The ugly duckling was a homely chick, the butt of everyone’s barnyard joke, until he grew into a noble swan. Maturity has a way of brining out the beauty in all of us. After sounding the false alarm, the townsfolk ignored the boy’s crying wolf when the real predator showed his teeth. An old man explained to the child saying, “no one believes a liar even if he’s telling the truth.” A man was mugged, left for dead on the roadside. Two passed him by, but a fellow traveler extended a helping hand. So be a do-gooder in the name of neighborliness.
But when a lawyer inquires about inheriting eternal life, Jesus doesn’t respond with a nursery rhyme or an Aesop’s fable, he tells a parable, a story far beyond simple lessons or obvious moral teachings. So what then makes the Samaritan good?
Luke 10:25-37 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The Samaritan trusted the innkeeper with his money and the man’s healing.
The Samaritan did what the Church was unwilling to do.
By dismounting, the Samaritan made himself vulnerable to the same robbers.
Usually, those who have suffered themselves are the very first to notice suffering in others.
All said parties of elevated legal standing, after submitting oral and written arguments, hereinafter agree that the entitled matter, neighborliness, is limited to an Israelite of traceable Abrahamic lineage, whose dwelling is in direct proximity to said parties, who was circumcised on the eighth day, who is amenable and agreeable in every way. This matter, having been duly executed, waives all rights to interpretation or disagreement, henceforth.
Or, the legalese skirting of religious responsibility.
What makes the Samaritan good? He was a foreigner traveling in a foreign land of antagonism, maligned for his half-breed ancestry, distained for his distortion of Judaism, loathed for his opposition to the Jerusalem temple, hated for his alliance with Syria. The only thing expected of this Samaritan slur was to palm his mortal enemy’s wallet, to cuss him into oblivion, to leave the Jew to bleed out. Instead, like all great reversals of faith, he dismounted from his high horse of hostility, offered the salve of healing, picked up the tab for two months of bed rest and extended the brother compassion.
Christianity has never been simply about the niceties of neighborliness or following the moral of the story. But rather about how we offer manna and mercy to the adversary in our midst, the very guy or gal we hope never moves in next door. The Pharisee we invite over for dinner; the second mile we walk for the Roman solider; the enemy we love.
Despite the lawyer in all of us, we are an itinerant people who believe that the road down to Jericho is summoning, that Jesus, the Good Samaritan, has already rescued and redeemed us to “go and do likewise,” that eternal life is as close as the next dying man in the ditch.