Have you ever walked into a building or a room that you have entered many, many times before, but on this particular occasion you see something or notice something that has never caught your attention before that moment? It might be something as simple as the color of the walls. Or a planter sitting in the corner. Or a piece of artwork hanging over the couch.
Whatever it is, when you say to the owner, “Hey, I like the new paint color!” or “I like the new plant or the new piece of art over the couch,” the owner replies, “Oh, that’s not new, it’s been that way for years!” And you’re left scratching your head, thinking, “How could I have entered into this space so many times before and never noticed that obvious detail?” We all have those spaces or places or even experiences that have become so familiar to us that we no longer see the details. We longer see or notice the nuances that give something its unique character and identity.
What I have found is that precisely the same thing can happen when we are reading the Bible. We can become so familiar with a particular biblical story, that we longer see the details. We no longer notice the nuance and texture that give that story its unique character and identity.
And I think for a lot of people, that’s exactly what happens with a story like the parable of the Good Samaritan, which we heard in our gospel reading this morning. The story of the Good Samaritan is deeply embedded in our religious, spiritual, and even our cultural consciousness. I mean, a person doesn’t have to know that biblical story to know what a “good Samaritan” is supposed to be. Just hearing the phrase “good Samaritan” conjures up images of upstanding citizens doing nice things for their neighbors. Things like rescuing a lost kitten out of a tree or helping someone carry their groceries across the street. As a result, when we hear the biblical story in Luke’s gospel, we think we know it’s all about.
But this week, when I read the parable of Good Samaritan, it was like walking into a room and noticing the paint color for the first time. I saw something and experienced something that has been there all along, but I had never noticed it quite the way I noticed it this week.
Now the basic contours of the story are fairly straight forward. A lawyer is having a conversation with Jesus about what makes a person eligible for eternal life. After a brief exchange about the requirements of the law, the lawyer turns to Jesus and says, “That’s all well and good, but who exactly is my neighbor?,” which prompts Jesus to tell his famous parable.
In the parable, of course, an anonymous man is robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead in a ditch on the side of road. Two religious leaders, a priest and a Levite, members of God’s covenant community, see the man in the ditch, but choose to pass by on the other side of the road. But a Samaritan, someone outside the covenant, a religious and social outcast, sees the man in the ditch and stops to provide aid and comfort. The moral of the story is, of course, be more like the Samaritan. Serve and help those in need, even the stranger, even those who are different from you. Now this is a powerful interpretation of this story. In fact, when most people walk into the room of this parable, what I just described is precisely what they see. But as I said, this week, I saw something different. I saw this parable for first time as a story about extravagant generosity.
Did you notice that when the Samaritan sees the man in the ditch, what he offers in response is far more than what we might consider to be the usual “roadside assistance.” In other words, the Samaritan doesn’t just roll down his window and hand the man a few bucks. The Samaritan doesn’t pull up and say to the man, “Hey buddy, do you need to use my cell phone?” The Samaritan doesn’t just give the man a lift to the next 7-Eleven down the street and say, “good luck, I hope you get better!”
To the contrary, Jesus says that the Samaritan is moved with compassion. The Samaritan gets down into the ditch with the wounded and broken man. And before taking the time to bandage the man’s wounds, the Samaritan first cleans and disinfects the wounds using oil and wine, which were not inexpensive commodities in the first century. Once he gets the man stable, the Samaritan places the wounded man on his own animal, which means, the Samaritan likely walked the rest of the journey. When they finally arrive at a roadside inn, the Samaritan doesn’t just drop him off. Instead, he continues to take care of the man and even spends the night. Finally, the next day, when the Samaritan departs, he leaves an open-ended tab with the innkeeper and he says, “Whatever additional expenses you incur, put them on my bill and I will come back to settle accounts.”
My friends, “good” is not a sufficient adjective to describe this Samaritan. A better title for this story would be the Parable of the Extravagantly Generous Samaritan. He gives sacrificially of himself and of his resources to care for the stranger.
But, you know, as I entered into the room of this parable this week and as saw this extravagant generosity for the first time, I came to see myself as the man in the ditch. The one broken and wounded, unable to save or heal or deliver himself.
And if I’m the one in the ditch, if we’re all in the ditch together, if we are the ones in need of saving, then the Samaritan, the most unlikely person, the religious and social outcast, is actually the character most like God. The One who gets down in the ditch with us. The One who enters into the trenches of life with us. The One who binds up our wounds and pours upon us the oil of his presence. The One who carries us to safety and sustains when we are broken and weary. The One who spends the night when we find ourselves shrouded by darkness and fear. And when a new day finally dawns, God says to us, “If there is anything else you need, if there is any other expense incurred, don’t worry, I’ve already covered the cost. I’ve already paid the price.”
So, the moral of the story is, of course, to be more like the Samaritan. But not just because he’s a good neighbor. But because he embodies God’s mission of generosity. And when you and I catch a vision of God’s extravagant generosity. When we come to know the depth of God’s love, the wideness of God’s mercy, and the magnitude of God’s grace, we can’t help but to become a part of that mission. We can’t help but to give sacrificially of ourselves and our resources.
When you and I see clearly how much God has done for us, We can’t help but to heed the command of Jesus to “Go and do likewise!”