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Sunday 10 July 2022: Trinity 4, Fifteenth in Ordinary time, Proper 10

Lessons from the wounded
Luke 10:25-37

By Nigel J Robb
former Presbytery Clerk, Church of Scotland

Context: a congregation of 85 middle class people familiar with the Gospel stories
Aim: to recognise the inclusive, radical nature of God’s activity surprising us

P G Wodehouse defined a parable as a Bible story which at first sounds like an interesting yarn, but ‘keeps something up its sleeve which suddenly pops up and leaves you flat.’

The story known as The Good Samaritan is so familiar that the phrase has entered common parlance. Perhaps it is difficult to imagine what new perspective can be heard. Yet the story, like that known as The Prodigal Son, does not begin with the character of the Samaritan, but ‘a certain man’. Perhaps this is the critical point Jesus wants to make. The individual is not identified by race, religion, colour, wealth, attitude, or politics. This person has no characteristic except need. The story is about being the wounded person, the man lying injured at the side of the road. We who read, or hear the story are invited to see, or hear the incident from the perspective of the wounded man lying helpless and perhaps hopeless. We see it and experience it alongside the injured man. How might this affect our understanding?

The story is told when Jesus, in typical Socratic and Jewish rabbinical style, answers a question he is asked, with a question. After the parable is told, it may be important to note that the lawyer does not identify the person as a Samaritan, but says, ‘The man who showed mercy.’ His attitude towards such outsiders was so ingrained that he could not even utter the ethnic origin.

The Samaritans, according to the Gospels, (Matthew 8:10-22, Luke 9:51-62, John 7:10,) rejected Jesus, so the story was personally challenging to Jesus. Jews regarded Samaritans as heretics, religiously disreputable, and not those sharing their faith. They certainly did not see them as neighbours. There was a great deal of bitterness between Jews and Samaritans, those of mixed race and collaborators after the Assyrian conquest. The parable is designed by Jesus to be shocking and threatening to our secure understandings of what is right and acceptable, when it characterises the Samaritan as the hero. The Samaritan was the ultimate outsider, and hereby Jesus was shattering categories and destroying boundaries. It teaches the message that love expects a response and no recompense.

The parable suggests that our neighbour is anyone who is in need, and that we must go as far as we can to help, unconditionally. There are no barriers, exclusions, or limits. It is a call to stop prejudice, to extend compassion to all no matter who is involved. There is no justification for drawing a line of exclusion. Love knows no bounds of race. It only asks for opportunities to go into action.

Eric Hoffer wrote: ‘It is easier to love humanity as a whole than to love one’s neighbour.’ The Samaritan came alongside and became associated with the wounded injured man and did not offer spasmodic help. He gave immediate assistance and then, extraordinarily, ensured the injured person was taken care of until healed and healthy again. There was no constraint or regulation of law to compel the Samaritan to act with such generosity and grace.

The parable declares that in the Kingdom of God mercy comes only to those who have no right to demand or anticipate it, and who cannot resist it when it comes. Mercy always comes from the quarter from which one does not expect it. In the Kingdom, mercy is always a surprise.

Jesus is challenging us to identify not merely with the Samaritan, but with the man in the ditch. The person who is not concerned about the ethnic or religious origins of beliefs of the person helping but is grateful for the mercy and compassion shown. A righteous person risks their life and living for a faceless, nameless, nobody.

We who receive unmerited mercy and grace are reminded by this parable of the inclusive nature of God’s love and God’s activity in and through the unexpected and unusual agents of redemption. Unlike the demand of the debater with Jesus, we know we do not need any more information. We are invited to act on our understanding because of our identification with the wounded person. In so doing we discover the fact that God is not limited by any artificial division among human beings. Instead, there is underlying it all the radical nature of grace which sees the needy person as the person deserving of care. How might this message be articulated in our lives today? How might it change our attitudes and engagement with those like ourselves, who are in need? If you or I were injured at the side of the road, whom might we welcome to help us?

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