It goes without saying that the story of the Good Samaritan is one of the best known of Jesus parables. Even if you’re not familiar with the Bible story, you know the expression. It's even become something of a cliché. We use the expression "a good samaritan" to describe someone who does an unsolicited kindness for another person who is in need.
Knowing the expression’s a good start. It's important that we understand the need to be compassionate and caring about others in need, even - perhaps especially - if we don't know them. After all, everyone is our neighbour, Jesus says.
That's where knowing the story goes from valuable to important. Jesus' idea of "everyone" isn't just those people that are easy to deal with, it's, literally, everyone. And, in this story, that’s not just anybody. Others have passed the man by, others who should have been more than willing to help but don’t. The one who does stop to help - the hero of the story - isn't your friendly everyday Judean, as Jesus' audience might have expected, it's the hated and despised Samaritan. It’s the least likely person who would stop to help. At least, that’s what we would assume if we were first century Jews.
“Good” Jews knew Samaritans were to be despised. They were Jews, kind of, but the wrong kind of Jews. Jews who didn't believe "right." Among other things, they believed God resided on a particular mountain, not in the Temple at Jerusalem.
Sigh. Hard to believe, isn’t it? (No pun intended.) Okay, so let's put that in a contemporary context and tell the story for you, personally. There's a person lying in the street. They've been assaulted and they're severely injured. The first two people to come by are people who should be willing to help, but they don’t. Maybe it’s, say, a pastor and a lawyer. They could have good reason, we don't know. It does seem like they should want to help, given what they do. It’s likely they were just too afraid to stop. Dangerous neighbourhood, maybe. But then along comes …
So who is it? Who's your "samaritan?" To be blunt, who have you learned to hate or fear, from life or culture, experienced or imagined? Who is it that you "wouldn't cross the street" to help? Is there someone?
That's who Jesus wants you to love. Not just your next door neighbour you get along with or your friends or people who are easy to love, but the hard to love, the difficulty to get along with, the people we’ve learned to not love, even those that live far enough away that we don’t know them, we just think we do. Who is that for you?
And don’t just stop there. Relationships are always a two-way street and, like any good story, we aren't always the hero. Sometimes we're the victim. Would you accept the gift of compassion from that very same person?
What happens when we're the "samaritan" in someone else's eyes? How hard will we try in the face of rejection? It's easier to walk away than fight to care, but Jesus still calls us to do so, because building relationships demands it.
This isn’t just a story about being kind and compassionate. It’s not even just about being loving. It’s about building a relationship of love with those we find the hardest to love. Especially when what makes them hard to love isn’t them: it’s our own ignorance or prejudice.