What is there left to say? This story has been dictated, analyzed, criticized interpreted, reinterpreted, and preached everywhere. It’s been typeset, printed, canvassed, framed, marketed and sold to be mounted in church foyers and over dinner tables across America. It’s been fastened to the Golden Rule (also biblical, also mass-marketed), elevated as Jesus’ ultimate allegory, but the term “Samaritan” has become incredibly familiar and is now somewhat colloquial.
Does anyone actually know what a Samaritan is? Wikipedia already did the homework: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritan. I’m pretty sure that move wouldn’t fly in an academic setting, but CSU Hayward already sent me the diploma, so too bad.
Now that you’ve thoroughly studied it for 18 seconds (or less, depending on whether or not you’re between MW3 rounds), you have likely discovered that Samaritans are half-breeds: part Jew, part geographical anomaly. The Jewish people in Jesus’ day didn’t like them at all. They were dirty. They were excluded from the cool kids club.
They were posers.
By context, at least. Samaritans are religious people that have decided the Jews are generally wrong about their version of God, and worship on their own terms. And we know how the Jewish people of that time liked being told they were wrong.
Jesus used the Jews’ self-righteousness to make the contrast between Jew and Samaritan that much more effective. Jesus has one of the Jewish lawyers interpret his particular reading of the law (v. 26) . He answers “correctly” (v. 28), according to Jesus, who probably just said that so he’d go away. But the lawyer isn’t done. He presses, asking who the “neighbor” is — and Jesus answers the question with the memorable story of a guy that gets beat up, gets passed up by stuffy religious leaders (comparable to his audience), and gets picked up by a poser. A pair of self-righteous men miss the opportunity to do the “right” thing, and the Samaritan, clearly the outcast, does it instead.
We like to compare ourselves to the Samaritan guy when we do good things. “Oh, you’re such a good Samaritan.” We pat ourselves on the back for our generosity, for our precious Saturday afternoon spent helping with the youth car wash, because hey, we’re being good Samaritans.
Do you really want to be that? Would you like to be the one to pick up the naked and bleeding man? You risk becoming “unclean”, according to tradition.
But let’s not get technical about it. Jesus is creating a hyperbole — he’s making a statement about the religious, the type that will quote Scripture to defend a stance rather than taking the critical steps to make something happen. The Samaritan of the story bothers going to extreme measures to rectify the situation. The audience Jesus spoke to was unwilling.
The majority of church is busy doing the right thing. They try to read their Bibles, try to pray, take their kids to Sunday school, maybe even attend the weekly Bible study. But there are posers out there doing the right thing. They might not even be Christians, but they are picking up the broken. And we should be ashamed of ourselves, because while we punch the truth into the solar plexus of an unbelieving generation, the scornful world shakes their heads at us as they pick up the bleeding.
It’s our job. We have love, so let’s use it.
Are you willing?