Unexpected Togetherness | Gentle Reverence | Disruptive Compassion
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Many of us enjoy being able to understand what we should do by seeing what we have been explicitly told to do. For the Ancient Israelites, they were expected to follow 613 laws: 248 told people what they were expected to do, while 365 directed people in what they were not supposed to do, and for them, the fulfillment of these laws, was the means by which they were expected to live their lives. One of the goals of following the law was to allow the Israelites to be a separate, holy people who were different than the other nations that surrounded them. In fulfilling these rules, Israel stood apart from all other people, even when by following the law, people were hurt. Have you ever had a time when you followed the rules even when you knew that in doing so you were not doing what was best? How did you feel about that time?
The teacher of the law, in questioning Jesus, provides a summary of the Law of Moses as “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 love your neighbor as yourself.” This answer has often been seen as the central message of Jesus’ ministry.
In this passage, Jesus tells that when a priest and Levite each saw the robbed and beaten man that they each crossed to the side of the road rather than going to his assistance. While many of us read those words and grow outraged over the actions of these two religious leaders, their avoidance of the wounded man allowed them to maintain ritual holiness by not touching blood, which would have prevented them each from being able to do their job.
The Samaritan people were closely related to the Israelites, though they practiced a separate religion that had branched away from Judaism in the mid-9th Century B.C. Not long after Samaria had been captured by the Assyrian Empire, the Assyrians moved other conquered people into the city, who mixed their religions with the early Samaritan religion to create a further disconnect between the Samaritan people and the Jewish people. The Jewish people saw the joining of pagan practices into their own religious life, by the Samaritans, as one of the worst possible sins.
The treatment that the Samaritan provided to the injured man while they were still on the roadside was what would have been expected, whereas the extra care of bringing him to an inn and paying for additional treatment would have gone above and beyond what was considered ordinary. Extravagance in providing for the needs of others helps us to share the deep level of grace that God has bestowed upon us in ways that people often do not expect.
The teacher of the law quickly understands that in this parable, Jesus desires for all people to see each other as neighbors, not simply those people who live near us or are like us, and while it is never explicitly stated, most scholars believe that this man left his interchange with Jesus changed. One of the most wonderful parts of the Christian life is that God calls us all to be changed in our lives to share His goodness with each other.
God of all good, you have called us to live our lives not for ourselves but in working with you to provide for all people. We thank you that you desire that we share compassion in ways that disrupts our own lives and the lives of those we serve, as we partner with you in your work of restoration. Help us to move beyond our levels of comfort to see the places where you desire that we serve alongside of you, and inspire us through your Holy Spirit, that we might seek out the places in our own lives that need disruption. In Christ’s name we pray; amen.