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Thursday, 3 September 2015

The Good Samaritan: Giving and Receiving

The artist Dinah Roe Kendall painted a version of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10. 25 - 37) which set the story in South Africa at the time of apartheid. Doing so seems to me to be an accurate parallel with the kinds of emotions and cultural practices that were at play in the relationship between Jews and Samaritans and it shows up clearly the sting in the tail of Jesus’ story.

The Jews at the time considered Samaritans as social outcasts, untouchables, racially inferior, practicing a false religion. While Samaritans claimed that they were the true Israel who were descendants of the "lost" tribes taken into Assyrian captivity. The Samaritan’s had their own temple on Mount Gerizim and claimed that it was the original sanctuary. They also claimed that their version of the Pentateuch was the original and that the Jews had a falsified text produced by Ezra during the Babylonian exile. Both Jewish and Samaritan religious leaders seem to have taught that it was wrong to have any contact with the opposite group, and neither was to enter each other's territories or even to speak to one another. Jews avoided any association with Samaritans, travelling long distances out of their way to avoid passing through a Samaritan area. Any close physical contact, drinking water from a common bucket, eating a meal with a Samaritan, would make a Jew ceremonially unclean - unable to participate in temple worship for a period of time – this may be why the priest and Levite don’t stop to help.

Jesus, as a Jew, didn’t illustrate his point - that people of every race, colour, class, creed, faith, sexuality, and level of ability are our neighbours – by telling a story in which a Jew was kind to someone else. Instead, he told a story in which a Jew receives help from a person who was perceived to be his enemy. The equivalent in Kendall’s painting is of the black man helping the white man who represents the people that have oppressed him and his people.

So Kendall’s version of the story brings out part of the sting in the tail that Jesus gives this story; the sense of receiving help from the person who is your enemy. What her version doesn’t deal with, however, is the idea that the enemy who helps is someone of another faith. The Jews were God’s chosen people and a light to the other nations and faith, so what would have been expected from this story would have been for the Jew in the story to bring the light of faith to the Samaritan. But that is not how Jesus’ story unfolds. Instead, the person who is one of God’s chosen people receives from the person of another faith.

To find a contemporary equivalent for this aspect of the story, we have, perhaps, to think about relationships in this country between Christians and those of other faiths, and within these relationships, recognise that relationships between Christians and Muslims are often those which are currently most conflicted, with some Christians believing that Islam represents a threat to the Church and Western civilization. Within this context, the parable of the Good Samaritan challenges Christians as to what we can receive from those of other faiths and, particularly, those who we might view as enemies. Jesus says to us through this parable that loving our neighbours is not simply about what we can give to others but also about what we receive from others.

If our focus is just on what we can give then we are in a paternalistic relationship with our neighbours or enemies. If our focus is just on what we can give then what we are saying is that we hold all the aces and we will generously share some of them with you. In other words, we remain in a position of power and influence. Immediately we acknowledge that we can receive from our neighbours or enemies, then the balance of power shifts and we make ourselves vulnerable. In this parable, Jesus says that that is where true love is to be found and it is something that he went on to demonstrate by making himself vulnerable through death on the cross.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, where the sting is in the tail, the deepest point is that one of God’s chosen people receives help from his enemy who is of another faith. Jesus is taking us deep into the heart of love and saying that we will not truly love our neighbour until we understand and accept that we have much to receive from those that we perceive to be our enemies. In other words, true love of our neighbour means that we receive as well as give.


Victoria Williams - Love.

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