Posted on Jul 14, 2019 by Pastor Dave Whetter
This Parable of the Good Samaritan might be the most familiar of Jesus’ parables in all of scripture. No matter where you go, if you talk about being a “Good Samaritan,” everyone knows what you are talking about. Everyone knows it is a story about caring for others and always being willing to help others. It’s a story about always being willing to do the right thing. It’s a story about treating others as you want to be treated. Well, these are at least the things most of us would say about this story. But, I wonder if there is more to it than just being a story about being nice to others.
You know, part of what makes parables so powerful is that the listener gets to imagine who he/she is in the story. Who do you identify with in this parable? I have read this story and seen myself as the priest or Levite. That is, I have seen myself as being the person that will walk by someone in need. And, other times I have read this story and seen myself as that “Good Samaritan,” who took the time to help the one in need. But I wonder how any of us see ourselves as the person in the ditch? I mean, how often can we admit that there times we are the ones who have been beaten down, felt dead, and had no one to walk with or assist us? What does this parable say to us when we are the one in the ditch?
Now, before I go too much farther, let me say this -- today, it is easy to miss the shocking nature of this parable if you think that this story is only about teaching us to be a “good person.” This parable does help us to see the importance of always being that person who is willing to help others, but if truth be told, this parable says so much more about God, our relationship to God, and the lengths to which God will go to reach out to us.
As I listen to this parable and imagine those times that I have been in that proverbial ditch, I hear this parable offering a promise of one who will always be there to lift me out and who will relentlessly care for all my needs. Yes, I think this story has much to say about how we treat others, but more importantly, I think this parable points out to us that the ultimate “Good Samaritan” is Christ, who will always embrace us with the tender compassion of God. And if we can start from this perspective that we are the ones in need of help and that Jesus wants us to know that God will always be there to offer us God’s perfect grace, then I think the notion of this story also being about our call to offer God’s grace to the world can take on a much more powerful meaning. In this parable, Jesus is proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. God’s grace comes to us through the cross. God’s grace comes to us even when we are at our worst, when we struggle and when we are in those ditches of our lives and are desperately in need of help. God’s grace comes to us even when, like the man in the ditch in our parable, when we can’t or will not cry out for ourselves. So, the ultimate good news in this story today is that whether you are on the road to your next destination, or you are in the ditch, Jesus is coming for you, even now, to offer you God’s perfect grace.
So, if we start with the understanding that first and foremost God’s perfect grace is ours, no matter what, then the notion of offering that same grace to others takes on a whole new meaning. Now, one of the problems with understanding the absurdity of this story that would have been understood in Jesus' day is that we just don’t understand the context. Oh, I think we can imagine being a person on a journey and being robbed. But, understanding the absurdity of the three other characters can be difficult to comprehend. First, let’s take a look at the priest and the Levite. These were “godly” men. They were those that knew the law, and the law did offer the holiness codes that commanded priests and the Levites to remain ritually clean, so touching one that was dead (remember, the man looked to be dead) would have been a problem for these men. But the law also stated that one was to always love thy neighbor as himself or herself. So, a dilemma was raised here, and in both cases the “holy men” chose to ignore the part of the law that would have cost them personal problems. Now, the third character also would have caused a dilemma for the listener. Samaritans and Jews hated each other, so the notion that the Samaritan would not only have offered help, but would have sacrificed much to make sure the man was cared for would have been absurd to the Jewish listener. It would have been scandalous. In our world today, what group of people might we put in place of the Samaritan that would cause most of us to say, they would not be our neighbor? Would it be a Muslim? Would it be a gang banger from the hood? Would it be the immigrant who we don’t want here? What makes this part of the story so scandalous and odd is that this parable states, our neighbors, those we are to show kindness, mercy, and grace to, are even those with whom we are at odds. God’s perfect grace is for everyone! If it wasn’t for everyone then we wouldn’t receive it either.
The one character I haven’t mentioned, yet, in this story is the lawyer. Now we often like to make fun of lawyers, but we need lawyers and they play a vital role in our society. In fact, the lawyer in this story is doing what a lawyer should do. He was attempting to make sure the law was being followed properly. He was seeking answers and he wanted precise definitions. If he was going to be able to follow the law and love his neighbors, then he needed to know who those neighbors were. It’s a good question, and it is one that we ask all the time. We ask it in various forms, but it is the same question. How much money should I give? Do I really need to go to church, can’t I just worship God on the golf course or in the woods on my hike? Is it ok if I just give money and not donate my time? We want the specifics of how to meet the law. We want to know the minimum it takes to meet the requirements of the law. So when we read this parable, I hope we can see that many times we are also the lawyer. And today Jesus is saying the same thing to you and me that he said to that lawyer, some 2,000 years ago. Your neighbor, is anyone who needs God’s grace, which means there is no one, not that Muslim, not that gang banger, not that immigrant, no one who is not in need of God’s grace, which means everyone is our neighbor. The lawyer, like us, wanted to define who would deserve his love, but Jesus says no, God’s love, the love you have to offer, the love that is freely given to you will seek out all who need it and you are to offer it to them.
Sisters and brothers, God’s grace and love are perfect, and God has given them to us freely through Jesus Christ, and because we have received that grace, Jesus says to us, “Go and do likewise!”. May it be so, Amen!