Jesus often taught using stories. These parables were a way to place an illustration alongside a person’s “normal” life – this would have the effect of using the familiar to disrupt the familiar in a way that provoked change.
Stories are like that. They shatter our defences.
But sometimes we need a little context and a little help applying a story- and today a message helped remind me of this.
It all began with a discussion on the “Good Samaritan”, which in and of itself is a way of distancing ourselves from the true message of the story. This title – not found in the text – seems to imply that this is/was a unique Samaritan; as if this were something unusual. Of course nothing could be further from the truth the parable is attempting to convey …
The telling of this parable began with a question – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That’s a simple question and an important one; one we all have likely asked at one point of time or another. Don’t we all wish to do the things that lead us to eternal life with God?
Jesus, as he often does, answers with his own question; “What is written in the Law (Bible)? How do you read it?”
(Quick aside – isn’t it interesting that Jesus asks for both what is written and for how the reader interprets what is written … they can’t be separated because we all read through a lens …)
Now, despite the fact the Law (first five books of the Bible) says nothing directly about inheriting eternal life, the astute questioner responds correctly that you should love God completely and love your neighbour as yourself. Because this “answer” is not very practical, the “lawyer” asks a follow-up; “Yes, but who is my neighbour?”
And that gives us the framework for what this story is trying to teach us – who are the people we must love as ourselves in order to inherit eternal life with God.
We all know the story. The people you would expect to be helpful are not, and it is a sworn enemy of the Jewish people that shows kindness. This leads to the “answer”:
“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.’” – Luke 10: 36-37
One thing I find interesting is you’ll notice Jesus never answers the actual question – “who is my neighbour?” The question Jesus answers is “Which person in this story is acting like a neighbour?” or “What does being a neighbour look like?”
The answer is that when we show mercy, grace, and kindness to our enemies – those people you would not believe deserve it – we are acting like a neighbour and that is what we must do to inherit eternal life.
So – practically speaking – who is the person or group of people that you believe deserve death, that deserve to be punished, that deserve to be physical harmed or excluded?
This story tells us they are the ones we need to show mercy instead of sacrifice in order to have eternal life with God.
Go and do likewise.