A few days ago on Wrights Lane I talked about Canada's established United Nations commitment to accept a certain number of immigrants and refugees each year and concluded by suggesting the time might be right for us to review the Biblical "Good Samaritan" story.
Those of us who adhere to the Christian faith know that the First Commandment is to love God with all our being. The Second Commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Generally, the perception of the Good Samaritan parable conveyed by Jesus of Nazareth is that the intended moral was to do good deeds for those we meet along life's highway. And for the most part that is correct, but there is a much deeper meaning to this parable that is worth exploring.
To understand this deeper significance, one must take a look at the troubled Jewish and Samaritan relationship in First Century Judea where Jesus and his followers lived at the time. The Samaritans were a mix of Jew and Gentile and the Jews, who followed religious law to the letter, considered them to be spiritually unclean and polluted; so much so that a deep hatred prevailed between the two camps. This, in spite of the fact that the Samaritans were actually considered the first followers of Jesus Christ.
The Good Samaritan Parable was precipitated by a series of rather testy questions posed to Jesus by a lawyer who was an expert in Mosaic Law, not a court lawyer in today's sense. As Jesus was having a private conversation with his disciples, the lawyer interjected by asking: "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus responded by asking a question of his own: "What is written in the law?" and the lawyer quickly answered, "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."
"You have given the right answer," Jesus responded... "do this, and you will live." Pushing the issue a little further, the lawyer then asked what many scholars have interpreted as a natural and sincere final question: "And who is my neighbor?"
It is pertinent to clarify that the lawyer was from a class of Jewish people who prided themselves on how carefully they obeyed God -- they, along with the Pharisees, were fastidious about observing the law in every detail. As a "teacher of the law" he genuinely sought an answer to the neighbor question. His answer from Jesus came in the form of a carefully worded parable involving a priest, a Levite, a Samaritan, and a badly beaten man who had been stripped of his clothing, robbed and left to die at the side of a treacherous stretch of road between Jerusalem and Jericho, called by reputation "The Way of Blood" because so many travelers had been brutally attacked and robbed there.
Jesus intentionally left the beaten victim unidentified. The audience, being Jewish, would naturally assume that he was a Jew. Being in this half dead state he would be unconscious. Since he was stripped of his clothing, he then was unidentifiable. Historically, a person can be identified in one of two ways: his dress and his dialect. The man in this case was void of ethnic background, void of stature, void of position.
In the Gospel According to Luke, Chapter 10, verses 25-37, the parable unfolds. The Jewish Priest was the first to come across the bloody, crumpled form of the naked man, but rather than get involved, he passed by on the other side of the road; no doubt influenced by religious law implications of purity and the act of touching.
In the priest's defence, how could he be sure the wounded man was a neighbor since he could not be identified? If the person lying there was a non-Jew, the priest could be risking defilement, especially if the person were actually dead. Priests were supposed to be ritually clean, exemplars of the law. There would be immediate shame and embarrassment suffered by the priest at the expense of the people and their peers for such defilement.
If, in fact, he had just completed his mandatory two weeks of service, for instance, he would then need to return and stand at the Eastern Gate of the temple, along with the rest of the unclean. Furthermore, in addition to the humiliation involved, the process of restoring ritual purity was time consuming and costly. It required finding, buying, and reducing a red heifer to ashes, and the ritual took a full week.
The priest was in a predicament. Moreover, he could not approach closer than four cubits to the dead man without being defiled, and he would have to overstep that boundary just to ascertain the condition of the wounded man. The Levite, a temple worker, followed close behind and he too avoided the helpless victim, perhaps influenced by the same concerns as the priest.
The Samaritan on the other hand, governed by the very same Jewish law and a complete stranger too, stopped and gave the man his immediate attention, tended to his wounds and proceeded to take him on his donkey to a nearby inn. He handed over two silver coins, the equivalent of two weeks wages, to the innkeeper for the man's lodging and promised reimbursement on his return trip for any further expenses.
What an exceptional level of assistance this was, especially since the victim was a total stranger and one who may well have been a social enemy. The Samaritan's act was truly one born out of compassion for a fellow man -- a "neighbor" he did not even know.
Jesus concluded his deceptively simple little story by asking the lawyer: "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The lawyer's answer was a convinced "The one who had mercy on him." The lawyer got the message, but do we truly grasp the significance of it today? Do we fully understand that we, as humans, cannot always meet the perfect requirements of the law? Even those who fully dedicate themselves to it, are subject to falling short.
All these centuries later, we still write people off because of the color of their skin, how they dress or because of where they live, or what they do, or even how they relate to us. We are living in a society that has become dehumanized, where life in some quarters is not worth much.
In not granting the benefit of doubt to those seeking Canadian refuge in times of trouble in their own homeland, we let our lack of true Christian compassion show. The inevitability of some undesirable individuals slipping through immigration security is always assumed...It simply goes with the territory. It is a crying shame, however, when everyone ends up being undeservedly tarred with the same brush.
We should be asking ourselves today..."Do we want to take the safe route, wearing blinders, as we travel life's highway or do we aspire to being a 'Good Samaritan' who stops along the way to come to the aid of a neighbor in need."
Let your conscience be your guide, my friends!