Our Gospel parable this morning is probably more than familiar to us. The image of the Good Samaritan has entered into everyday discourse as shorthand for someone who does something nice or good for someone else, usually at some sort of cost or inconvenience to themselves. In just this last week, the epithet ‘Good Samaritan’ has been used by news outlets to describe an Australian man who drove 1300 miles to rescue a stranded family, a 76-year-old man who in Delhi who runs a free ambulance service, and a man in New York who alerted his neighbours that their house was on fire. There’s also the Good Samaritan App which alerts medically trained people in the vicinity of someone who’s called an ambulance so they can offer medical assistance before the paramedics arrive; Good Samaritan laws to encourage people to help others whilst protecting them from being sued by the person they helped, and the Samaritans helpline which people can call for help and support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Whilst it is fantastic that there are so many stories of people helping complete strangers, the ubiquity of the character of the Good Samaritan unintentionally downplays what was a radical way of living taught by Jesus that we are still commanded to live out today. It’s hard to overstate the enmity between Jews and Samaritans back in the time of Jesus. It wasn’t simply that they were followers of different religions who had disagreements, but rather they were sworn enemies; theirs was a hostile relationship going back centuries. One modern-day equivalent of such a fractious relationship sadly finds us in the same place as Jesus taught his parable. I had the privilege of being in Israel and Palestine just a few months ago; whenever you cross into areas under the Palestinian Authority, there are enormous red signs which say in Hebrew, Arabic, and English ‘the entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden, dangerous to your lives and is against the Israeli law.’ I never ceased to be struck by how the warning of life being in danger preceded the notice about it being against the law.
Jesus’ message to the lawyer trying to catch him out and also to us is relatively simple: love your enemies, love without exception, and love extravagantly.
Love your enemies.
‘And who is my neighbour?’ the lawyer asks of Jesus. In this story, the answer he gets is probably not the one he wants; his neighbour is his enemy. He is commanded by God to love the person he disagrees with, to love the person he is different to, to love the person who is an outsider to his framework for love. Why? Because there are no outsiders to God’s love.
Love without exception.
One of the reasons why the Priest and the Levite would have walked past the robbed and dying man on the road was because of the religious rules they felt bound to follow. They probably felt unable to help the man because they could not tell if he was dead or not, and because of their religious rules about ritual purity and defilement, they would not have felt able to approach a dying or dead man, lest they themselves become defiled. The Samaritan, who would have had similar rules about purity, knew that love of neighbour (even if that neighbour is traditionally his enemy) is not overruled by conventions of tradition, that loving the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind’ is in loving without exception, loving people not rules, because rules have exceptions, but the commandment from God to love has none, because there are no outsiders to God’s love.
The Good Samaritan loves extravagantly; he bandaged the man’s wounds and poured oil and wine on them. He puts the man on his donkey, brings him to an inn and remains with him there to care for him. He gives two days’ wages to the innkeeper and promises to return and pay whatever more is owed. He loves extravagantly. He loves in a way which challenges our own generosity, challenges just how far we are willing to go in our love and care for our neighbours and our enemies-transformed-into-neighbours.
The model for this extravagant love is Jesus himself. His parable take place on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, a road he will soon journey down. As he makes his journey, he won’t be loved, he will be hated. Rules will condemn him to death and his own innocence will not make him an exception. He will be on the receiving end of extortionate cruelty rather than extravagant love. And he does all this because on the cross, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, it is shown once and for all that there are no outsiders to God’s love. Jesus died and rose again for every single person to inherit eternal life and be with God forever. There are no outsiders to God’s love.
So, love your enemies, love without exception, and love extravagantly because there are no outsiders to God’s love.
This is a very familiar story and message to us. But as I was reading the Gospel this week, something new struck me. There are no outsiders to God’s love and that includes me. And I often for this! I get so hung up on the mistakes I make and all the ways I think I’m not good enough, or that I can’t do something. I had my placement supervision with Felicity on Wednesday, and I cried as I listed all the mistakes I’ve made and the times when I’ve just felt out of my depth whilst on placement. I very tearfully admitted after a couple of toddler group sessions that I’m just terrified of toddlers! They are surprisingly strong and operate with considerable lawlessness when it comes to getting the toy they want at that moment! And I thought ‘how can I be a vicar if I struggle at a toddler group?’ And God has been reminding me through our Gospel today that he loves me, extravagantly and without exception, and he loves me as someone close to him, not as an outsider. There are no outsiders to God’s love and that includes me and that includes all of us. When we are hurting, God doesn’t consult a checklist to see if we’re on the okay to help list, he just helps us. When we are in need, God meets us in our pain and worries and is gentle to us. And when our pain and worries last far longer than we would like, God is always in it for the long-haul.
So, love your enemies, love without exception, and love extravagantly because there are no outsiders to God’s love. But also remember that you are also loved, without exception, and loved extravagantly by God, because there are no outsiders to God’s love, not me, not you.
Let me finish with these words from the Christian songwriters Rend Collective as prayer to God:
There are no outsiders to Your love
We are all welcome, there’s grace enough
When I have wandered Lord, your cross is the open door
There are no outsiders
I’m not an outsider
No, there are no outsiders
No, I’m not an outsider to Your love.