The parable of the Good Samaritan. It is one of the most well known of Jesus’ parables. A man travels a dangerous road and is attacked by robbers and left for dead. A Priest and a Levite, two religious and respected people, walk by on the other side of the road. A Samaritan, ostricised and hated by Jesus’ listeners, walks over to the man, patches him up, takes him to an inn and pays for his care promising to return. The moral of the story? Everyone is our neighbour and love looks like something. Essentially Jesus is challenging the lawyer’s question. Rather than asking ‘who is my neighbour?’, he should have been querying ‘how can I be a better neighbour?’
Simple. And challenging. I’m preaching on this text on Sunday night so am running a certain risk in posting these thoughts now, but they’re buzzing round my brain.
Here’s the thing. It is often simple and evident what God wants us to do, but very challenging. I’m challenged by this parable because, although I’d hope I would have the desire to help the hurting man, it just seems to take so much time and effort. Don’t get me wrong, in an emergency I would like to think I’d drop everything and help. But what about in normal life? The thought of taking time to practically love every person I encounter seems difficult. I have many things to do during the day, not a whole lot of money to spare, and I get tired. I can relate to the lawyer in wanting to respond to the simple command of God to love everyone with the question: ‘who do you mean by everyone?’ I want to know who qualifies for my love, my time, my money, my effort, mainly because there simply doesn’t seem to be enough to go around.
That’s where I’ve been struck by the context of this parable in Luke’s gospel. It comes just after Jesus has prayed about his disciples, thanking God the Father that he has revealed the secret of the kingdom to children but hidden it from the wise. What does this mean? It takes children to understand how to live in the kingdom of God. This doesn’t just mean it is a ‘simple’ thing, it means that only those who know that the God of the universe is their Father will be able to respond to the clear yet challenging commands of God without qualifying them away. It’s not surprising that straight after this parable Jesus teaches his disciples to pray “Our Father…” and explains that, as human fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, so Father God is even more faithful.
You might remember a post some time back about Pete Grieg’s idea of ‘living beautifully’. It strikes me that the love God calls us to in this parable requires a beautiful life. It requires more than pre-meditated actions, but a lifestyle where there is enough time, money, and effort left over for us to respond to those who are unexpectedly in need. Grieg talked about ‘leaving gleanings’ in life; not scheduling all our time or allocating all our money, but having ‘left overs’ with no particular specified purpose. He was saying that these are the places of creativity and imagination. I suggest they are also the places of love.
Love happens in the leftovers. It is difficult to have left overs if we live from the assumption that we don’t have enough, that our resources are limited. We cannot make time we can only use it, few of us would think we have money to spare, and it can be hard to shift our focus from our own needs and plans. Yet those who know God – the maker of the universe, the one who holds the world in his hands, the one who promises to give good gifts to his children – as their Father, are not those who assume they don’t have enough. They are those who can live with leftovers.
Love requires leftovers.