We like our hot topic debates in the Church, this much we can agree on. It is almost like we need some sort of controversy to drive the Church forward these days. There are lots of topics to pick from though let me be clear, I don’t think that the colours of the church building would be one them! Jesus is confronted by a lawyer, someone who is well trained in the Scriptures (the Torah) and is used to having such debates amongst his peers. This unnamed lawyer asks Jesus a question that we might well ask in this day and age – what can I do to live forever like God?
Jesus answers his question with another question, “What did you learn in the Scriptures?” The lawyer smiles and replies, “Oh, that’s easy, love God with your heart soul mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself!” “Great,” confirms Jesus, “You have the right answer. If you know what to do, go and do it. In the doing of it you will find that you have eternal life; a life like God’s life. “Surprised that he is on the short end of this conversation, the lawyer asks another question, “Teacher, can you tell me, who precisely is my neighbour?” and this is really the heart of the parable – whom is it that we serve? The lawyer presumes that there are people in the world that don’t need or deserve his help and that these people can be safely ignored without being judged by others including God. And isn’t it interesting that we as human being find that the simplest things to do are also the hardest things in life to do.
So Jesus tells the lawyer a parabolic story. “There once was a man who traveled from Jerusalem down the road to Jericho. Along the way he was attacked by robbers. And because he had very little, all he had for the trip home were his own clothes. These were taken from him. The traveler was beaten savagely with his own walking stick and left for dead in the ditch along the edge of the road by the thieves. A priest on his way home from doing his duty at the Temple saw the man half alive and heard his cries for aid but the priest did not stop to lend assistance, choosing instead to think of him as already dead. Then a lawyer came along, saw this man in his awful state and chose not to see or to hear anything because he had pressing business to attend to in Jericho.
But then came along a Samaritan, a foreigner. Someone who no self respecting, religious person would dare go near. He came to the spot in the road where the badly injured man lay in the ditch. The Samaritan saw the injured man, heard the plea for help, had compassion for him, and when into action. He got the injured man out of the ditch, cleaned and bandaged his wounds, using wine to disinfect and oil to protect the wounds. He put him on his own animal and led the animal to the nearest in where the ill-treated sojourner could recover from his experience and hurts. Then when he could delay no more he passed the care over to the inn keeper telling him that the convalescing traveler was to be cared for and any expense that the innkeeper incurred would be paid for upon the Samaritan’s return.
“Now then who was the neighbour?” asked Jesus of the now sheepish lawyer. “The one who showed mercy on the injured man,” answered the scribe, refusing to name the Samaritan. “Right, so go and do the same,” commanded Jesus.
What’s the hot topic this week? Who can we not serve and get away with it? There must be people in the world that we can ignore and forget about, people that we don’t have to tend on… isn’t there? Maybe we should consider the nature of the mission of God, and therefore of the Church. What unique characteristics are there that we discover about the mission of God from this parable? First of all, no one calls the Samaritan “good”. No one recognizes the possibility that this could be how God acts or even that this could be God himself acting. This “do gooder” is an outsider, a foreigner, the enemy. He is considered to be a reprobate and a heretic by so called the respectable, holy people. And yet the religious people fail to see the true nature of God and his mission to the world.
They are shocked to learn that such low life type person would even be capable of such an act. God is capable of having mercy on those who need to be shown mercy. God is able to show compassion to very person, not just to the good and the nice, but also to those of us who find ourselves, half dressed, half dead, and totally in the ditch and absolutely in need of help.
Being a help to another human being at the side of the road and in the ditch is what faith and ministry is all about. We as a community should and must be committed to drawing people to us and we should be ready to care for them regardless of who they are or what they have done. Faith and ministry are also as much about the attitudes we carry about other people as it is about the things we do for other people. Attitudes determine how will pray for people and what we will do and not do for others. We need to bring hope to those who need faith. We need to bring joy to those who mourn. We need to feed the hungry and give drink to those who are thirsty. We need to set free those who are captive and in prisons. We must proclaim the moment of freedom to move into God’s reign for that moment is now.
We know what Jesus would do. If God goes to those who are fallen, beaten and injured, th question then becomes what will we do? How will we respond to finding others on the side of the road? Will we treat them as neighbours or pretend that they are dead? Go and do like God does - be merciful. Be a neighbour and a friend. Go and find that you have eternal life in Jesus’ name.