Scripture: Luke 10:25-37
Key verse: (29) “And who is my neighbor?”
Reflection: Even in an age of Biblical illiteracy, the parable of the Good Samaritan is familiar to many. On the news, stories of strangers helping people in need are often referred to as “Good Samaritan Stories.” On the back of many a Winnebago are stickers for the “Good Sam Club,” an organization for the RV community founded on the principle of helping out when another is in need. Here’s the logo: . (For those who might be wondering, no, I did not serve as the model for “Good Sam.”) The point usually taken from the parable is that we should all be neighborly like the Good Samaritan and help people in trouble.
Our familiarity with this story presents a potential problem. Because we “know” the story, we just might miss its core message. It’s important to remember that the parable is not told in order to encourage kind acts for strangers in need. Rather, it’s told in response to a lawyer’s question to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” It’s told to radically expand our definition of who a neighbor might be. As you likely know, Samaritans were not considered neighbors in the mindset of the Jewish lawyer who posed the question. They were considered enemies. For the Samaritan to demonstrate what it means to be a neighbor, (and for the priest and the Levite to fail in that regard,) offered a radical redefinition of neighbor for that lawyer who originally posed the question. The Samaritan was the hated “other,” the last person in the world the Jewish lawyer could possible see as living out the law of love and defining neighborliness.
The early church fathers took it even further. Many of them, including Origen and later Augustine, interpreted this parable allegorically. Instead of seeing ourselves in the Samaritan, they believed we were all the man in the ditch. In their allegories, the man in the ditch was Adam. The Priest and the Levite represented religion and the law—they could not save us. The Samaritan was Jesus—the last one we would imagine would be our Savior, perhaps the last one we would want to save us.
With election day less than two weeks away, with vitriolic ads peppering us every day in the media, what would it mean to live into Jesus’ radical understanding of who our neighbors really are? Can we possibly imagine proving to be a neighbor to them? What would it mean to understand that our salvation is directly tied to our relationship with whomever we understand to be “the other?”
“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” asked Jesus. “The one who showed him mercy,” responded the lawyer. Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Prayer: Am I the one in the ditch, O Lord? If I am, help me see my predicament. More importantly, open my eyes to your presence on the road today. Help me to see your face in the face of the other, whomever they may be to me. Give me faith to live out your command to love my neighbor that I might know the joy of your salvation. 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].