If Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan today, it would be called the Parable of the Good Muslim.
In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus answers a question about how to inherit eternal life. He answers that a person must “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 neighbor as yourself.” The person asking pressed Jesus for a more specific answer–who is my neighbor? He wasn’t asking who lived next door. He was asking, “who do I have the responsibility to care for?” Underneath is the question: “Who can I avoid caring about?” The ears listening to Jesus expected to hear that they should care for people just like themselves, that their efforts should go to their own community. But Jesus told a story that turned the question upside down.
He described a traveler on the road–a road that was well-known to be dangerous. The traveler was attacked, beaten and robbed. By telling the story this way, Jesus made listeners identify with the traveler, and worry about him. He lay by the side of the road, bleeding to death.
But look! Here was someone to help him! And it was a priest, someone who cared for people–surely he would stop to help! But no, he saw the man and walked on. He didn’t stop because he couldn’t risk being contaminated by a dead body–which would make it impossible to enter the Temple. He walked on.
But here comes help! Surely the Levite–someone who helps serve in the temple–will have mercy on the man. But no, he refuses to risk contact with a dying or dead person, and he continues on his way.
Finally, a Samaritan walks along the road. Here, the prejudice of the listeners make them assume that the Samaritan would not offer the love and compassion that the priest and Levite failed to offer. Samaritans were considered alien, and the hearers were hostile to them. If the dying man is an Israelite, he might rather die than be helped by a Samaritan. Our cultural animosity to the Muslims in our midst might be a fair equivalent. (It seems like an appropriate parallel because there is a strong Islamic tradition of the hospitality that is exemplified here.) Yet Jesus points out that the Samaritan was a neighbor to the half-dead stranger–caring for him with compassion and generosity. In telling this story, Jesus answered a question with a question: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
And the man who didn’t want to be responsible for caring for all people hesitantly gave the answer he knew was required: “The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
I was once asked if our parish was required to do what we call Outreach. Is it a requirement from they Diocese? she asked. And here is the answer to that question. It is a requirement of Jesus Christ. We are on a mission from God.
Questions to think about:
- Do you find it easier to love God than other people?
- What attitude or behavior does God want you to have that is the most difficult for you?
- Is there a difference between the man on the side of the Jerusalem road and a person sleeping on a park bench?