But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. (Luke 10:33)
When I was in Seminary, a professor of mine spoke about a book he read, The Big Sort by Bill Bishop. The premise of the book was that more and more Americans are clustering themselves into “like-minded” communities. People are moving (on a micro-level) themselves into places where people look, think, vote, and have the same priorities as them. We are seeing the effects in the polarization of rhetoric where people not only don’t agree with each other but cannot fathom why they think the way they do.
This has been reverberating in my mind for over the past week as I looked at the Scripture for this past Sunday and thought about writing this devotion. The parable of the Good Samaritan is not just part of Christian Scripture anymore, it has become a cultural thing where there are even laws protecting a “Good Samaritan.” But the cultural baggage Jesus heaped on his first listeners is lost in and among the societal weeds of today.
The Biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine presents a way to recapture some of the awe which the parable originally had. She says that we are to imagine ourselves as the “certain man” who was robbed and left half dead by the side of the road. Then we are to imagine who would be the single person/group of people you would hate to have stop and help you. Then consider who would hate it the most if they had to stop and help you. Got that image in your mind? That’s the Samaritan.
It’s probably someone you don’t want to associate with, maybe you’ve even “sorted” yourself so you won’t have to come into contact with them. Jews and Samaritans certainly did their best to avoid each other (having 2 different places of worship and homelands), and the disciples even wanted to smite them off the face of the earth (Luke 9:54). But the one who acts as a neighbor in this story is the least expected, the Samaritan; the one who has sorted himself away from the Jews.
We know the end of the story, though, we know we are supposed to act like the Samaritan. We know when Jesus tells the lawyer to “go and do likewise” he is also speaking to us. We know it doesn’t matter who the person is, we are supposed to act neighborly. Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question of “who is my neighbor” is an “it doesn’t matter, are you acting neighborly?” The problem isn’t our cognitive acknowledgment of Jesus’ command, the problem is in its implementation.
It’s damn hard.
But maybe the place to start is where the Samaritan started. Instead of the Priest or Levite who crossed the road, the Samaritan “came near.” He moved closer. He saw someone and instead of sorting himself away from a Judean, he got close enough to see what was really going on.
We need to not be afraid of getting close to people (physically and emotionally). When we act like the Samaritan who “came near,” we are then able to be a neighbor as well. The first step is to get closer to people and not let the divisions which we have built up ourselves stop us from seeing one another the way God does.
Christ tells us to “go and do likewise.” Might we begin today.
Thanks be to God.