Scripture: Luke 10:25-37
Key verse: (29) “Who is my neighbor?”
Reflection: The parable of the Good Samaritan is well-known, even in our biblically illiterate culture. When a person helps a stranger in need, they are often described as “A Good Samaritan.” The parable is thought simply to be a call to help people in trouble. This understanding misses the radical nature of the parable shared by Jesus. In its original context, the parable is told in response to an expert in the Jewish law who asks Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life. As he often does, Jesus responds to the lawyer’s question with a question, “What does the law say? How do you read it.” The lawyer answers well: “Love God. Love your neighbor.” Jesus says, “Good answer! Do this and you’ll live.” But the lawyer can’t leave well enough alone, so he asks, “Who is my neighbor.”
The familiar parable is Jesus’ response. What might not be familiar is that those expected to help the man in the ditch are faithful Jews: a priest and a Levite. They pass him by. The Samaritan would have been the last person in the world the lawyer could imagine being the exemplary character in the parable. The Samaritan is “the other” to the lawyer, despised as a religious heretic, a social enemy. As the gospels tell us, “Jews and Samaritans did not hold things in common.” In today’s language, if you are a Republican, the Good Samaritan would be, “The Good Democrat,” or vice versa. To a member of the ACLU, he might be “The Good NRA Member.” You get the idea. The words “good” and “Samaritan” would have never gone together for the lawyer to whom the parable is shared, or for the man in the ditch, for that matter. In other words, their salvation was dependent on the one they could not imagine being good. That’s who proved to be neighbor to the man in the ditch. That’s who embodied faithfulness to the law. That’s who shows the way to eternal life.
Augustine, the great theologian of the 5th century offered a fascinating allegorical interpretation of the parable that speaks to this radical parable. He suggests that we are not called to be the Good Samaritan, but rather, we are all the man in the ditch, beaten and left for dead by the powers of the world embodied in the robbers. The law cannot save us (embodied in the priest,) nor the Temple, (embodied by the Levite,) but only Christ, who is the Good Samaritan to us all, who alone embodies the way to eternal life.
Who is “the other” for you? What might it mean to see Christ in the other? What might it mean that your salvation is inherently connected to that relationship?
Prayer: O God, some days we realize how deep in the ditch we really are. Other days we live with the blind self-righteousness of the scribe who asked Jesus how to gain eternal life. Give us wisdom to see where we are, and to open ourselves to the healing you alone can bring, even if it comes in the form of one we cannot imagine, who represents to us “The Other.” Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].