Summary: From time to time we hear of many heroic actions of those who risk themselves to help others. These people are often called ’Good Samaritans’. This sermon explores Jesus’ challenge to act positively in the lives of the despised and rejected.
The hero, the knight, and the Good Samaritan: There’s one big difference.
As our Gospel this morning we have heard a story that has seared its characters onto the consciousness of countless generations. Only recently we have had cause to use the term “Good Samaritan” in relation to the events of shootings in our own city.
A Good Samaritan was gunned down on the streets of Melbourne in the Monday morning rush hour. He died as he tried to help a woman in distress. Another Samaritan who tried to help received serious gunshot wounds, as did the woman. The culprit is on the run. The Age (Melbourne) 20/6/07
A young interstate visitor, in Melbourne to watch the Bledisloe Cup rugby, rescued a German tourist from what police fear was an attempted abduction and rape early yesterday. Regina Herdegen, 24, spoke yesterday about how the young Perth man heard her cries for help and ran to her defence, punching her attacker and comforting her after he fled. . The Age (Melbourne) 2/7/07
These are acts of extreme courage. There are many others like them happening all the time. “Good Samaritan” has come to suggest the selfless and risky act towards a stranger, a bit different from the hero or the knight in shining armour. Heroes and Heroines have tasks they must complete in order to fulfil their vocations. In order to fulfil this vocation the hero goes through a time of preparation and mentoring, then embarks of the great cause or test. Part of the hero’s journey is to suffer set backs and challenges until finally overcoming the great ordeal.
The knight is a form of hero whose vocation is to live a life of chivalry. Knights often act in heroic ways and they may even take the role of the ‘Good Samaritan’. The main task of the “knight in shining armour” is to rescue the damsel in distress. It has become too light-hearted an image to be meaningful in modern instances of danger. But if a man who rescues a woman is called a knight in shining armour what is a woman who rescues a man called? His wife!
Google ‘Good Samaritan’ on the internet and you will get thousands of responses. You will also find that ‘Good Samaritan’ is a New Zealand racehorse but many of the stories concern people who have helped others in a time of need often in the face of danger. The term ‘Good Samaritan’ seems to cover interventions in the way that words like hero and knight in shining armour do not. Let’s take a journey through the story and try to see something of why this story has stayed so deeply imbedded in our cultural imagination.
We heard a couple of weeks ago in our reading from Luke’s Gospel that “Jesus face was set towards Jerusalem.” Yes he was travelling down from Galilee towards Jerusalem but also he felt drawn there in order to complete his work as Messiah. In moving south he passed through the territory of the Samaritans. Jesus is not welcomed in that territory because we are told he has his face set towards Jerusalem. Two of Jesus’ disciples James and John, brothers who have a reputation for volatility ask whether the hostile reception should not be repaid by calling down fire from heaven. This incident gives us insight into the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans. These two groups of people were in opposition because of their differing interpretations of what faithfulness to the God of Israel was all about. We can understand something of the difficulty they faced. We can agree to disagree with others who are very different from ourselves, such is the beauty of diversity. But it is much harder to appreciate those subtle differences between those whom we believe to be of our family tribe or clan.
The Samaritans shared the same heritage as the Jews, but through historical twists and turns had come to look to a Holy place called Mt Gerizim rather than Jerusalem. A temple was built there in the time of Alexander the Great. It was destroyed in 129 BCE. A group of a few hundred Samaritans still live today in Nablus in Palestine in the shadow of Mt Gerizim in the hope of the glorious rebuilding of the their Temple.
With Jesus own experience of the inhospitality of the Samaritans on his mind he sets the scene for the story in answer to the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbour?” The story is grounded in a journey from Jericho to Jerusalem. My faithful Commentary by Leon Morris tells me that it is about 25 kms from Jerusalem to Jericho and the road descends approximately 1,000 metres. It is rough country providing lots of places for robbers to hide.
We can safely assume that the man making the journey is a Jew. He is beset by robbers and left ‘half dead’. Now keep in mind the question asked of Jesus is, “Who is my neighbour?” and no longer “Which is the greatest commandment?”, and certainly not, “What should I do when I see someone in need beside the road?”