Radical parables from Luke: 3. The good Samaritan
I don’t know how we are supposed to turn this parable into practice - but I suspect it will need less pointing and more reflection on how we spend our time and money. Terry Young continues his series on the parables in Luke
You can read this parable here, or listen to it here (4:00 in).
For most of us, the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is a familiar read, even if the central character cuts a complicated figure.
This is not unusual in Luke: remember the shrewd steward (next in this series, Luke 16:1-13) or that frightful judge (Luke 18:1-8)? Even the story of the runaway son (last in this series, Luke 15:11-32) has that timid father who tiptoes around the temptations and tantrums that typify his boys. We like our parables clear-cut but Luke has left us a collection that mixes money with the business of being holy, heavily populated by characters we are not sure about.
So, is the Samaritan really good? We know from another story (in John 4) what Jesus thought about the religion of the region. We know how thirsty it left people, not just the woman Jesus met at the well but the villagers who poured out to meet him once she shared her discovery. The Samaritan didn’t come from a good place, but maybe that’s not the point.
Modern Samaritans are always good. On the ‘phone, they talk you through. In the US, there is Good Samaritan legislation to protect people who help others. Samaritans are good because they do good and the rest doesn’t matter much.
This reading is under threat as our society decides that you can only be good if you haven’t done anything bad, for bad beliefs and bad behaviour outweigh all else. Any good any slave-owner did is cancelled by owning slaves. Any civil rights achievement is cancelled if we discover sexual impropriety by the leader. The further we go, the more reputational wreckage is on view. I doubt if anyone is alive today whose beliefs or behaviour would not have landed them in jail somewhere in history. We aren’t the first generation to want to lock up or tear down and must now get used to the fear that sooner or later the finger will point at us, for we are all hiding something.
We need to get back to the good Samaritan, but since the ‘good’ bit is increasingly difficult, let’s think a little more. First, Jesus agrees that a person’s bad side is enough to damn them and that it cannot be erased by any good they do. Second, the bad is bigger than we imagine because God knows all about us. This means that I am part of the problem as are you: a problem so difficult that Luke tells us Jesus came and died to wipe it out.
What are we going to do about all these bad things? Luke believes his good news makes things better and structures his gospel to highlight the glory of the gospel message: he believes we need God’s forgiveness to be free.
Once free, we can detest bad things and recognise wonderful achievements wherever we find them, or whoever has committed them. However, when we point the finger, we come close to disaster. It happens all the time in the news when overnight the hero becomes the hated, then the hunted, then the haunted. Jesus taught about judging (Matthew 7:1-3) and finger-pointing (John 8:1-11). His message is clear: don’t point!
We could speculate on whom Jesus might choose as today’s example. I hope you can see by now how scary some of those choices might be for you, since the Samaritan is someone you deplore, doing something really good. Having handled the theological baggage, let’s decide to like the Samaritan.
Fortunately, the point is not whether he was faultless or flawed, but that he was a neighbour. The story flows from a question Jesus is asked, but the answer is so shocking that the chap who raised the question cannot even name the hero at the end.
The end is where the parable matters radically to us, for Luke knows that money can change things, and we find our good Samaritan with change in his pocket. He invests in someone else’s future, spending to help the other chap onto his feet.
Our most heated debates run across race and sexual politics, so let me step back and explore a personal angle. I am impaired in all four limbs and in any earlier generation would have had a short and limited existence. Over my life, I’ve experienced generosity from many people: a church that sent an annual gift as I was growing up; free holidays; my first car; and I’ve been shunted to the front of more queues than I can remember, especially at airports. I have met many good Samaritans.
The things that made the biggest difference were those that got me onto my feet – quite literally – and enabled me to step out from there. I got a great education (a good Samaritan spotted me in a special school, and she got me into a grammar school) after which more options opened up. High value jobs came along after university and made a profound difference. So far it hasn’t been a typical life, but it has been extraordinarily normal.
Looking around, I’m aware of many who don’t need a handout, just a hand up from a good Samaritan.
Perhaps there’s a community at your church doing noticeably more poorly than the rest. Could you help five of them raise their income by an amount that would get them onto their feet? Would a job that pays an extra £10,000 a year put any of those families onto a better financial footing? For a church, this would be a truly radical thing to consider.
I don’t know how we are supposed to turn this parable into practice, but I suspect it will need less pointing and more reflection on how we spend our time and money.
Image | Arabs for Christ | FreeBibleimages.org
Professor Terry Young is an author and member of a Baptist church. He set up Datchet Consulting which combines his experience in industry and academia. This is the third in a series on the parables in Luke.
Radical parables from Luke:
1. The minas
2. The rich fool
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