The story of the Good Samaritan has often been a favourite for Youth Groups acting out who the current day equivalents are to the people who walked by and left the man lying in the gutter on that desolate road down to Jericho. The Good Samaritan has become a byword for people who go out of their way to help a stranger or someone in need. So he’s a real hero and someone to be admired, even someone to emulate. It’s a noble thing to strive to be a Good Samaritan. This is the good news story we would like to have at the end of every TV news bulletin.
What I like about the story is that it encourages us to think that even the most unlikely people might surprise us by coming to our aid when we are in need; that there is a kind of safety net of good will in our world. We hear about people helping to change a tyre, or finding a child wandering around in a shopping centre on their own and helping them find their parents, or more dramatically a foreign tourist stepping in to rescue someone in a city brawl and getting beaten up themselves. These examples renew our trust in humanity as we applaud their courage or compassion.
However, we live in a world where we want to minimise the danger our children might face and so we talk about ‘stranger-danger’ and encourage people to be wary of others, and in many cases we would be irresponsible not to. Given this context, what does Jesus’ parable mean for us and how we are called to live out our faith?
We are so familiar with this story that it has lost its sting! It is in fact one of Jesus most challenging and confronting parables. When the young lawyer asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life, Jesus turns the question back to him to get him to think – ‘What does the teaching of our faith say?’ The Lawyer immediately comes back with ‘Love God and love your neighbour wholeheartedly’. However, when Jesus commends him and tells him to ‘Go and do likewise!’ the young man wants to clarify things. He wants to know who his neighbour is, and more particularly who his neighbour isn’t. That is, he wants to know the limits he needs to go to.
So Jesus tells his parable to demonstrate that what is important is not WHO is my neighbour – we can argue about that till the cows come home. No, the most important thing is HOW we act in a neighbourly way. That’s the challenge! It’s not theoretical!