This week we come to one of the most well-known stories in the gospels: the story of the Good Samaritan. This story is widely known among religious and non-religious people alike. Even the phrase “the Good Samaritan” has become such a keystone idea that it’s made its way into our judicial system. But one of the great dangers of coming to a passage like this is that we assume we already know what it has to teach us. Taken colloquially, this story is basically Jesus telling us to be nice to people.
But as you prepare to come to worship this week, we invite you to spend some more time really dwelling in this story and trying to put yourself in the minds of those who are listening to it. Because for those who are listening, it was truly subversive, starting with who Jesus makes the hero. The heroes of that time were always the religious leaders, the priests. But in this story, Jesus turns the tables. The priests and the religious leaders become the ones who break the law, and the Samaritan, a person the Jews held in great contempt, is the one who fulfills God’s law and helps and saves his neighbor.
So we see, in a very subversive way, that we are called to love our neighbor, but Jesus is also calling us to break our sense of self-righteousness. He’s calling us to see that we’re not as good as we think we are, and ultimately, we need saving and perhaps even help from the person we most despise. The implications of this story go far beyond just being nice!
So, as we approach this passage this week, we invite you to not just assume you know what it means, but spend some time really dwelling in this story, and asking the Holy Spirit to open your heart to it in a fresh way.
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25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 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.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 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. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 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. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[e] 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.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”