The good Samaritan. A phrase that has found its way into popular usage even if nobody really knows where it comes from anymore. Someone who goes the extra mile or puts themselves out for somebody else. But our modern day usage of the term rather overlooks the shocking nature of Jesus tale. A tale of a good Samaritan. Everybody knew that Samaritan’s were bad. This was someone who just can’t be good. They can’t be the hero of the story. So why do we call it the tale of the Good Samaritan? You might remember later in Luke’s gospel a ruler comes to Jesus and asks him almost the same question as the expert in the law did in our reading this morning. Except he says “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” and Jesus retorts “Why do you call me good, nobody is good except God alone”. So why do we call the Samaritan good? He isn’t called good anywhere in the story.
Is it because unlike the Priest and the Levite he didn’t pass by on the other side of the road, but he went to take a closer look? Did his actions become good when he bandaged the man’s wounds and poured on oil and wine to ease them? Or was it when he put the man on his donkey and took him to the inn? Or was it when he paid the innkeeper to keep on caring for the man and promised to return and pay any thing else that was owing? Did he become good when he returned to check what he owed? And whilst there might be a whole sermon to be preached on any of these points, all of which are inherently good. Jesus doesn’t ask us why the Samaritan was good, he asks the expert in the law which of these do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? And the Samaritan replies “the one who had mercy on him”.
Maybe we should really call this the story of the merciful Samaritan? What is mercy?
Well the dictionary definition is
compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm
and now we have a lovely description of our Samaritan. He had many reasons to hate the Jew he found before him in the road. It wouldn’t have been hard for him to pass by on the other side like the Priest and the Levite, it probably wouldn’t have been hard for him to add insult to injury and harm the man further as he passed by, a sly kick in his wounds. To show his anger for the years of being belittled by the pureblood Jews. But he doesn’t he has compassion. His actions put forgiveness into action. And I think that his action alone of looking and seeing the man as he lay there, to really see him, to see him as a person, not an enemy, not as someone who had fallen on hard times and got their just deserts, but a person to love, a person to have Christ’s compassion for, is reason alone that we can call this Samaritan good. Because in sharing in Christ’s compassion he was moved to action. He was no longer able to pass by on the other side, but he had to draw close.
It is far too easy to simply look and refuse to see, or even to look and feel pity. But we need to look and feel compassion, because compassion will move us to action. If we want to inherit eternal life we are told to do 2 things, to love the lord our god with all our heart and soul and strength of mind and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. And to love our neighbours we have to show them mercy. God’s compassion even when we might wish to punish them or do them harm.
Our eternal life is gained by acting out our love of God in our love for other people. By drawing close to people that nobody else wants to draw close to. And yes, it can be easier to pretend not to see in the first place. To look straight ahead rather than see the spice addict standing at the edge of the road, to look to the other side rather than see the drunk hidden on the steps, to keep our heads held resolutely high rather than look down and see the homeless person sat begging by the shop door. It’s easier to pretend they don’t exist in the first place. Because if we admit to ourselves that we have seen them, but then ignore them, then we have to answer some pretty hard questions about ourselves, our character, and our faith.
Loving your neighbour means you have to come near. You have to see people that it is too easy to think of as a label ‘a drunk’, ‘the homeless’, ‘a prostitute’, ‘an addict’, ‘someone with mental health issues’, ‘the poor’, ‘the rich’ and see that they are people, to remember they have a name not a label. Because your neighbour is undoubtedly someone who will be experiencing pain, who is struggling, who just needs someone to have compassion and be willing to stand alongside them. The actions that follow will just depend on what is needed in that situation. Jesus tells his disciples that they need to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near. We need to act in bringing that kingdom nearer.