Trinity 7

This morning we have a parable that is so deeply woven into our minds and society.

People who have never even picked up a bible know that ‘The Samaritans’ are an organization that is there for the benefit of others.

They might use the phrase, ‘she’s being a good Samaritan’.  Likewise, ‘passing over on the other side’ has also passed into common parlance.

We might even wonder what on earth new could be said about this tale?

This morning, I would like us to look a little more deeply into the context of the telling.

This way, we might be able to learn something about the impact on those first hearers, and feel some of that impact ourselves.

The test that the lawyer had set, some commentators believe was part of a bigger plot to gather evidence against Jesus.  It looks pretty harmless to us – what must I do to inherit eternal life?

As ever, we see Jesus answering a question with a question.  What do you think?  And then comes the question that changes things.  Perhaps the ‘who is my neighbour’ question was the one that was really intended to get Jesus to say something heretical.

And indeed, if Jesus had simply said, ‘Everyone, even those people you despise – even Samaritans!’ the lawyer would think he had him.  Every good Jew would know that Samaritans were beyond the pail.

But when Jesus doesn’t answer a question with a question, he tends to answer a question with a story –in this instance, this story which we know so well.

There were two people, powerful, respected, religious people who left a Jewish man to die, and there was a person, a despised, filthy, lower than the low godless person who went and helped him.

Then comes the question; you tell me, who is the neighbour?

The man has to say what he was hoping Jesus would say, what he wanted to bring as evidence against him.

He can’t quite bring himself to actually say the word, Samaritan, but we know that is what he means.

The deep, world changing reality that Jesus is communicating to the lawyer through the parable is this; God’s love and concern is not limited to the Jews.  The love and grace of God is for all, including those who the people of God would rather exclude.

It is a hard learned lesson.  Some suggest that todays Palestinians are direct ancestors of the Samaritans, still living alongside a large Jewish population, and we struggle to see how there will ever be peace in that part of the world.  But we do not have to look that far to see divided communities and societies.  We might replace the Jewish man, beaten and left for dead with a member of the EDL, who is walked passed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and a human rights lawyer but helped by a refugee from an Islamic country.

I am sure you can think of examples of people who might be placed within the story yourselves.

Jesus is not offering much compromise or wriggle room here – every other human being is our neighbour.

John Wesley once put it this way;

“Let us renounce that bigotry and party zeal which would contract our hearts into an insensibility for all the human race but a small number whose sentiments and practices are so much our own, that our love to them is but self love reflected.  With an honest openness of mind let us always remember that kindred between man and man and cultivate that happy instinct whereby, in the original constitution of our nature, God has strongly bound us to each other.”

This, as with so many of Jesus’ parables, is an incredible multi-layered story; the Gospel in a nutshell, teasing our minds, worming its way through our critical faculties, and teaching us how we should act and how we should regard others.  And behind it all is a picture of the radical, religion-shattering action of God that makes this all possible, all there in a few lines.

These really are words that hover half an inch above the page and glow brightly enough to illuminate the whole room. And yet even the most surface level of interpretation we might see in it, that of stopping to help the fallen, is one we stumble and balk at, let alone changing our attitudes to seeing all humanity as neighbours, or properly taking on board the reality that God himself came into our world.


There are so many challenges here;

  • · The Gospel story
  • · Our attitude towards unpopular social groups
  • · The fact is that by our affluence we manage to live in an area where most people are more or less like us
  • · Our safe distance from the struggling groups on the fringe of society which perhaps means prejudice is currently removed somewhat from our realm of temptations
  • · Our desire to pass by on the other side; when we’re tempted to make excuses when faced with a time demand from a needy, maybe undeserving, person
  • · Our excuses to not get involved which come so readily to mind

There are more, but that is more than enough for this morning.  I wonder if there is one of those challenges that niggled at you, somewhere that you feel God might be challenging you to grow?

This is, indeed, a familiar story, but there are great riches to be mined.  I pray that each of us will be open to hearing afresh God’s challenge to us today.  Amen.