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 Good Samaritan
This story of the good Samaritan is really important to our faith. It shows the depth to which Jesus wants us to love our neighbor. In ancient times when this story was first told, people from Samaria were considered foes if not enemies of the people of Israel.
Let me share a little information about the Samaritans. In the 10th century B.C., following the death of King Solomon, civil strife broke Israel in two, with Samaria the capital of the new northern kingdom. But an Assyrian invasion destroyed the north, exiling thousands. Those left behind were cut off from Jerusalem. Like Jews, Samaritans are monotheists. The Hebrew deity is their one true god. Also like Jews, the five books of Moses comprise their sacred text. Unlike Jews, Samaritans have only one prophet, Moses. The Samaritans placed their holy temple on Mt. Gerizim. The Samaritans considered Judaism a false religion and the Jews considered the Samaritans religion also to be false.
This split took place a thousand years before the birth of Christ. The divide was deep by the time Jesus came along. By using the good Samaritan as the good guy in this story, Jesus was telling his followers that they should not only love their neighbor but they should show love for even those considered enemies.
Jesus was very much a part of his culture. Remember the story in Matthew about the Samaritan woman who pleaded with Jesus for a miracle for her daughter. His first response was to refer to her as a dog which was and still is a very derisive term. In the end she shows such faith that Jesus heals her daughter.
We do not have exact time lines but I would like to think that this reading chronicles the latter part of his ministry. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus thought his message was just for the Jews. Later in his ministry, Jesus had a much more expansive view of that mission. It includes all of mankind including Samaritans.
This gospel reading reminds caused me to reflect on the Christmas truce during the first world war. The Christmas truce was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front around Christmas 1914. In the week leading up to the holiday, German and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. They were able to put a human face to those they had been shooting at.
I firmly believe that at our core all of us have much more in common than we have separating us. What we need to look for is common ground that connects us rather than those differences that set us apart.
I have been very troubled this week by the events in Minneapolis, Baton Rouge, and Dallas. Sometimes it feels like our culture is spinning out of control. I ask that you keep the victims and their families in your prayers. Also, I ask that you pray for those who committed these acts of violence. They are the hard to love and Jesus is telling us to pray for those as well.
I ask that you recite with me a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer: p. 824 No. 28
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord.