Good Samaritan

Everyone knows the story of the good Samaritan: a man was beaten up, robbed and left for dead on the roadside. A priest and then an official saw but just walked passed, but a Samaritan stopped to help. He took care of the victim and paid for his care until he recovered. It’s often taken as a story about how we should go out of our way to help people, which is, of course, important, but that’s not why Jesus told the story. A lawyer was trying to catch Jesus out. They both agreed that the most important commandments are to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, but that begged the question: who is my neighbour? That was the trick question to which Jesus responded with the story of the man from Samaria who helped.
Jesus invited the lawyer to answer his own question, “Who showed himself to be a neighbour to the man who was mugged on the road?” The lawyer couldn’t bring himself to say, “The Samaritan,” but he got the point, “The one who helped him,” he replied. So, whom must he love as he loves himself? The despised and distrusted foreigner, that’s the point of the story. Jews saw Samaritans as enemies and heretics. They had collaborated with Israel’s enemies. They claimed the same religious heritage as the Jews, but they had perverted it – that’s how Jesus’ own people saw it. So of all people, Jews couldn’t be expected to love Samaritans, God couldn’t possibly expect that!
But Jesus leaves no doubt: it is the foreigner who lives among you; people you think you shouldn’t put up with; people who speak differently, who weren’t born here, who perhaps don’t follow your religion, whose nation might have been your nation’s enemy in the past; these are the people we are commanded to love as we love ourselves.
The human instinct is to find safety among people like ourselves. Racial tension in the United States, tribal conflicts in some parts of Africa, the struggle between different traditions in Islam, all show how that instinct can tear humanity apart. The same instincts sometimes emerge in our own society and a few people have taken the vote to leave the European Union as an excuse to abuse European citizens who have made their home among us. The point of religion is to point us away from those primitive instincts towards a greater transcendent truth. Our civilisation is founded on Christian wisdom, but whether or not we are Christians, being civilised cannot be based on fear or hate – loving our neighbour is essential.

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