Ordinary 15 C
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
This story is extremely well-known, both in and outside the church, but we often miss just how edgy it is. The Samaritan just keeps on giving—he stops to help someone he despises (and who despises him), he spends a lot of money (two days wages up front), he even delays his journey and stays overnight with the wounded man. The wounded man allows himself to be cared for not only by a stranger, but by the lowest of low, the outcast, a member of a hated community. How does that feel?
It’s hard to allow yourself to be cared for. It’s also hard to care for someone to this degree. Both are behaviors we normally expect to exhibit only with and for our families—not for our neighbors, no matter what Jesus says. So perhaps what Jesus is saying is not only “everyone in the world is your neighbor, even if you don’t like them” but also “treat your neighbor like your family,” and “remember you don’t get to choose your family”—in other words, love them as you love yourself. If only it were so simple. This text is extremely demanding. We have to allow ourselves to be cared for, we have to care for others…we have to allow our contempt to be met with grace and we have to be the ones extending grace. It’s no easy task, and yet Jesus says “go and do likewise.”