BIBLE READING: Luke 10: 25-37
According to the relief organisations, our society has been exposed to so much suffering and need, and has been asked to give so often, that we have ‘Compassion Fatigue’. In fact its got progressively worse. To begin with, people were attracted to give by the offer of Tax deductions, then came the Telethon, where the person who gave had their name broadcast to the country, then we had Red Noses and 40 Hour Famines - things that make giving more fun. I have no complaints about the organisations who run these fund-raising events - rather I am saddened by our community which has become so self-indulgent that helping someone often times depends on what benefit will be returned to the giver.
The story of the good Samaritan is our story. It starts with a teacher of the Law asking a question regarding eternal life. Most people don’t give much thought to life after death, but a vast majority of people believe in it. Over 80% of the Australian population believe in life after death. A similar percentage also believe that there is a heaven and a hell where the good are rewarded and the evil punished.
The teacher of the Law’s questions is still relevant. “What must I do to receive eternal life?”
Jesus points to the Old Testament as the place where the teacher will find his answer. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul strength and mind” and “love your neighbour as you love yourself.”
But who is my neighbour?
Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan.
Once on a pastoral visit to Brewarrina, this bloke was talking to me about how he tried to be civil and friendly to Aboriginals but they couldn’t be trusted - they were drunks and they were dirty. I asked him if he knew the story of the good Samaritan. He said yes - so I asked him if he could put it into more modern English. Sensing some sort of trap, he was cautious.
His story goes something like this - “There was this drunk old abo’ walking along the Byrock - Gangolgong road, when some Bikies, for some fun, bashed him up. Sometime later a grazier came along the road, but just kept on going. Later that day, the UC minister was driving up from Cobar to Bre, and he hurried past. Finally a shearer in his old rusty Ute saw the old bloke, got out and fixed him up and took him to the hospital.
It was a good story, but it isn’t Jesus’ story! If the roles of the aboriginal and the shearer were reversed, then it is Jesus’ story.
Back in Jesus day there was a series of jokes about the Priest, the Levite and the Jew. The Priest and the Levite represented the leaders of society - whom the common people distrusted. The feeling was mutual, as the Priests and the Levites as a group tended to look down on the common people. The Jew was just a normal bloke, just like one of us. The jokes were like the ones we have about the English, American and the Australian. When Jesus started his story, his audience knew he was telling a joke - and that it was at the expense of the teacher of the Law. They knew that as he told his story that Jesus was making a point to the Teacher of the Law that it is one thing to teach the Law - it is another thing to act out the Law. Everybody got ready for the punch line, the finale, when the Jew, the hero, finally bounded onto centre stage. But Jesus turns the tables on everyone! A Samaritan! Jews and Samaritans hated each other. A Samaritan enters your kitchen and not only would you purify the room, but anything the Samaritan touched would be destroyed. But not only is it a Samaritan, but Jesus leaves the Samaritan’s gender ambiguous. While the English translations say the Samaritan was male, the original text leaves this point unanswered. So not only was the rescuer a Samaritan, but the rescuer could have been female! Male Jews would daily pray - “Thank you God that you made me a Jew and not a gentile or Samaritan, and thank you that you did not make me a female!” This rescuer was everything despicable to Jesus’ audience.
When Jesus finishes his story, you can imagine the stunned silence. “Which of the three acted like a neighbour?” The teacher must have choked out his response - you notice he can’t even say the word Samaritan - but “The one who was kind to him.” Jesus response, “You go, then, and do the same” is one one we need to hear.
Neighbourliness is lacking in our world - yet in this short passage we find Jesus equating neighbourliness with receiving Eternal life.
I mentioned earlier that our society is experiencing compassion fatigue. I believe this is because we have divorced ourselves from caring for those we help. D.L.Moody once said “I can pay a man to do some work, but I can never pay a man to do my work.”
We have sanitised the story of the good Samaritan. We reverse the roles and make ourselves the heroes. But Jesus points out that every time we pass by the unloved and the unlovable, every time we give a donation just to get rid of the images of suffering - we plant ourselves firmly with those who walked pass or stepped over the half dead victim.
Jesus points out that eternal life is intimately connected to a life of love and personal sacrifice. The Samaritan didn’t just ring for an ambulance, but got down and touched the man and bound his wounds; not only that, but the Samaritan’s own donkey bore the man and the Samaritan’s saddle was stained with his blood. This is personal sacrifice and love. As Paul said - it doesn’t matter if you give all your money to the poor - if you have not love you are empty and hollow.
The neighbour is the one who risks the scars and the pain that come from risking to love those whom we consider unlovable and despicable.
Eternal life belongs to those who willingly sacrifice themselves for others out of love.