Pentecost 7C, 2016
A Liturgy is also available
THE NEIGHBOUR WE WILL ALLOW, IS THE CHALLENGE
Jesus continued his travels in the north for some weeks.
Finally he turned south again, making his way
along the road from Jericho to Jerusalem.
It was a dangerous route
since much of it was through a rocky wilderness
that sheltered many bands of thieves or robbers.
Of course Jesus was not alone.
Our story tradition says he traveled with companions and the curious,
who were interested in hearing something of what this strange Jewish cynic-like sage
had to say about the nature of human life and its prospects.
Jericho. Jerusalem. A road.
It must be the most known and best loved story in our biblical tradition.
The story of the so-called 'Good Samaritan'.
It is a great story, that is for sure. But herein is its problem.
Because it is so well known and so well loved it has been domesticated
and we miss that it is indeed a parable...
A story which turns our ideas and values and worldview upside down.
Theologically speaking, for years and years
the church’s interpretation turned this parable into an ‘example story’.
Into a story of two so-called bad blokes and one good bloke.
But an ‘example story’ is what this parable ain’t.
So let me explore that a bit.
If the thrust of the story was about good blokes verses a bad bloke,
or as an illustration of love of neighbour,
or even a diatribe against heartless religious leaders,
the offer of aid by a Jewish lay person would have been sufficient.
Likewise, according to John Dominic Crossan:
“If Jesus wanted to… inculcate love of one's enemies, it would have been radical enough to have a Jewish person stop and assist a wounded Samaritan... [But] the internal structure of the story and the historical setting of Jesus' time agree that… the whole thrust of the story demands that one say what cannot be said, what is a contradiction in terms: Good-Samaritan” (Crossan 1992:62).
And that’s a major shock.
Because it challenges the hearers’ – then and now - understanding of God
and of whom God approves.
The Samaritan, who is both a lay person and an outsider,
embodies the true interpretation of the Jewish tradition:
to show compassion.
Two people who have personally helped me appreciate
a much broader understanding of what ‘compassion’ is,
are Matthew Fox and John Donahue.
Matthew Fox suggests:
“Compassion is not pity... It is not feeling sorry for someone. Compassion is about feelings of togetherness. And it is this
awareness of kinship or togetherness that urges us to seek after justice and do works of mercy (Fox 1979:2, 4).
While John Donahue describes ‘compassion’ like this:
“Compassion is that divine quality which, when present in human beings, enables them to share deeply in the sufferings and needs of others and enables them to move from one world to the other: from the world of helper to the one needing help; from the world of the innocent to that of the sinner” (Donahue 1988:132).
Who is my neighbour?
From my experience as a biblical storyteller,
when people have heard this story many of them
ask that question and then identify with the Samaritan.
But it's not as easy being a ‘good’ Samaritan as it seems at first sight!
The stories told by our cultural storyteller - television -
tell us people continue to pass by on the other side.
So let's listen to the story again, but this time
we will imagine it from the injured person's point of view.
Why didn't they stop and help me? I thought a minister was supposed to help others.
And that church worker... Bet she was only going to another flower roster committee meeting.
She could have been just a bit late...
Here comes someone else. Maybe he will stop and...
Oh no. Not one of them!
Oh God, why a Samaritan, a Muslim...
Anyone but him.
No, don't stop. Keep going.
Don't touch me.
O God, don't let him touch me...
Biblical scholar (the late) Robert Funk spent many years studying this parable.
He asked this question:
“Who in the audience wanted to let himself or herself be helped by a Samaritan? This is the primary challenge because the appearance of the Samaritan makes sense on no other basis” (Funk 1996:176).
Funk then went on to suggest that had the victim in the ditch
been a Samaritan and the hero an ordinary Judean,
a different question would had to have been asked:
who in the Judean audience wanted to play the role of hero
to a Samaritan victim?
Let’s face it, the role of the victim is the inferior role.
The role of the helper is the superior one.
And who doesn’t want to be the hero?
Who is my neighbour? That’s the supposed context of this story
and the most common question asked by those who hear it.
But there is another contextual question in this story.
Another ‘word’ which must also be considered
if this story is to be a parable rather than just an example story.
And that can also be shaped into a question:
whom will I allow to be my neighbour?
On this question, Megan McKenna’s comment is very suggestive:
“If we were in the ditch in that condition, who is the last person we would want to be indebted to for the rest of our lives, especially if acknowledging the debt would cause us to be outcast and associated with that group by everyone in our current world? Is there anyone or any group that we feel that way about? Would we rather die than face the fact that this person or these people are our neighbours? (McKenna 1994:149).
Our honest answer to that question, gets close to the heart of this parable.
And our answer just might really surprise us as well.
Crossan: J. D. 1992. In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.
John R. Donahue. 1988. The Gospel in Parable. Metaphor, Narrative, and Theology in the Synoptic Gospels. Philadelphia. Fortress Press.
Matthew Fox. 1979. A Spirituality Named Compassion, and the Healing of the Global Village, Humpty Dumpty and Us. New York. Harper & Row.
Funk, R. W. 1996. Honest to Jesus. Jesus for a New Millennium. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Megan McKenna. 1994. Parables. The Arrows of God. Maryknoll. Orbis Books.