13 (thirteenth) Sunday after Trinity (2017)
Christianity does not have a patent on “love thy neighbor”
We know that if we listen to today’s gospel. The expert in the law tells us that loving God and ones neighbor as oneself is at the very core – of Judaism.
A Muslim or a Buddhist could say something very similar.
We Christians are proud that this command of charity “belongs to us” – but it is an unjustified pride. In fact, we find it in most other religions.
The Western, Christian civilization is not the only one to have hospitals, nursing homes, social services and institutions that care for people in need.
One of Islams 5 pillars is precisely to give charity to the poor. Buddhist monks have run hospitals that were open for everybody. And that was even before public hospitals were common in our part of the world. So the parable we have heard today about the good Samaritan may just as well have been a Muslim or a Buddhist parable. Yes, even an atheist might have told us it.
The morale of the parable is that you must not reject a fellow human being who needs your help. And that is a morale very few people will object to.
That is why it is important - in a Christian context - to emphasize the beginning of the gospel. Because it is the beginning that changes the parable into something else than just an obviously nice and beautiful story about helpfulness.
Before the expert in the law approached Jesus and made him share the parable – Jesus spoke to the disciples privately and said: “Bles-sed are the eyes that see what you see” – “for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it”.
Here Jesus points to himself and to what he is saying and doing. This is what almost everybody has been waiting for – for centuries. And that is what never has been heard or seen before. He is the one - people have been waiting for. He is the center and the turning point of history. These are quite airy and high-flying words. So that is probably why the expert in the law tries to pull Jesus down to earth again.
Honestly, what is the crucial news he is bringing? Apparently – it does not seem of much:
The command – love your God and love your neighbor as yourself – is the first and most important commandment in the law. Jesus and the expert do not disagree about that.
There is nothing
new under the sun. It has been heard and
seen before. No, the message to love your neighbor as yourself is not a
novelty. The novelty is that Jesus focuses on himself. The parable he tells us,
is not just a moral tale about how human beings should live their lives with
No, Jesus tells us a new tale of how God lives among human beings.
The parable about
the Good Samaritan is not just about what you and I have to
do. It is really about what has been done for us.
The parable tells us about Jesus. It tells us what new he has done, what has never been seen or heard before: God - the creator of heaven and earth – is the flesh and blood of Jesus - like the Good Samaritan.
The Samaritan gave the assaulted man his donkey and money – and maybe more importantly – his time. He was delayed on his journey for one day – for the sake of the assaulted man. By his good deed the Samaritan gave life back to the half–dead and assaulted man.
To give of ones own. To give of ones time. To give joy, life and courage to someone who hasnt any of this – is much like what Jesus did. He is our merciful neighbor. The poor attacked man is an image of you and me, of all of us – whom – each in his or hers own way – have been attacked and overcome by negative and destructive forces in life. Life is overwhelming and we dont control it. Our living-conditions are such that death, loss and sorrow can befall us any day. What do I do with my despair, my anxiety, my worries? We need a savior, one who doesnt “pass by on the other side”.
Our lives can be fragile and we can feel threatened by life; but the great and merciful Samaritan has come to help us. He has come into our lives and embraced us and become our merciful savior. This is what is the true core of Christianity. And this is the new – thats what has never been seen or heard before.
We must be the good Samaritan to our fellow human beings – for the simple reason – that we ourselves have met the good Samaritan in our lives. I must be the good Samaritan to my neighbor – for the simple reason – that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come into my life and has become the good Samaritan to me when I was in need.