Signpost for Sunday 10th JULY 2016 (15th Sunday in Ordinary Time):Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37.
What new insight can we find in the parable of the Good Samaritan? Nothing, I dare say. We Signpost readers have turned the story inside out since we first heard it at our mother’s knee and over and over again in many years of study and sermons.
This parable, and that of the Prodigal Son, two of the best known and best loved, are found only in Luke’s Gospel. It starts with a question posed to Jesus by an expert in the Jewish Law to which he (and all attentive Jews) patently knew the answer. Jesus knew that he knew, so he countered with his own question and forced the Lawyer to spell it out verbally. Jesus confirmed that he had got it right. Ten out of ten. The Lawyer is bemused by Jesus’ authority in his (the Lawyer’s) own field of expertise, so to justify himself, and to find out whether Jesus might be preaching a new heresy, he asks a second question, “Who is my neighbour?”
And we Signpost readers know full well that the Jews would be far from happy to understand that the hated Samaritans were, contrary to the historic interpretation of Leviticus 19;18, indeed their neighbours, not just other Jews, and in fact it was a despised Samaritan whom Jesus held up as the example par excellence of neighbourliness.
How many times have we had it dinned into us that unlike the Priest and the Levite we must not allow our religious trappings, however important, to supersede our compassion (followed by action) towards our fellow human beings? And we are not to judge whether our neighbour’s distress comes about through his own fault – after all, the “certain man” was incredibly foolish to travel alone on such a dangerous stretch of road, notorious then and even now for brigands and robbers.
The original hearers of the parable may have interpreted it principally to show that God’s plan includes the Gentiles. William Barclay expands the text imaginatively and points out that the Samaritan was probably a regular user of the route – he appears to have a good relationship with the innkeeper – and asks why on earth an ethnic Samaritan would travel to and from Jerusalem when Jews and Samaritans had nothing to do with each other. Maybe “Samaritan” is not a question of ethnicity, but rather the term of contempt used by the Jews for people who did not keep the ceremonial law. Jesus himself was at least once branded a Samaritan (John 8:48). In Barclay’s words, the parable paints a picture of the utterly orthodox passing by on the other side while the despised heretic and sinner is the one man who helps his fellow men.
It is fascinating to re-read such a well known piece of scripture and what others have said about it, and it is difficult to reduce to 300 words or so all the ideas chasing around one’s head. I can’t resist, however, one completely new-to-me insight – Ben Sirach didn’t altogether agree (read chapter 12) which instructs us inter alia “Give to a devout man, do not go to the help of a sinner. Do good to a humble man, give nothing to a godless one. Refuse him bread, do not give him any, it might make him stronger than you are; then you would be repaid evil twice over for all the good you had done him.” But then Sirach was one of the old school, and he didn’t quite make it to the Canon any way,