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.”
It took me years to get my inner-bred racism sorted out, or perhaps I should say, to let Jesus get it sorted out. I grew up in a northern, working-class culture in the late fifties and sixties. So it wasn’t so much that I had a bit of racism in my system, more that racism was a part of me. I come from Yorkshire, where we didn’t just look down on people from other countries, we had an arrogant sense of superiority even to people who lived in other counties, especially if they were from Lancashire or ‘down South’.
My racist attitudes were matched by my sexist ones, by my working-class prejudices and my cultural snobbishness. In the parable of the Good Samaritan it is not so much that Jesus campaigns against prejudices but rather that he transcends all our modern moralities and political correctness with a story of ridiculously generous love.
Morality is about a new sense of accepted rules, political correctness is born out of a new social and cultural awareness but love comes out of a completely new sort of heart.
In Jesus’ day the Samaritans were sort of ‘renegade, mixed up, not proper Jews’. They were patronised, looked down upon and even despised by the quite proper and pure Jews of Jerusalem. So for Jesus to tell a story where the spiritual leaders of the pure people are put in the shade by a Samaritan was both crazy and controversial. The story begins with a discussion about ‘the law’, Jesus takes it all up to a much higher level. This is a story of compassion and caring, of giving and remembering. It is the ultimate story of love, which is why it has become one of the most cherished and well known stories in the world. It is a story of ordinary morality (rule keeping) overshadowed, of social norms and correctness overwhelmed.
I remember the first time my wife suggested that we gave, what for us at the time was a large amount of money, to some needy friends. I was of course used to giving the usual small or modest amounts to God’s work or the needy. But this suggested gift was of another order. She shamed me into it. In a small way we were being ‘Good Samaritans’ in a more generous way than we, or I, had ever been before. At first I resented the money we gave but very soon I became very pleased with what we had done and it opened a door in my heart that I hope is still open. It was a work of Jesus.
I can’t remember the first time Jesus started challenging me about my prejudices and dark attitudes. It started many years ago. He has had to work hard on me over a lengthy period and it is still ongoing. He wants me to realise that ‘Samaritans’, whoever they may be, are just as special and wonderful in God’s eyes as I am myself.
Why don’t we spend all of today being a ‘Good Samaritan’ and then if it feels good, we can do it again tomorrow.
The road is long, with many of winding turns.
That lead us to (who knows) where, who knows where?
But I’m strong, strong enough to carry him-yeah.
He ain’t heavy – he’s my brother.
So long we go, his welfare is my concern.
No burden is he to bear, we’ll get there.
But I know he would not encumber me.
He ain’t heavy – he’s my brother.
Burn out my racial prejudice.
Expose my sexism,
Eradicate my snobbishness and sense of superiority.
Help me to see, to accept,
And to love,
In a new way.