|15th Sunday in Ordinary time, 10 July 2016|
From the Dean’s desk
Over the past two Sundays [Luke 9:51-62 & 10:1-12.17-20] Luke has instructed us on the conditions of discipleship – what we need to do in order to follow in the ways of Jesus. Jesus states that our reaching out to others begins in a non-violent manner; that we need to keep in mind the One who calls, sends and empowers us in our mission and that we need to be prepared for the unexpected. Jesus also stated that our approach to our mission needs to be simple and single minded – so that we do not lose sight of the central message: the nearness of the Kingdom of God.
This week’s Gospel [Luke 10:25-37] challenges us on the practical implementation of these conditions. Jesus’ parables were challenging and controversial and would quite often anger and upset his audience, often drawing the disapproval of his listeners. The parable we hear today, the Good Samaritan, would have shocked Jesus’ listeners. The fact that a Samaritan, a foreigner was the one in the story, who showed mercy on the beaten man, rather than the priest or Levite, would have been insulting to Jesus’ audience. The priest and Levite were not doing anything wrong. Their main purpose was to go to Jerusalem and offer sacrifice in the Temple. In dealing with a man who seemed to be dead would have rendered them ritually unclean and therefore unable to offer the Temple sacrifices.
This parable, however, is more than just a story of a stranger who attends to the very real needs of another person who has fallen into a tragic situation. It is more than just a story that shows up two religious individuals as being more concerned about cultic purity than the very real needs of a destitute person. It is a story that challenges the very foundations of who I am as a Christian. The parable of the Good Samaritan represents all those occasions when I have been put out by the needs and demands of others! How did I respond on those occasions? Did I, like the two religious fellows ‘pass by on the other side of the road’ and not get involved, stating my participation in other more important matters as my reason for non-involvement? Or did I like the Samaritan go out of my way in rendering assistance to someone in need? In this parable the main character is not the priest, Levite or even the Samaritan. It is the unnamed individual who fell into the hands of brigands and robbers, simply because it is the service rendered to or negated to him by others that forms the central theme of this parable.
When we consider our Christian understanding of service, love and mission, then our response should be closer to that of the Samaritan than that of the religious officials. In a world that is becoming more disengaging with regard to true personal relationships and seems to be making us busier and indifferent, it has become more difficult to act in the example of the Good Samaritan. Common sense would at times tell us that it is more important for me to have my private space and time than to reach out to someone who is in need of simple basic human contact. Common sense would say that it may be too dangerous to get involved with the needs of a stranger ‘on the side of the road’. But common sense rarely enters into Christian decisions regarding ministry and pastoral outreach. If anything the parable of the Good Samaritan teaches and challenges us to consider that the needs of the ‘least’ in the Kingdom are indeed my concern. I cannot, and must not, ‘pass by on the other side’ when I hear of a brother or sister in need. Like the parables that we find later on in Luke which speak of the Lost Sheep [15:4-7], the Lost Coin [15:8-10] and the Lost Son [15:11-32], these deal with the extravagant and almost ‘wasteful’ love of God. It is love that goes above and beyond the response of the situation. The love of Christ, then urges and impels me to be involved in that situation at whatever depth or level I am capable. Our following in the way of Jesus through our Baptismal commitment is both a personal and public affair. It is personal as it is based on my need to deepen my relationship with Jesus in prayer. But it should not stop there. If I am deeply in love with Jesus, then I cannot overlook the needs of those around me, especially the least in the Kingdom.