Sermons from St Faith's
The Good Samaritan
Fr Dennis Smith, July 14th, 2013
There was this Jewish boy who got beaten up on the road.
When he woke up he said, “What happened to me?” As they
told him he stopped them and said, “I got rescued by
Some of us are overfamiliar with the story of the Good
Samaritan. How good it would be to hear it for the first
time in a its radical freshness. Jesus was being
challenged to one of those debates which religious
people love to have.
We’ve been given a text which carries divine authority,
but what does is mean? It’s all very well for God to say
it’s not remote or difficult, in our hearts ready to be
kept. There’s nothing so simple that we cannot make it
complicated, especially when it becomes demanding.
In this spirit a lawyer challenges Jesus to enter a
favourite religious debate, to det4ermine what qualifies
us for eternal life. Jesus therefore returns the
question by asking him how he reads the Law.
It was and in many ways still is, assumed we qualify for
eternal life on the basis of our keeping the laws of
God. So it’s a fair question.
The lawyer has a good answer, reciting the basic summary
of the commandments from the book of Deuteronomy, love
God and love your neighbour,
That’s the answer, says Jesus. But this isn’t enough for
the lawyer, who wants to have a good religious debate,
perhaps hoping to have the better of Jesus in the
The moment you define specific laws you begin to find
conflicts between them, which it’s a lawyer’s job to
At this very basic eve I may find it hard to ove both
God and my neighbour when my neighbour is clearly living
a life which defies the laws of God. The lawyer
concentrates on this ambiguity and asks, “Who is my
neighbour?” At this point Jesus was supposed to begin a
subtle task of definition. “Neighbour” might mean my
co-religionists. “Neighbour” might mean those of my
neighbourhood. “Neighbour” might be my family and
friends who I choose to regard as neighbours.
Any rabbi worth his salt would have subtle answers to
these questions of definition. But sometimes a rabbi
chose to cut through the argument with a story, which is
precisely what Jesus did. “Who is my neighbour?” “This
person whom I am to hold as dear as my own self?”
Well, there was this traveller from Jerusalem to Jericho
who was attacked by robbers and left for dead by the
roadside. That road is still there to be travelled,
plunging down from the mount of Olives towards Jericho
and the Dead Sea, well below sea level.
The story has become so real that the inn to which the
victim was taken is pointed out to the tourist. However,
it’s a carefully constructed story, rooted in the
reality of travel in the time of Jesus. We are briefly
told that a priest and a Levite travelling the same road
pass by the half-conscious victim.
Here is the artifice of the story, for these are people
well-versed in the Law of God. Since a great many of the
priestly castes lived in Jericho they were often to be
found on this road.
Their love for God was beyond question, or else why
would they have dedicated their lives to religious
service? It may be argued that they feared the man was
dead and that any attempt to help him might lead to
their becoming ritually contaminated which would involve
them in considerable trouble to regain their purity.
It’s equally probable that they had the human reaction
of not wanting to become involved, especially if the
thugs who had done this might still be around.
Jesus names them as religious people to make clear the
discontinuity which can exist between professed
religious devotion and actual keeping of the Law of God.
As far as we can see, the victim by the roadside was a
Jew, a neighbour, in very conventional sense, of the two
By contrast Jesus now introduces a Samaritan, in no
obvious sense a neighbour to the Jews on the road. His
understanding of the Law of God was by definition at
odds with that of the Jews. One of the bones of
contention between the two groups was over the
historical priestly succession. As we all know, it is
the Samaritan who does the humane thing. He gives first
aid to the victim and takes him to a place of refuge. He
doesn’t then simply hand him over to the medical
attendants and the insurance companies. He nurses him at
the inn and, the next day, as he resumes his journey,
leaves money with the innkeeper to pay for the man’s
further care, promising to call on the way back and make
up any shortfall. This is in the spirit of Jesus’
teaching about going the extra mile.
This story told, Jesus asks the lawyer, “Who was
neighbour to the man who was robbed?” The lawyer can’t
bring himself to say “the Samaritan”, but answers, in
the impersonal way, “The man who showed him kindness”.
One might almost imagine the answer coming through
gritted teeth. For the orthodox Jew of Jesus’ time this
was a shocking story, casting doubt on the true
faithfulness of religious people. It’s not anti-Semitic,
it’s against a narrow tribalism in religious matters
which afflicts the modern world as much as the ancient
one. Compassion is more important than orthodoxy.
The God who has made us all expects us to live with
proper respect for one another. Love for God requires an
understanding of neighbourliness which is broader than
we can envisage as we set off on our journey through
life. Neighbourliness found its meaning in a bond
between the victim and the rescuer which transcended
their religious traditions.
The ability to enlarge our view of God in ways which
enlarge our lives is what St. Paul craved for the
Colossians. The growth of spiritual understanding of God
is matched by the growth of our capacity to live our
lives with both generosity and fortitude. Generosity is
an obvious virtue we see in the Good Samaritan.
Fortitude takes a little longer to recognise.
Fortitude is what the priest and the Levite lacked. They
were clearly not risk-takers, even when the situation
required it. The Samaritan took on the problem
immediately, and then saw it through to the best of his
ability. St. Paul had his own share of generosity and
fortitude. His religious views had been transformed and
he was committed to showing that God’s love reached far
beyond historic Israel, to embrace all humanity. What we
find in the story of the road to Jericho isn’t simply
that we’re required to be kind to one another, but that
God intends all of us to live as neighbours with one
More than that. It lies within our grasp to do it, if we
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