Yesterday, I preached a message in our series, “Little Stories with BIG IDEAS,” about the Good Samaritan. If I’m not mistaken, I think it was the first message I’ve ever preached from this passage. I have the tendency to shy away from really known and often preached passages of the Bible. For me, I enjoy finding that passage or angle that no one has considered… to bring something really fresh and different and insightful. Obviously, this is probably easier when dealing with a passage of scripture that is less familiar, unlike the Good Samaritan parable. That one story has become so well-known in our culture that if we just hear the word Samaritan, we automatically think “good.” Just consider the number of projects, hospitals, outreach organizations, etc… named “Good Samaritan” something. So to bring something fresh and unique to that well-worn story was a daunting task. (You can check out the video of the sermon here.)
As is often the case, I usually end up with more material than I could ever present on a given Sunday morning. Sometimes it’s because it just doesn’t fit with the overarching thought I’m trying to convey; other times it’s just too much stuff, and something has to get cut. Periodically, I’m going to attempt to offer some of that material here. We’ll call it “deeper cuts.”
I’m really mesmerized by the characters in this parable (from Luke 10). Perhaps its just an oversimplification, but we can catch a glimpse into the beauty of God’s love when we compare and contrast the players in the story. Consider how each character acts towards the man on the side of the road. The robbers harm him by robbing and beating him. The priest and the levite harm him by inaction and neglect. Only the Samaritan acts in a favorable way by bandaging his wounds and paying for his stay at the inn. The robbers act in selfish gain. The priest and the levite act in self-preservation. The Samaritan acts in self-giving love and care. Consider the state each character leaves the man: the robbers leave him half-dead; the priest and the levite leave him unhelped; the Samaritan leaves him safe and cared for. Finally, consider how the man might react toward each character’s potential return: fear and terror toward the robbers; bitterness and anger toward the priest and the levite; and devotion and hope in the anticipation of the Samaritan’s return.
But that’s not all that I’m left pondering with this passage. Certainly, we are called by Jesus to play the part of the Good Samaritan as we journey through life. As Jesus says, we are to “Go and do likewise.” And yet I’m left deeply trouble by the danger of the Jericho road. For while the robbers and the priest and the levite are clearly playing the role of an antagonist in this story, surely they are not without the possibility of redemption. If there is grace available to heal the beaten and robbed, surely there is grace available to transform the robber. And if love can bandage wounds, surely love can bandage the self-preserving, self-righteous tendencies of the religious elite.
As followers of Jesus, we look forward to and participate in the rescue of the beaten and the robbed. But we must also look forward to and participate in the transformation of the road itself. What does a world look like where men women are no longer being beaten, robbed, taken advantage of, neglected, ignored? Where robbers become innkeepers and priests become Samaritans? The unidentified man on the side of the road isn’t the only character that needs healing, for there is something deeply broken inside both the robber, the priest, and the levite.
What does it look like to be a conduit of healing grace for both victims and victimizers? The abused and the abusers? But not only that, but then to bring the same healing to the communities and structures that produce both robbers and priests?