In the tenth chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells a parable about a Good Samaritan. It’s definitely one of Jesus’ best-known parables; so well known that all 50 of our states have some kind of Good Samaritan Law.
As a pastor, I always remind people that – when it comes to bible stories – context is critical. And many of us forget the context in which Jesus told this parable. A “lawyer” (an expert in interpreting religious commandments) asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Since the man is an expert in religious law, Jesus tosses the question back to him. The man must be good at his job because he responds to Jesus’ question with an answer straight out of Old Testament law about loving God and loving one’s neighbor. Jesus gives him a “thumbs up.” But the story doesn’t end there. The man pushes the question a little deeper by asking “Who is my neighbor?” As someone married to a professional educator, I know teachers love it when students ask clarifying questions. It’s generally a good sign. But, our gospel writer gives us insight into the motivation for this guy’s question: he wants to “justify himself.” That word for “justify” is a relational word. Like it or not, Christianity is a relational belief system. It all boils down to the kind of relationships we have – not just with God, but with other people.
Anyway, Jesus proceeds to tell the lawyer a story about a man who gets the modern equivalent of car-jacked: beaten up, robbed, left for dead on the side of the road. Eventually a priest comes along. But he’s not interested in stopping. Neither is another high ranking religious professional. We don’t know why they didn’t stop. Our gospel writer doesn’t tell us… although people have loved speculating about it. But, does it really matter? Finally a Samaritan comes along. Remember that Jesus was Jewish; his disciples were Jewish; nearly all of the people who followed him were Jewish. And Jews despised Samaritans.
The Samaritan stops; he applies first aid to the guy, then he provides him with transportation and takes him to an inn (no Urgent Care or ER’s in those days). He pays the inn keeper to continue taking care of the guy as he recovers. He even promises he’ll be back that way later to see if there’s a balance on the bill. If there is, he’ll pay it. Jesus’ parable ends with a final question Jesus poses for the lawyer: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man…?” I find it interesting that the man can’t even say the word “Samaritan.” Instead he responds, “The one who showed him mercy.” “Go and do likewise,” Jesus says.
I think of the parable of The Good Samaritan every voting season. Have you ever noticed how many politicians proclaim to their constituents “I’ll work for you.” But who is the “you” they’re going to work for? Will they be protecting my interests or your interests? What if my personal interests are in conflict with your personal interests? For what it’s worth, here’s what I think the question of Christians should be when we go into that voting booth: “Which candidates’ policies are most likely to ‘show mercy’ to those in life’s most vulnerable circumstances?” Now admittedly, it’s sometimes challenging to evaluate a candidate’s record. That takes a lot of work and I confess, I don’t always do as much research as I should. But it doesn’t take much research to define those most vulnerable; our bible gives us plenty of clear examples: widows, orphans, foreigners living in our land, the poor, the sick, the broken, the hungry, the imprisoned. Those are our “neighbors;” those are the ones most in need of our mercy.
Jesus asked, “Which of these was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “God and do likewise.” Go and vote likewise, my fellow Christians.
[On Election Day between noon and 1:00 p.m. stop by Trinity United Methodist Church (404 North 6th St., Lafayette to pray for our nation. Prayer resources will be available. Simple brown bag lunches will also be available for those in a hurry to return to work.]