The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best known Bible stories, of course.
My hope is that its familiarity does not lead us to treat it as an old and familiar story, one to bring out of the cupboard when we are feeling down or confused, in need of something reassuring. We must not treat it as some form of religious comfort blanket, for in reality it is a shocking story,a story with massive implications for the contemporary church and its mission. In fact it is nothing short of a scandal.
Let’s start with stating two very basic facts about this story.
First, it is a salvation parable, given in response to what for many is the ultimate question: ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ This simply cannot be ducked.
For a brief moment try suspending all thoughts about clever atonement theories, ideas about justification by………and, simply go along with Jesus through the ‘justification’ story He gives us.
Secondly, it is an incomplete, or as a good friend of mine (thank you Frank) terms it a ‘hanging parable,’ that is to say, it has no ending. As with many stories we may be tempted to conclude that ‘they all lived happily ever after,’ but this would, I suggest, be to to impose our desires for a rapid and speedy resolution to the story, on the text. In doing so we run the risk of letting ourselves off the hook.
Imagine for one minute that you (we) are either the innkeeper (by the way do we conceive ourselves as innkeepers – that is to say providers of hospitality to all and sundry?), or the Samaritan and ask two questions:
‘What happens next?’ and, ‘How long am I prepared to hang on in there, to remain in a potentially unresolved, perhaps even an unresolvable story?’
And this is precisely the point both the Church (which is the Body of Christ in the world) and individual Christians (as part of the body) are required to assume the low status role of Samaritan and innkeeper, doing so in the full knowledge that in Jesus’ time Samaritans and Innkeepers were regarded as despised outsiders.
Regarding ourselves as part of the religious, social, civic or any other form of elite, is, according to this ‘hanging, salvation, parable’ strictly off limits. Why? Because, according to the parable they, the elite, don’t actually do anything, they seek to avoid all situations which might involve them getting ‘down and dirty.’
To regard ourselves as Samaritans and Innkeepers means that we must be prepared to be unpopular but more importantly it means that with our eyes fully open we must render ourselves both vulnerable and accessible, and isn’t this just what Jesus did in and through the incarnation? We must also. and this is so counter-cultural, do so devoid of success indicators, simply leaving the outcome to God. This is dangerous stuff, but it might just be linked to salvation and the redemption of the world, which I guess is the whole point of the missionary church.
How do you regard yourself and the Church? Are you and your church ‘getting down and dirty,’ as you walk the path of the vulnerable and accessible outsider?