One of Jesus’ most famous parables is the story about the Good Samaritan. Briefly, the story goes like this.
A certain man traveled from the city to a smaller town. On the way, a gang beat him within an inch of his life and left him for dead. Soon, a prominent city leader came by and saw the beaten man, but she crossed to the other side of the road and continued on her way. A little later, the pastor of a prominent church passed by, but since he was busy with people who needed his care, he also crossed the road and continued on his way.
Finally, a “Samaritan” happened on the scene. He saw the badly beaten man, stopped, bandaged his wounds, lifted him into his own car and took him to the hospital. He stayed with the beat–up man in the ER, and after treatment took him to a small, clean motel and paid for a couple of nights lodging, as well as the food he would need to recover.
Luke tells us that Jesus told this story to answer a question about what it means to be a neighbour. Which one of these three acted as a neighbour to the man who was beaten?
“Good Samaritan” has become a cliché today, and we think the story is about being kind in a hurting world. But in those days, no Jew would have called a Samaritan “good”. They were ancient enemies of the Jews. Imagine a good Taliban. A good skinhead. A good neo–Nazi.
A few years ago, in a course on the parables, the professor said, “This is not a story about being nice. It’s a story about the transformation of the world.” He went on to explain that Jesus was talking about three types of people along the road.
The first type were the gang members. They live by an ethic which says, “what is yours is mine at whatever cost.” They will take whatever they want by whatever means necessary. They leave us physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually beaten and bruised along life’s road.
The second type are the respectable members of society, who live by an ethic which says, “what is mine is mine and I must protect it even if you get hurt.” They’re not bad people; indeed, both are deeply respected. They follow all the rules and they help out as they can by sitting on boards, paying their taxes or coaching children’s teams. They love those who are nearest and dearest to them.
But they don’t help when it might cost them too much. Without recognizing it, they do more harm than good because their focus is inward. They value their reputation more than the needs of those who have been beaten up by life. They are busy people, and don’t have time.
Honestly, I suspect most of us fall into this category more than we care to admit.
The third type is the Samaritan, who surprises us because they live by an ethic of love which says, “what is mine is yours, if you need it.”
My safety and my security and my help is yours if you need it. My well–being is tied to your well–being, for I can only be whole when all are whole.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. preached on this parable, he would say that the difference was this: the first two would ask, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” The Samaritan asked a vastly different question, “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
Will we live with an ethic of fear or an ethic of love?
When we live by fear, we retreat into our own concerns, mind our own business, and rarely cross to the other side of the road. When we live by fear, we insist on our own rights and our own freedom. It may make us feel safe for a moment, but that is fleeting at best.
When we live out of an ethic of love, we cross the road to help our neighbour. We care for each other. We reach out to the least in our society, to those who are hurting or broken or failing. We foster community.
When we choose to to live with an ethic of love, we will catch a glimpse of something Jesus talked about an awful lot. We may be transformed. We may even take part in the transformation and healing of the world