Most if not all of us are familiar with the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan. Where the Jewish man falls to thieves and two of his own kind come passing threw but because they want to remain clean in the eyes of religious laws, they pass by on the other side leaving their brother to lie in a pool of his own blood.
Finally a man of Samaria comes along and we remember that Jews hate Samaritans, and because of this, Samaritans are not too fond of Jews, but the Samaritan notices this man lying in a ditch all bloodied and beaten, and compassion over takes him. He cannot stand to see anyone beaten and left to die, and so he picks him up binds his wounds sets him on his donkey and takes him to a nearby Inn and pays for his expenses. Not only that, he goes way beyond the call of duty and compassion and says to the Inn Keeper take care of his needs and whatever he owes I will come back through the next day and pay you for them.
Jesus asks his Jewish audience who is the neighbor and they cannot even say the word Samaritan, they just say the one who showed compassion. Of course it is only a parable and really steams them. They are probably thinking to themselves;”that would never happen in real life.” But then again Jesus probably would have known that as well, so my guess they just stopped thinking all together.
We hear this preached over and over again, maybe a few of us are tired of hearing it preached. Maybe like those Jews some just don’t want to think about it at all, especially as we think of the possibility of immigrants coming to America. We have a hard enough time forgiving our friends and family members, that would include our fellow Christian brothers and sisters, but to forgive someone who is our outright enemy and actually stop to help them with real compassion. Huh!!!
You know maybe those who think that life would be a lot better off if we didn’t have to forgive others are right. It sure would ease up our conscience some, maybe we would even see a few more people in church on Sundays if we just didn’t have to worry about forgiving one another, or bother to show compassion.
What would happen if we took this very familiar text and we twisted just a little so that it takes the pressure off of us to be so forgiving. Let’s try it. Lets say that Jesus tells this story and all of it is the same until he gets to the part where the man passing by (You the Samaritan) sees the Jew lying in the ditch; and instead of bending down with compassion and concern. He looks at that man and notices that he is just another stinking Jew.
He’s pretty sure that maybe he was one of those Jews that came and burn down his neighbors home in an attempt to make Samaritans go away. Even if he wasn’t, there is the old law and eye for an eye right. The Samaritan would be justified right. So instead of stopping to take pity on him, he begins to spit on him, and kick him, and throw stones at him. In fact he has the time so he just hangs around to make sure that he dies, so he puts a noose around his neck and hangs him from the nearest tree.
So just for the sake of consideration let’s say that Jesus ends the story just like that. What do you think would be the point? What might be the outcome? What might be the lesson?
If they didn’t try to kill Jesus right then and there, they may have all the more reason to hate the Samaritan. They may walk away wondering where is God in all of this? Why would God let such a man fall to such a brutal death. They may be convinced that God really is a wrathful God, and that the man must have sinned terribly to allow such a fate.
More importantly, what does it say to us if that were the way the story ended. I think it would say that forgiveness is not even an option. That may feel pretty good if we don’t have to forgive others, but what if we are the one needing to be forgiven. What would it say about the Kingdom of God - where you do still have to reflect the perfection of God, where you must enter into his presence without a blemish, but your blemishes are not forgiven, and it only takes one to ruin your chance.
Who would stand a chance? Even though we do not have to forgive others, no one would have to forgive us either.
Amos presents just such a picture as he stands in front of an Israelite audience as he begins his prophecies against the Kingdoms. In chapters 1 – 4 he speaks of the sins of all the nations and how they will not be forgiven by God. He starts with nations that they really don’t like but ends up saying for the three sins and even four of allies and even Judah: and the people of Israel are like, “well I guess they deserve it as well,” but when he finally ends with his prophecy against Israel themselves and the sins they have committed, they have already dug themselves into a deep hole, as not once were they willing to show compassion.
And the sins they committed were some of the worst by far in ignoring the plights of the poor in their own backyard, much less the foreigner. They failed to see the human need of those suffering under oppressive rules and restraints. Instead they put themselves first, always wondering when they would get their fair share.
When they failed to show grace to the others, they lost their shot at it as well; which brings me back to the point I am trying to make with the twist in Jesus parable.
As I said, if retelling of it were to end without grace, it would simply be: end of story. But not just that story, it would be the end of the gospel. There would be no gospel, no good news. There would be no point in even going on. For that is what the gospel s all about it is about grace. But we cannot just show grace to the ones we like and not to those we can easily find ourselves not carrying anything about, it does not work that way.
You see that is the way the world is trying to twist it now, ( ) and the problem is too many so called Christians, if they are Christian at all, are buying into a quasi gospel where we get to pick and choose who we want to forgive. The rest can just go to hell. The further we go along in this society thinking like that we become less and less able to forgive anyone. And when we can no longer forgive, then neither will we find forgiveness.
If all we are required by God to do is to look at how others have hurt us, then God has failed because we have failed to see the humanity in others and if we fail to see the humanity in others, then we fail to see even in ourselves what we truly are.
If that’s the case, it would be End of Story, period. But thanks be to God it is not. The Gospel is about grace. It is about forgiveness and how it benefits us not only for heaven, but even for here and now.
For life to exist peacefully, the way we all long for it to, we must embrace the idea of forgiveness, and having compassion for others, even others that we would otherwise call enemy. Otherwise our world continues on a downward spiral into the dark abyss of hell - that place where we just continue to beat up on one another mentally, emotionally, spiritually and yes even physically.
Forgiveness, compassion, grace; they are the steps that lead us out of that abyss.
Without forgiveness, without the action of compassion that truly reverse the wrongs like what the Samaritan did as Jesus really tells it, our world is doomed to failure. But if we all work a little harder at living by the grace and compassion that Jesus sets forth in this parable, then maybe , just maybe, the light in our world will get a little brighter, and we will find ourselves living in a better place.