Jesus was talking to a man, an expert in Jewish law, who was testing him. The lawyer asked what he needed to do to go to heaven. Jesus’ reply was to love God and love your neighbour as yourself. The insolent man asked, “and who is my neighbour?” Jesus told this story:
There was a man who was traveling along a road when he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes and everything he had, beat him and left him for dead. Presently a priest came along the road, and when he saw the man lying in the road, he went to the other side of the road and kept going. Next to come was a Lawyer, an expert on Jewish law. He too carefully avoided the man. Finally, help arrived in the form of a man from Samaria, a Samaritan. He dressed his wounds, bandaged them and gently helped the man onto his donkey. At the first inn, he paid for a room and cared for the man. The next day, he gave the innkeeper money to continue with the man’s care and promised to pay for any extra expenses.
Jesus asked the lawyer, which one was a neighbour to the man beaten by robbers?
In our culture a Good Samaritan has positive connotations as someone who selflessly reaches out to help a stranger but we have no idea what a Samaritan meant to the people to whom Jesus told this story. The people of Samaria were the remnants of ten of the 12 Israelite tribes. They had settled in the northern part of the kingdom, had intermarried with the tribes around them, been conquered and had their land renamed Samaria by their conquerers. In Jesus’ time, they were considered to be ‘polluted’ and even the touch of a Samaritan made the people of the southern part of what had been the old kingdom, the tribe of Judah (hence the term Jew), impure. The Jews treated the Samaritans with contempt and disgust. The Samaritans in turn despised the Jews. To the people who heard this story it would have been shocking that the hero of the story was not the respected priest or learned lawyer of the law but the loathed Samaritan. In that culture there was no such thing as a ‘good’ Samaritan. In our culture what group do you think would be the equivalent to a Samaritan? By replacing the ‘Samaritan” with your choice, the story should give you an idea of how disturbing this story would have been to the people of Jesus’ time.
Just as it was 2000 years ago, this story should challenge us to expand our under-
standing of neighbour. The stories of Jesus are not complex, but they are meant to be challenging, disturbing to us because Jesus told them, to pull people out of their insular complacency, to help people to understand that neighbour includes those who don’t look like us, or think like us or believe what we believe. Following Jesus leads us on roads that we never thought we would explore and yet our journey is wondrous.
The Good Samaritan is the theme for our Messy Church this Wednesday at 5pm in the parish Hall. Come and be part of Messy Church at St. George’s.