Today’s Jericho roads, Samaritans, and religious folk

On Sunday, we heard again the text of the story popularly known as “The Good Samaritan.” It’s a story with five characters. They’re not given names like Ali, Ah Chong and Muthu. They’re given designations.

The designation of one of them, “Samaritan,” instantly signals to Jesus’ audience a person who’s popularly regarded as vile, evil, villainous.

A Samaritan was to them what a Rohingya is to most Burmese citizens. And what a Nigerian is to many in our own congregation.

Two other characters are designated “priest” and “Levite.” Priests were expected to save lives. Levites were people with “high status.” Today’s equivalent are pastors and council members.

Jesus says the priest and the Levite were leaving Jerusalem. By this, he signals that they were going home after “serving God” in Jerusalem.

The other characters are simply designated “robbers” and “half-dead.”

Jesus tells the story in response to a question put to him by a “lawyer.” Bible scholar Lim Kar Yong alerts us that we should think “Bible scholar!”

Jesus’ story is simple. The half-dead man is ignored by those who’ve just completed “God’s service” in Jerusalem. “Moved by divine compassion” (the Greek is splanchnizomai), the supposedly vile, evil, villainous man, exerts himself. Spares no expense. Saves the victim.

The story is Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question, which I paraphrase “who’s my neighbour, the one whom God commands me to love?” (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18)

The story works. The lawyer gets it: “Who’s my neighbour?” is the wrong question. The right question is “Who’s the good neighbour?”

The passage compels us to ask another question. “Where or what are Jerusalem and the Jericho road today?”

Our Jerusalem may be the desk or corner at which we pray or read our Bibles every day, or it may be The Father’s House or YouTube channel.

My choice for Jericho road today is the period of COVID-19 restrictions – during which we compelled up to 20 foreign workers to remain in tiny apartments for weeks on end, while we avoided them and protected ourselves with good disease-control, diets, distractions.

The text asks me: Whom did you pick up? Whose wounds did you dress? Whom did you put on a donkey? Whom did you feed and house in an inn? How much additional expense did you incur on yourself and your family? How much additional expense did you incur on the “vile, evil, villainous?” What warnings did you, like your Master, issue against labelling and marginalizing people?

The text makes me call out “Lord, have mercy!”

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