I’ve been fortunate in my life and met many good men (and women too by the way) that have for some reason gone out their way to help me, show me love and been there for me. Their blessings go on through many lifetimes, and I hope I share a little of what I have been given.
I hope if you think for a moment, you can think of a few.
and In simple terms
Today’s story at first glance is simply about a good man, doing what a good man does. Nothing more complicated than that really. A bloke needed help, and someone found someone like that and helped them.
Its also about a lawyer wanting to clarify what he was legalistically supposed to comply with to work out where his responsibility ended.
He was trying to understand what he needed to comply with to get the payoff!
The software I work with these days helps people understand what they sign up for in a contract. What are the clauses that might cause us pain if we sign on the dotted line and we don’t like what happens as a result? I’ve seen companies go under because a company discovered a loophole in the contract and we didn’t get the payoff.
But contracts that we don’t like are hideous if we sign them and that’s a fact.
Is it any wonder this is what the lawyer, the expert in the law, who would have looked at the world in a very similar way was looking, or trying to understand if he knew all clauses in the contract? Its basically what he says.
So what do I have to do to inherit eternal life? I love the lord god with all my heart etc and my neighbour as myself. Jesus affirms this as correct. But to make sure that this is enough to fulfil the law, and get him into heaven the lawyer checks.
29 so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
What’s the contract regards who is my neighbour. What do I have to do to fulfil said contract and get the payoff of eternal life? Who am I responsible for?
Lets look at the story in jesus used in reply and then lets at the answer?
He could have just said “everyone” and left it at that.
Why didn’t he do that?
A man is stripped naked and beaten by robbers. So at this moment, he is an anonymous, vulnerable bloody mess. A man without tribe, country, or creed. Vulnerable and needing a neighbour he has no identity apart from human and male.. Like the tomb of the unknown soldier, his anonymity means this man represents us all, he could be any one or any one of us.
Then a levite priest, , passes by. Levites are those chosen by God to serve in his temple, so chosen in amongst Gods chosen people. Hes a levite, those who set and ensure others abide by the law. His law declares this man unclean, and anyone who touched him would be ritually unclean. This Levite priest hurried by the poor man leaving him lying naked in a bloody heap on the floor.
Then a Samaritan arrived . A Samaritan
The context of Samaritan mustn’t be lost on us.
Samaritans to Jesus audience did not belong on the land they occupied. They were of a strange culture, they dressed differently, probably sounded differently. They had occupied the land while the jews were in exile, and now they weren’t going back, in fact they had no back, they were 2nd, 3rd, 4th , generation. They practiced a strange version of the religion of the jews.
For all these reasons they were despised looked down on and considered unclean by the jews. They seen as taking resources, and land, and were disliked simply for being Samaritans . In another story the woman at the well who was a Samaritan was shocked that Jesus even spoke to her, both because she was a woman and a Samaritan.
So we have gone from one end of the scale to the other. From the lauded to the dregs. Those people we rather look down on and would rather not be around, those whom we blame when it goes wrong by default, those with less privilege and standing in our community, those we find very few of on a day-to-day basis, and don’t know how to talk with them when we do, where the culture gap is hard to bridge, the religion strange. The disliked, distrusted , unwanted, bottom of the pile. Mostly they are anonymous to us, invisible, when we think of them, very few kind thoughts might arise.
But this Samaritan He stops on the road from Jericho when he found the injured man.
and he stops on the road to Jericho….
The road to Jerusalem from Jericho was known as the way of Blood, because so much blood was shed by robbers. It’s a winding road with steep sided and lots of twisting turns as it drops a 1100 foot from above to below sea level.
In certain respects I can sort of relate to this. Like those estates in the 80’s that had so many perfect hiding places for muggers that the council like to give them in the 80’s.These were places that you had your ears and eyes open, you certainly never stopped and moved as fast as you could. When I used to catch the late train home in forest gate I always breathed a sigh of relief when I got past certain known mugger hotspots. I avoided the steel bridge at all costs., Rushed past places that had deep shadows where people could come from all of a sudden. So I sort of know that feeling.
But the Samaritan
He stops and shows real –
and the word I am going to use is Altruism,
The word Altruism is defined as when we act to promote someone else’s welfare, even at a risk or cost to ourselves.
He definitely shows more than pity, the priest showed him that but , pity demands no action. The Samaritan, journeys between pity and altruism and he acts, taking one more step into dangerous altruism on this fearful road.
Jesus making the man naked and anonymous means he has to show universal altruism. Altruism of a sort that goes beyond the boundaries of his own tribe.
Then he gets him safe at the inn, and pays his bills to get better. 2 denarii, about £50, at that time about 2 weeks wages on average, so costly in every way.
There’s no law here forcing this man to take a risk, no law forcing him to do this, indeed the priest who knew the law rushed by, not wanting to be made unclean, not wanting to be next, let alone give up 2 weeks wages.
This is Jesus defining who is our neighbour and who is worthy of altruism.
In this story Jesus has told us there is no clause in the contract t, no boundary to love, no end date to the contract, in fact don’t seek a contract.
Its just outrageous love we are asked for. Jesus tells us that example can be set by anyone from any culture, and also that can be asked from anyone from any culture.
By making the injured man vulnerable and stripping him of all associations with creed, tribe religion etc . Jesus makes him every and anyone in need, We are simply one race, the human race. Whether the refugee comes over on a dangerous boat ride, or from a war-torn place. We have to show altruism that may put us at risk. How can there be an illegal immigrant, if Jesus just threw away the contract ? When in Jesus example where this man came from , why etc is deemed unimportant, in fact its actually deliberately stripped from him. this story shows we are simply asked to stand up for, stand in for whatever human happens to be around.
They were going down that road…. That’s all we are shown. Then we are shown what love is. Its more than altruism, or dangerous altruism, its excessive, it costs us, to risk out lives, to travel more slowly with an injured man on our horse while we work, it costs. It takes time and trouble. Its excessive well beyond anything that could reasonably be asked of us and it’s given without question to whomever we meet that needs our love.
The joy of this story is that whoever we are and from whatever standing in our or any community, we can still shine and be lauded and laudable in Jesus’ eyes.
Also to answer my earlier question.
That’s why when he was asked who is my neighbour, Jesus didn’t just say everyone. Because Jesus wants active, not passive love, he certainly doesn’t want sympathy, but active dangerous outrageous altruism.
Bonhoeffer said the biggest mistake we make is to try and work out who we are responsible for.
This parable shows we are all responsible for each other, in the human race.
it was that realisation was one of the key moments for me, this is why it’s the only way the world works.
In simple terms, Jesus asks us to obey the unenforceable clause, go beyond reason, beyond risk, beyond culture creed and religion actively not passively.
To stand up for and stand-in for whoever needs our love, out active love.
That is what the kingdom of God is like. We have been given the task of showing what that sort of love is like, in our lives as Christians. That’s what we are asked to witness to others by our behaviour. It’s when we bear witness to the kind of love Jesus asks us to show when we see our neighbour as Jesus asks us to as simply human and nothing else? When we stop asking who are we responsible for. That our faith becomes powerful and stands out.
I really wish the Lawyer hadn’t asked that question, because now we can’t say we don’t know, But he did and now we know, all of us do, and now as Jesus’s followers of the way, we know the way. All of us.