Tuesday, 12 July 2022

The Good Samaritan

 Reflection for Morning Worship with the Community of Brendan the Navigator on 12 July 2022

We have just heard the Good Samaritan story as Luke tells it (10:25-37).

The story was prompted by a lawyer, we’re told – a learned professional man – who asks Jesus ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ – in other words, how must I behave to be worthy of God’s favour. Jesus bounces the question back at him, saying ‘What does God’s law say?’ When the lawyer answers, ‘Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself’, Jesus agrees with him, saying ‘Do this and you will live.’ After all, as both Matthew (22:37-39) and Mark (12:31) tell us that Jesus had said as much himself when asked what the greatest commandment was.

But then the lawyer chances his arm again, asking Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ It is in reply to this that Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. In Jesus’s time Samaritans were despised and disliked by orthodox Jews. They were heretics who did not follow Jewish law, untrustworthy, outside the pale. We might compare them to Travellers or Muslims in our society.

The Samaritan in Jesus’s story acts as a good neighbour to the traveller who is robbed and left for dead, but neither the Jewish priest nor the Levite do. When Jesus asks which of the three was a good neighbour, the lawyer replies, ‘The one who helped’ – it seems he can’t bring himself even to utter the word Samaritan. Jesus tells him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Jews of Jesus’s time understood very well their obligation to protect and care for their neighbours in need. ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’, is a quotation from the law given to Moses in Leviticus (19:18) – it is a command from God. But then as now, many people questioned who fell into the category of neighbour. To suggest that a Samaritan could be a neighbour, and a good one, would have shocked them. I can just hear them saying, ‘Surely God doesn’t expect us to love Samaritans! They aren’t good people like us, their beliefs are wrong and their habits disgusting. We don’t like them and they don’t like us’. Jesus must have sensed that the questioning lawyer was someone like that.

Jesus’s own view is quite clear. Through his story Jesus teaches the lawyer - and us too - that every human being is our neighbour – we must love them as we love ourselves, whoever and whatever they are. Even Samaritans. Loving God is not enough; God wants us to love our neighbours too. No doubt the priest and the Levite both loved God. But for whatever reason neither could bring himself to help the robbed man. They passed by on the other side - they did not behave like loving neighbours.

To follow Jesus means we must love every human being as ourselves. This truth has consequences for us today.

The Covid epidemic is still with us. Short-sighted policies have allowed a tragic housing crisis to develop over years. The evil attack by Russia on Ukraine has thrown the global economic system out of balance causing shortages of food and energy. The climate crisis is threatening lives and livelihoods across the world.

In our own country, many, many neighbours are falling into need. Thousands cannot find an affordable home. Tens of thousands of refugees who have lost everything seek safety among us. Hundreds of thousands will suffer fuel poverty and food poverty this winter. And there are the hundreds of millions in other countries in desperate need.

Neither you nor I can meet all their needs as individuals. But if each one of us reflects on what we can do, and we do what we can, however little, alongside millions of others, we will make an immense difference.

As Christians we cannot pass by on the other side of the road. Jesus calls us to practical action to relieve our neighbours’ distress to the best of our ability. He calls us to be Good Samaritans - ‘Go and do likewise’. What will you do? What will I do?

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