“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Luke 10: 36-37
Jesus has always been a boundary breaker.
It is, therefore, a great travesty that we Christians have often used Jesus as an excuse to build barriers in life and in church. “You’re not one of us!”, “You don’t belong!”, and, “You’re just a woman, divorcee, Muslim, immigrant, gay, single, uneducated, new, wicked, not in membership… (please choose taboo) …are words that have only too often been on our lips.
I’ve heard more sermons than I can count about the “Good Samaritan”, often using the latest cultural pariah (e g who remembers a drama sketch about a Good Punk Rocker) as the star of the story. I was tempted…but you can do the work there.
So I guess lesson one is usually don’t judge by appearances. Help can come from unexpected places.
Lesson two is usually a general moral one…if you see someone in a ditch go and help them out…and not just your friends! Tom Wright reminds us that even here there is a deeper, more challenging message to be had:
“Underneath the apparently straightforward moral lesson (‘go and do the same’) we find a much sterner challenge, exactly fitting in with the emphasis of Luke’s story so far. Can you recognise the hated Samaritan as your neighbour? If you can’t you might be left for dead.”
Tom Wright, ‘Luke for Everyone’ p128.
I don’t think even this takes it far enough. Back then Jesus had a poignant message for the young lawyer about conflicting views of what it meant to be Israel, God’s people. I don’t think it would be wrong to see what lesson we can learn as the church, God’s people, from the story.
I think it has something to do with whether, as the church, we see the grace, mercy and love poured out by God as something that causes us to revel in our own sense of being the ‘chosen ones’ with all the isolated security and purity we think that brings, and therefore jealously protect our boundaries…we can’t let ‘outsiders’ spoil our church!
Or, on the other hand, we sign up to God’s greater vision of a group of people chosen to model and share a different way of living to the world, a group with committed to seeing God’s love, grace and mercy extended to everyone. As Tom Wright says:
“No church, no Christian, can remain content with easy definitions which allow us to watch most of the world lying half-dead in the road”.
Let’s find new ways to tell the story, to act as signposts to Jesus as we model the life he lived and now shares with us, to learn how to rescue, and allow ourselves to be rescued, by unlikely people.