Some of you may be aware that we have made some significant changes to our confirmation program recently. We’ve been seeing some great results and if you’d to know more I’d be happy to share! The inspiration for this article comes from a retreat that I recently experienced with Pastor Jonathan and some of our confirmands.
Most of us know the story of the Good Samaritan. But do we REALLY know it?? I still remember the epiphany that had when I learned the historical context of this story, giving each of the details much more meaning. This was part of our conversation with the confirmation students during our Service Retreat.
First of all, it’s important to remember that Jesus isn’t simply relaying a story to us. He has carefully chosen the details of this story to prove a point, knowing that they would be meaningful to his current audience.
We all know that Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along, but where does that rivalry come from? Samaritans weren’t just the annoying neighbors. They were actually descendants of many Jews who were taken into captivity but chose not to return to Jerusalem, and the majority intermarried with gentiles. Many still worshiped Yahweh, but most had turned away from the traditional Jewish practices of that time. Jews looked down on the Samaritans for not being prim and proper, and Samaritans resented the Jews for being snobs.
Now, as a kid, I never remember digging into the other characters. Who exactly is a Levite, and why on earth would a priest not care about a man lying on the side of the road?! Levites (those from the tribe of Levi) were tasked with caring for the temple. So, both the priest and the Levite were expected to remain ceremonially clean in order to perform their duties. What does that have to do with anything? If this man that was left to die was, well, dead…then, coming into contact with him would have prevented them from performing their expected duties! These men were clearly chosen by God for a higher purpose than caring for someone left by the side of the road… clearly (hopefully you’re picking up on the sarcasm).
Another detail that I wasn’t aware of until it was pointed out was that this sort of attacked-by-robbers thing wasn’t unusual! In fact, stopping to check on someone who had just been attacked would make you particularly vulnerable to the same fate! Do you see the plot beginning to thicken? There’s more going on here that I had realized!
Now, what was the main point of Jesus’ story? He had been asked the question “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus turns it around a little bit and asks: “Which of these three…proved to be a neighbor…?” The answer is pretty clear: “The one who showed him mercy.” Yes! It’s about mercy, kindness, compassion, service. Okay, yeah, we already know that, right? We’re supposed to treat everyone as our neighbor and show mercy. Check! Covered that in second grade Sunday school!
Why, then, does Jesus give those other details. Why does He paint a picture of a situation where it would seem dangerous or even foolish to show mercy? I think that we often fall into the trap of trying to prioritize which acts of mercy make the most sense, rather than simply trusting in Jesus’ command to “Go, and do likewise.” We are to be like the Samaritan who threw caution to the wind and instead chose mercy. We are to stop looking for reasons to pause but simply show grace and compassion. So, my friends, go, and do likewise!
Your Sister in Christ,
Tara Barrett, DCE