Sunday, 6 June 2021

The Good Samaritan - Luke 10

The story of the Good Samaritan is well known to us. Jesus responds to the expert in the law - who presses with the question 'Who is my neighbour' - with this story (see Luke 10). Of course the story shocks the hearers - it is the 'no good Samaritan' who is the one who shows mercy and proved to be the "neighbour" of the unfortunate traveller.

We all perceive first impressions, which inevitably affect the way we react to people. It can range from colour to the way people dress or present themselves. It is worth us re-reading the story and turning our attention to the person laying on the ground, left for dead. Could there be anything about this person that influences our decision of whether to offer help?

It is hard for us to see and acknowledge our own prejudices. We might not even realise their presence, or how deep they run. Some scoff at "unconscious bias" training, but studies show time and again that we have these lurking within us.

Jesus tells the story in a clever way. We are given scant details about the person travelling - no name, no background - so he could be just about anybody. All we are told is that it was a man going from Jerusalem to Jericho. In the robbery he is stripped of his clothes ... removing even these 'externals' that could otherwise contribute to a first impression for any passer-by.

Apart from the nastiness of the man's wounds, the few things left would be his physical appearance, and the colour of hair, eyes and skin. Yet sadly we know that for 20th century cultures, such colouring can be a big deal.

Jesus contrasts the 'Samaritan' (a person of specific ethnicity) with priest and the Levite (both of whom we can assume to be considered as 'pure stock'). It is the Samaritan who sees the injured as a fellow human-being: someone created in the image of God, and thus does the neighbourly thing.

As followers of Jesus, we believe that each and every person is first and foremost  someone created in the image of God. Their 'race' or 'ethnicity' might be something that mankind defines, but their God-image-bearing came first! Ironically, for all our categorising of people into races or ethnic groups, DNA analysis shows that all of us are a lot more mixed up that we realise, and that of course we are all related!

So it is the Samaritan who sees the person, and their obvious need. The others, even if they perceive nothing from the man's colour, put other factors ahead of the basic impulse to show mercy. When Jesus tells the expert to 'Go and do likewise', he is telling us to see God-given humanity first, way ahead of all other factors and prejudices.

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