The Cast of Characters
The text this week is Luke 10: 25-37. This is the ultra-familiar story of the good Samaritan. It has a cast of characters that has all the makings of a good tale. It starts with a lawyer, of course, asking legalistic questions of Jesus. There is also a priest and a Levite, who represent the flower of 1st century Judaism. They are the uber-righteous members of the Jewish community. Then there is the Samaritan. As is pointed out in various places in Scripture, Jews and Samaritans do not get along. So, this character represents the other, an outsider, someone considered by the Jewish community to be unclean, at least ritually so. How they interact will be crucial for what Jesus is teaching us.
The lawyer asks an all too typical question: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?’. Jesus answers with a question, “what is written in the law? What do you read there?”. This too is typical of Jesus. He presumes we know what we are supposed to be and do. The lawyer answers as a good lawyer would, by reciting the core of the law, love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
The lawyer then asks a question crucial to this lesson, “And who is my neighbor?”. Jesus then answers with a story, the all too familiar story. The notable thing is that the uber-righteous walk on by, but the outsider, the “unclean” one is the one who helps. Then Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you, think, was a neighbor?”. The answer is obvious to all.
The first point is very clear. So clear that we may pass over it if we are not careful. Neighbors are those needing help, which is all of us at one time or another. There is no boundary that Jesus puts on who is our neighbor. It does not matter one’s station or place, we are all the neighbors of one another. This is a clear rejection of the tribalism that so mars humanity then and now.
The second point is that any can live into the kingdom of God with faith. This extends even to those considered “unclean”. The truth of Jesus is not simply for the Jewish people, it is for all humanity. Using a Samaritan to make this point truly drives the point home. Jesus chooses one of the out groups that the Jews despise most to illustrate kingdom faith and living.
The third point is that Jesus gives us a call to action. He tells us to “Go and do likewise”. That is, do as the Samaritan did. As per usual there is a larger Christological point that Luke is making. To do as the Samaritan did is to also do as Jesus did, and always does. Jesus is linking himself to both the Samaritan (shocking!) as well as the man in the ditch. In the process Jesus offers us a radically inclusive vison of the kingdom of God. Everyone a neighbor, everyone, needing help at some point, everyone tied to and reflecting Jesus and Jesus tied to all of humanity.
This stunning radicality should not be overlooked. The kingdom is for everyone and God’s love in offering us this kingdom and all it means is boundless. Boundless that is, if we only but believe and obey.
Praise Be to God