“He is a Good Samaritan.” Many people recognize this sentence as describing someone who does gratuitous good deeds for others. It is hard to believe that a substantial number of readers know where the reference comes from.
The story is found in Luke 10, when a lawyer asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (There is way more meat to this when one considers the lawyer is “testing” Jesus with the same verb used by Satan in the wilderness, but that is beyond our purpose here.)
In typical teacher fashion, Jesus asks what the law says, and the lawyer quotes the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 – look it up) and concludes with “and your neighbor as yourself.”
Ah, here’s the rub. The lawyer wants to justify himself and asks for clarification about who might be his neighbor. Jesus addresses the issue in all three synoptic gospels and his quote is used in many Anglican Prayer Books.
The Matthean version says: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Seeking “justification,” the lawyer asks who his neighbor is. Wow! Justify? The term in Greek in the infinitive is the term to describe and define being made right with God. (Paul uses it more than 20 times to describe what God has done for the world through Jesus’ work, and to be justified is synonymous with “inheriting eternal life.”) No wonder the lawyer pushed the case.
Jesus uses the parable of the Good Samaritan to answer the neighbor thing.
A man (a Jew) was going from Jerusalem to Jericho and was set upon by robbers, beaten, stripped and left for dead. A priest and a Levite (righteous men and should be neighbors) ignored him and a Samaritan (unrighteous in Jewish eyes and a foreigner) cared for him and paid for the care.
Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Two thousand years later it seems intuitively obvious to the casual observer that the lawyer correctly answers, “The one who showed him mercy.” That would be the “Good” Samaritan. Yep, the foreigner.
What does this story mean to us in the good old U.S. of A or, more importantly, in the town of Salida in the county of Chaffee and the state of Colorado?
Lately America doesn’t seem like a friendly place. We forgot or ignore Emma Lazarus’ sonnet on the Statue of Liberty and we likely have never welcomed the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, especially if they didn’t look like … us?
I suspect that the brown-skinned, pacifist, Jewish prophet and miracle worker who spoke of caring for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison would remind us Christians that in order to “love your neighbor as yourself,” we need to bring Christ back into Christianity.
The Rev. Dr. Mike Fay is rector of Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Salida.