From the time I was young, I was taught to fear strangers. “Don’t talk to strangers!”, “Don’t accept candy from a stranger”, and “Never get into a car with a stranger.” That was good advice then, and still is–at least for our children. But will the fear of “the stranger” govern all my relationships with strangers as an adult? Will that fear keep me from being a neighbor to a needy “stranger” and stand in the way of that stranger becoming a beloved neighbor and friend?
Those were the questions posed to me from the message this past Sunday on the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. In case you are unfamiliar with the story, a man, presumably a Jew, gets mugged on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Both a priest and a Levite (really respected religious types) cross over to the other side of the road to avoid him. Even at best, this would make them late and “unclean” for their religious duties. At worst, it could be a trap and they could be mugged as well.
Then a “despised stranger”, a Samaritan comes along. In contrast to the others, he does seven things, at least whereby he becomes a “neighbor” to this Jew in distress: he takes pity on him (he sees his distress and allows it to move him), he goes to him (rather than crossing to the other side), he bandages his wounds, he pours on wine and oil to soothe and disinfect, he puts him on his donkey (which means the Samaritan walks), he cares for him at an inn (giving him shelter and time to recover), and he pays for an extended convalescence and guarantees his room fees. “Loving the neighbor” means sacrificing time, money, comfort and possibly putting himself at risk–and he does this for someone who, in other circumstances, may well have hated his guts!
It is interesting to think about who might the “Samaritan” be if Jesus were telling the story to us. I could easily envision this person being someone from the LGBT community. Perhaps Jesus would cast the person showing care as an undocumented immigrant. It might be that the person extending care would be a Muslim. Or maybe an atheist. Maybe it would just be that guy down the street who throws large parties attended by some unsavory folk. Would it change me to be on the receiving end of compassion from such a person?
Taking it a step further, does it required being cared for by the “Samaritans” in our lives to see them as beloved neighbors rather than hostile strangers? Must the “other” take the first step? Or might this story of Jesus challenge me as one of his followers to be the one who begins the “neighboring” process?
Doing this is scary. Our pastor spoke of the fact that this is risky business that involves courage. And it will change us. We could get hurt. We might be taken advantage of. And fellow believers might misunderstand us (“What, you are making friends with them?”). What this calls us back to is the only safety any of us can really count on, the love of a God with whom we are completely secure.
We might also see a stranger become a beloved neighbor, if not a fellow believer. I have no idea where this can take you or me. What I do know is that if Samaritans can be neighbors, then anyone qualifies. Unlike the teacher of the law who delimited “neighbor” to his extended kin or maybe his own ethnic group, Jesus story breaks all the boundaries.
Questions for going deeper: Who is the “Samaritan stranger” in your world? Who are the “Samaritan strangers” for your church? What invitation might the Lord be giving you to be a neighbor and what practical step can you take?