By Mark Clayton
North Patrick Charge United Methodist Church
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
This parable is probably familiar to those of us who were raised in the Church. Like the lawyer, we probably assume that we know the answer to his question before he asks it. The problem comes when Jesus answers this man’s second question with a story that challenges his assumptions about neighbors and faith and life.
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is as dangerous and troubled as the world that we live in. Threats to safety and security hide quietly at any turn. One learns to walk carefully on a road such as this, and even then there is no guarantee of safety.
When this man is robbed and beaten and left for dead by the side of the road, he has no defenses and no hope beyond his hope for the mercy of strangers. Surely his heart fell when the priest and the Levite passed him by. How could those who identified so closely with him and his faith be so callous and cold? These would be the likeliest ones to assist him, and when they keep walking his future looks questionable at best.
Then comes the Samaritan, the least likely and least welcomed helper for any good Israelite. This man’s people detested Samaritans to the point that they were cursed in the synagogue and prayers were lifted in hopes that they would not inherit eternal life.
Yet this Samaritan goes above and beyond any reasonable expectation in helping the man. He binds his wounds, gives him clothes, and pays for a safe place for him to rest and recover. We can only imagine the lawyer’s surprise at this story’s outcome.
Jesus’ question after the parable challenges us all. “Who was a neighbor to the man?” The answer is obvious. It was the Samaritan. The problem for the lawyer and for us is that the implications are painful because they challenge our assumptions about faith and neighbors and life.
Jesus wants this lawyer and us to see that the most meaningful differences to God between the robbed man and the others on the road is not their religion or their politics or their cultural backgrounds. It is the fact that only one of them (whom we would have assumed to be the least likely one) came near to him and offered healing and mercy.
The Samaritan came near. This is the challenge. He came near. We are blessed to serve a God who, in Christ, comes near to us. Jesus promises that if we do this for others we will live. May God give us grace in these times of loud voices and dangerous roads and deep divisions to do, even for troubled strangers, as Christ has done for us.