up- this is a story, its one of Jesus’ parables, rather than an account of what happened- so the priest, the levite, the muggers, the victim and the samaritan are characters in a story… and the story is told to make a point. When I read the teachings of Jesus (like the sermon on the mount from Matthew’s Gospel… see last weeks sporadic postings), they are pretty blunt, almost simple… the challenge and the difficulty is to accept the things they suggest as true, and then to put it into practice… its not so hard to avoid killing people or to turn down a bribe, but its all to easy to have angry thoughts or want more money… Jesus was no soft touch on this stuff. Anyway, thats his teachings. This week, I’m looking through some of his parables, and its important to recognise that they work in 2 ways… firstly there’s the content- the point Jesus is trying to make, and then secondly there’s the specific example that Jesus used to make his point…
So- the Good Samaritan… is primarily about mercy: have mercy on others is another way of phrasing ‘love your neighbour’. A guy is hurt, some people don’t stop, someone else does- he’s someone you wouldn’t expect to stop but he does… the lesson is about who we offer mercy to and who we hope to receive it from- expanding our understanding of who our neighbour is. Not just my family, my friends, my colleagues, my congregation, my colleagues, my street, my kids teachers, the staff at my favourite coffee shop… the more i consider it, the larger my neighbourhood gets. You know, the people who benefit most when I turn off the lights or the TV are those on the other side of the globe who’re living just a few feet above sea level, because my carbon guzzling lifestyle will affect them before it touches anyone I actually know- I’ll never meet them, but I’m being a good neighbour to them- my neighbours include the whole world.
Ok, so thats the teaching point, but then there’s this second thing- why choose this example to make the point? why does Jesus choose a priest and a levite for this story? Maybe its because he’s being quizzed by them, they’re trying to look clever and Jesus has had enough? Maybe its because they were given the task of passing on the idea of God’s mercy and love to their communities and the world, and they’d manifestly failed in that task? Was Jesus picking on them because they were an easy target, or because they deserved a telling off?
Maybe its neither… maybe the priest was doing what he should have done, under his understanding of what it meant to follow God. Maybe the levite was following the teachings of God as best understood… The people of God were to be pure, to be closer to God than to the world, so that the world could have a greater understanding of God… and maybe thats why Jesus used those examples- the priest, when faced with the dilemma of worshipping God or rescuing humanity must sacrifice his own purity for the sake of others. The teacher, who knows exactly what such an action will cost him, must willingly let go of his own intimacy with God in order to help another live… Someone who knew what it would cost them, who understood the cost of their actions and how it would cause them loss and pain, and then still did it… that sounds awfully like the stuff that Jesus did.
The thought that this has given me today is about whether I’ve the right heart, and whether I’m doing the right things… in this parable, I know who I want to be like. But I’m scared what I might look like to others.
I hope I get to the end of my life with hands dirty because I’ve spent time on the ground, with clothes worn and torn because I’m busier healing others than worrying about myself, with arms tired from lifting those around me up to higher ground, with lines on my face that are caused in equal part from laughter and tears and with a heart that is at peace, knowing that while i could have done more, I did what I could.