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The Surprising Samaritan

 

The story of the Surprising Samaritanouch!

and the 'Good' Temple Priest

(or, “What WOULD a Samaritan Do?”)


Article by Judy Steers

Parable of the Good Samaritan

Luke 10: 25-37
(New American Standard translation)

A certain lawyer stood up and put Jesus to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?”  And he answered and said, “You shall 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 neighbour as yourself.”

And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and your will live.”   But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?

Jesus replied and said, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead. 

And by chance a certain priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  And likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him, and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

And on the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.'

Jesus asked “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?”  And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

 

good samThis is probably one of the most familiar stories in the Gospels.  Even if people have never been in a church in their lives, they most likely know the reference, even if they don't know the story.  It's pretty common to hear people talking about 'being a Good Samaritan' or perhaps they're aware of the Good Sam club.  That is really ironic, considering the people who heard this story originally would not have thought you were a nice person if someone called you a Samaritan.  You're a Samaritan?  Eeuww!
 
 
I want to point out two characters in this story, and the twists that the story contains.
 
First off, this story could also be called The Surprising Samaritan.   Jesus always seems to pick unlikely heroes in his stories.  This would be a pretty difficult story to the people who first heard it.  The Samaritans were more than just unpopular; they were wrong, ungodly, misguided and The Enemy in capital letters.  Jesus offended the people he told this story to.  It's not a nice story, nor very polite to the religious establishment.   

If this story were told today, if you translate the story for yourself so that it is just as offensive, who might the story be about?  Consider these questions:  Who are the people whom you would consider unworthy of being a voice of God's providence, or a bearer of God's grace?  Who exposes your religious hypocrisy? Who are the people whom you consider your enemy but who challenge you to re-think the way you see the world?

 

 

awesome cartoons from 'cartoonchurch.com' in the U.K.” width=”280″ height=”500″ />

one of Dave's awesome cartoons from 'cartoonchurch.com' in the U.K.

You see, what the Samaritan did by his actions was to expose the religious man.  The Religious man, the temple priest, was doing what he believed (and many people in his circle would believe) was right, according to all of the customs, traditions and expectations of his job.
 

 

 

Yes, this story could also be called The Good Temple Priest.  On his way to somewhere, the Temple priest passed a man robbed, beaten, bleeding and possibly dead beside the road.  Here, he faces an extraordinary choice.  By the law, by the responsibilities of his job, the priest could not touch this man, because he might get blood on himself.   Worse, the man might be dead, and the Priest was forbidden to touch a dead body.  This would make him ritually impure, and unable to perform his responsibilities and duties for a period of time (perhaps about 7 days).  From one point of view, it would have been irresponsible for him to deal with this situation.  To be a 'good' temple priest, he was required to keep himself pure and able to perform his duties.  Now, that doesn't make much sense to us because we don't have religious laws like that.  The point is, though we like to assume 'tut tut, what a shameful man who didn't stop and help' in truth, the Temple Priest could NOT help the man, not if he wanted to fulfill his broader responsibilities to his community.  Suddenly, we don't see him as an uncaring bystander, but a person stuck in a professional, theological and ethical dilemma.  I can't help.  I can't not help.  THAT is a harder place to be.  
 
There are no such expectations on the Samaritan – he is already considered impure, so he can deal with this wounded body with impunity.  He is already an untouchable, so he is free to touch an untouchable.  This leads us to a good question to ask: 'who are the untouchables?' and what are the 'untouchable' situations, expectations, policies, wounds or social norms that we do not feel we can cross.  Once I was leading a group of youth to participate in an AIDS march.  One parent refused to let her teenagers go with us, because 'participating in this walk would be like promoting and encouraging unhealthy life choices” (yes, I know…it was a long time ago when attitudes to AIDS were different) Apparently for that parent, there was a social norm being crossed by youth participating in a walk for AIDS awareness.
 
There are plenty of times we don't help.  In interview with 'average' members of a Sunday congregation, people named “I don't give money to people”, or “I don't pick up hitchhikers” as times when they refuse to help another person.  
 
The “good Samaritan” is not a nice story about being someone who gives a hand.  It is an uncomfortable story about answering difficult questions and feeling torn between ethics, traditions, principals and expectations.   Or, 'doing what's right instead of what we are expected to do.'  When we are in those situations where it is truly unclear, on the surface, what we should do, or how we should respond, The Story of the Good Temple Priest pushes us to ask these questions of ourselves:
            To whom, ultimately, am I accountable?
            What is fundamentally most important to me?
            How far am I willing to compromise what is expected of me from my community, for what I know to be right?
 
Like in the story of the Surprising Samaritan, the people who will take us to those places and help us to ask those questions are often the people who have been marginalized.  Or, they're people we hold in suspicion.

 

W.W.a.S.D.?

W.W.a.S.D.?

 

 

Those who are not considered accountable in the community, who don't have to live up to certain expectations are often those who are not bound by those things.  They have the potential to show us what is right, what is just, and what is most deeply important to us.

That is, if we choose to not merely pass by, unseeing, on the opposite side.

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Judy Steers

About Judy Steers

Judy Steers is the Coordinator for Youth Initiatives for the Anglican Church of Canada. Since 1999, she has also been the program director of the “Ask & Imagine” youth theology and leadership program at Huron University College. Her ministry has included camping ministries, consulting and teaching, parish ministry and she is a trainer with Godly Play Canada. Whenever possible she engages her passions for singing, drumming, outdoor adventure, off-the-wall ideas and whimsical creativity into her life and ministry working with teens and young adults, including two of her own.
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