Signposts Sunday 14 July 2013: Amos 7: 7-17; Colossians 1: 1-14; Luke10: 25-37.
Amos is a minor prophet but, as I have said before, that’s not because he is not important. It’s because his entire prophetic book fits onto one or two scrolls (unlike Isaiah who takes up many more). Amos isn’t even a real prophet; he says so himself (Amos 1:14-15). And he’s not a Samaritan. He’s come all the way from Judeah in the south to tell the Samaritans how annoyed God is with them. He hasn’t come to warn them and ask them to repent, he’s there to say the game’s up. That plumb line (Amos 1: 7) is a sort of line in the sand. Yaweh’s had enough and about 20 years after all this, the Assyrians march in to the Northern Kingdom whose capital was the city of Samaria, and drag the people into exile. The Samaritans have had a tough time ever since.
So when Jesus tells what is possibly his most famous story (Luke10: 30-35) it’s a total reversal of Amos. It’s not the Samaritans who are condemned by God’s plumb line this time, it’s the Jews whose capital is Jerusalem. John 4:9 tells us that Jews simply would not have anything to do with Samaritans in the first century. You can tell that from the way the lawyer responds to Jesus’s question at the end of the story. He can’t even bring himself to say it was the Samaritan who proved to be the good neighbour to the man who was robbed (Luke 10:37).
Jesus doesn’t choose a Samaritan to be the good guy just to shock his audience though, he does it to make sure they realise that the idea of neighbour has nothing to do with who lives next door. The whole setting of the story emphasises that. Everything takes place on a notorious, steep and dangerous road. A few hundred years later St Jerome still calls that 17 mile/27 km long stretch of road “the bloody way” because it was a mugger’s paradise. But the point about this road is that the priest and the Levite have no excuses – they are on their way back from the Temple. Jesus is very precise about the direction they are traveling (Luke 10:30). Thinking they might cross over or pass by just to make sure they don’t make themselves unclean on their way to the Temple won’t cut it. And they are supposed to have just spent time putting themselves right with their God. Now look at Luke 10:35. This isn’t just a kind Samaritan who knows first aid. Oil and wine were ritually poured out on the high altar in the Temple before Yaweh.
Then the clincher: the Samaritan is not a gentile. Ethnically, the Samaritans were a mixed race because the ancient Jews had intermarried with the original residents. Spiritually he is under the same law as the Jews. And of course he’s not local, he’s from up north. The half dead man by the side of the road certainly does not qualify as his neighbour.