Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Unexpected Kindness

The tale of the Good Samaritan is one of Jesus’ most well known stories. Indeed, the phrase ‘Good Samaritan’ has entered everyday idiom to describe a helpful person. The Samaritans organization is one example: they are well-known for providing emergency support to people in trouble.

Jesus always used stories to teach important lessons. There are several points in the Good Samaritan story which resonate with contemporary themes. (1) Assisting other people when we can is the principle underpinning the political notion of the Big Society. The Good Samaritan himself seems to epitomize the Big Society ideal. He suffered inconvenience and incurred expense because of his willingness to help someone in need. (2) Disillusionment with traditional religion is currently strong, as it was in Jesus’ day. The priest and temple worker in the story were disinterested and skirted round the problem as quickly as possible. They were unwilling or unable to help. (3) Attitudes of suspicion and resentment against foreign immigrants linger now, as in Bible times. Jewish people in general did not respect Samaritan immigrants; however Jesus’ love reached out to people of all races, impartially.

In my opinion, the enduring theme of this story is that help comes from unexpected sources. This idea crops up so often in novels and films: Think about Pip in Dicken's Great Expectations, the eponymous heroine in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or Polish Jews in Schindler’s List. In each case, the people in need are astonished when they discover the identity of their benefactors. In the Biblical narrative, the most surprising and most radical help of all comes from Jesus’ intervention in human history.

Jesus Christ came from heaven to be a stranger in the world he had created. During the years of his public teaching and travelling, he helped thousands of people yet he was homeless and penniless. Finally he died, hanging on a cross outside Jerusalem. His body was bruised and beaten. His blood was shed. His life was laid down. How could he help us – the ‘Lord from heaven’ who became a ‘man of sorrows’?

We must recognize that we desperately need help. Like the wounded man in Jesus’ story, we have been battered by the storms of life, disappointed by broken promises and deceived by the devil. We are sinful creatures, often unwilling and always unable to improve our condition. Religion may appear to promise some respite but it eventually proves utterly powerless to help, like the priest and temple worker in Jesus’ story.

What we need is a personal intervention, a rescue – spiritual first aid. This is what Jesus offers us. He is the true Good Samaritan; the stranger who has every reason to pass us by but instead he stops and makes every effort to help us. He died to win us forgiveness. He rose again to guarantee our acceptance with God. He lives for ever to care for us. One day he will return to take those who trust him back to heaven.

As we listen to politicians extolling the virtues of a Big Society, let’s remember that Jesus came from heaven and died on the cross to enable us to be citizens of heaven. If we trust in him, we become members of the Biggest Society of all!

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