Being nice and the gospel (Pentecost 8c, Proper 10c)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan, well known, often quoted, easily misunderstood.  Luke 10:25-37 is another trick question, well answered by Jesus.  The questioner, who knows his scripture, seems to want a limit.  It is almost as if he asks, “Who can I tell to get lost, because they don’t qualify for my help?”

It is, of course, the wrong question.  But, like annoying children, we are good at asking the wrong questions – the ones with answers too complicated to understand, the ones which don’t fit our situation, or our need, or are more concerned with making us look good, or others look bad.  “Why is this happening to me?” may be a question like that, but there are plenty of others.

Jesus doesn’t sulk or get angry.  He may know that this question is meant to get him into trouble, but his answer will have grace, combining continued usefulness with a real attempt to let this questioner, and his listeners, understand.  We can imagine that the ordinary people in the crowd enjoyed the criticism of the priest and the Levite.  Of course, important people today are never too preoccupied, frightened, or lazy to offer appropriate help – are they?  A warning there, for those of us who think we might have important things to do.

What is the story really about?  No, it is not being nice to strangers.  No, it is not about race relations.  No, it is not about generosity, or the importance of first aid (not that I am against any of these things!)  What Jesus says is, “Life with God, the good life, the holy life, is never just about keeping within the behaviour not forbidden.  If you want to live for God, the question is not ‘What have I got to do to make the pass mark?’, but ‘What opportunities does God give me to reflect the love, grace, generosity and mercy that show God in action?’

The Samaritan doesn’t “do well enough to go to heaven” – none of us do – but he shows more of God than the religious professionals manage in this story.  Jesus invites us to live a new life, in the forgiveness and love of God, and in that life to look for opportunities to be like Him.

Proper 10, year c

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