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11th March 2001
"Caring Is Our Business"
If Jesus of Nazareth was remembered for nothing else, the world would remember His wonderful stories. His stories were meant to give deep teaching in a way that people would remember. He was incomparable for the simplicity, the depth and the power of His stories. One that has been retold a million times one million every year for the past two thousand years is known simply as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In this story Jesus taught some important lessons about the practice of care by Christians.
Jesus used a unique word when he told the story of the Good Samaritan. It is not found elsewhere in Gospels, and used only once by Paul to Timothy when he told him to "take care of the Church". This word "take care of" is used again only in Genesis, when Joseph, still not recognised by his brothers, orders them to bring his old father Jacob down to Egypt, so Joseph could take care of him. In English, the word "care" has many meanings: worry, give heed to, under a doctor's watch, matters of state, children in care and so on. Jesus used it in a distinctive manner to describe the Christian's response to people in need.
LIGHTS! CAMERAS! ACTION!
The distance from Jerusalem to Jericho is about twenty miles, descending sharply toward the Jordan River just north of the Dead Sea. The old road, even more than the present one, curved through rugged bleak, rocky terrain where robbers could easily hide. It was considered especially dangerous, and was locally known as "The Bloody Pass". This was the place.
Jerusalem is 2800 feet above sea level while Jericho is 1200 feet below sea level. The road drops 4000 feet through rocky, dangerous and precipitous terrain. In the day of Jesus pedestrians were often victims of robbers who escaped into the hills and caves. There are five groups of characters in this story. Five? Surely not, some would say, there are only four. The first is the thieves who committed the assault. They are the scavengers in society. They prey on the vulnerability of others. They are basically selfish, wanting what other people have and not caring the hurt they inflict to get it. In our generation we have been keen to understand why they do such things, and quick to excuse their behaviour blaming instead their poor upbringing, their parents, their childhood environment, in fact blaming everything else. We forget everyone who violates may have excuses, but that does not account for the fact that they are in control of their behaviour and have wilfully chosen the way of violent aggression.
The second is the victim, the man who was beaten and robbed. V30"They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead." His experience is known in every community. Many people neglect the victims of crime. They say, "Well, he shouldn't have gone that way. He should have known to avoid that area" and so on. They make the victim feel guilty, as if the crime was his own fault. Was the man foolish? Was he completely innocent? Victims of crime are not easily labelled even by smart people after the event. Like children shot in a playground, or a woman attacked in a park, this man was just an anonymous person in need. We will never have com-passion for victims until we stop accusing them.
The third group are the passers by: the people who saw the victim lying injured. 31-32 "A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side." Jesus carefully chose these who re-fused to help. You expect a priest to help, but he chose not to. Preachers, a little self-consciously, excuse him as helping an injured person would have delayed him in his religious duties. No excuses. Jesus rejects this saying the priest was going down from Jerusalem. He had already fulfilled his Temple duties.
The other who ignored the plight of the injured man was a lawyer. That was uncomfortable! It was a lawyer who originally asked Jesus the question that led to Him telling this story. The lawyer wanted to discuss definitions about who constituted a neighbour: v25-29 "On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' ; and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Je-sus, "And who is my neighbour?" Jesus says religion that says prayers and knows everything but does not get its hands dirty helping others does not lead into God's Kingdom. Legal discussion about cases without caring for the person who has been hurt is likewise sterile. Eternal life comes from caring religion and car-ing truth. Prayers and knowledge also need mercy.
The fourth character is the hero. He was an unexpected hero. The crowd gasped. They were happy to hear a priest denigrated and delighted at a lawyer be-ing put in his place. They were expecting Jesus to chose a person like themselves to be the hero. But Jesus said what they couldn't believe: v33-34 "But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him." Many in the crowd wanted to shout out: "That's not fair. A Samaritan would not have done that! They are filthy foreigners. They taint our religion. They are mixed-bloods. You can't trust them. And what was he doing in our country? - send him back home!"
But he did care for the victim. He was a despised Samaritan, yet he gave of his time, his bandages, his goods, his money, his transport, himself to care for a person from a country where he was unwanted. If any-one had an excuse to hurry on, it was the unlikely hero. Racial prejudice did not stop him, because he cared for another in need. True religion is seen in the person who looks beyond race, religion, injustice and social and economic circumstances and spends him-self or herself in the service of humanity. Jesus knew the faith found in the Jewish religion of the priest and the truth of the Law given by the lawyer, were essential to please God, but with them there must be always care for others in need. Practical care belongs to faith and truth. Good belief and accurate knowledge must be backed by practical care given to those in need. Love is the final requirement for eternal life.
There is a fifth and often unnoticed character: the innkeeper. v35 "The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'" The inn-keeper ran a caravanserai - a place where travellers could stay. He was the host, a man who could be trusted. He had built this inn half way between Jerusalem and Jericho, and its replacement today, called, "The Good Samaritan Inn" is still in a desolate area providing for travellers. It was the inn-keeper who accepted the hurt man, cared for him, allowed the Good Samaritan credit, looked after accounts, did the cleaning and maintenance, pro-vided the food, the nursing, and who was just there when needed! The innkeeper was also a hero. No one had considered him until that moment.
There are many violent aggressors and too many victims in our society. There are too many who look the other way, who pass by unconcerned and who do not want to be involved. But thank God, there are Good Samaritans who pick up abused children, homeless drunks, bashed women, broken gamblers and bring them to Wesley Mission where our inn-keepers care for them! Our staff, in all their multitude of functions, enable Sydney's most diverse inn of caring to be open, staffed and willing when someone says: "Look after him,"… "take care of him or her…" Our professional staff are caring inn-keepers! This parable started with a question about salvation, and ended with the practical matter of paying a motel bill. It started with a man trying to justify himself, and ends with a man engaging someone to give some practical care.
TAKE CARE OF HIM!
Jesus said "look after him…take care of him…he took care of him." That describes what our staff do. Christian care is positive. It is doing good for others. It is practical. It is helping hurting people live. It is personal. It is not just running an inn. Our staff extend our Christian care for those in need on our behalf. They use their expertise to extend our care. But that does not excuse each one of us from helping personally.
Jesus is not saying that all you need is to "try a little kindness." That is shallow. He is saying that salvation requires the religious trust of the priest, the in-sights into the truth of the lawyer, and the practical care of the Samaritan. He saw the neglect of mercy. The three key phrases are "he took pity on him", "he took care of him" and "look after him." This implies a deep feeling of sympathy. v33 Baron Von Hugel, brilliant philosopher and theologian, said "Christianity taught us to care. Caring is the greatest thing. Caring matters most." The early Church cared for widows, orphans, the dying and the prisoner. Today our world needs that same love, the same practical concern and compassion. Jesus said: "A new commandment I give to you: love one another." Jn 13:34 I am glad we do not know much about the victim, because people want to let the victim's life-style excuse them from caring. For many people needing care are not likable. Yet we are still called to care for them. Many victims are twisted by their fate, but we are still called to care for them. Their need is our only requirement to help them. So we help them personally and we say to our staff "Take care of them."
Why is it that we care for others? While some place the emphasis upon religious deeds, and others place it upon knowing truth, Jesus declares practical acts of mercy are also required to please God. Why? Because God first of all cares for us. "God cares for you" said Peter. 1 Peter 5:7 For when we express care, Jesus Himself receives it. As He beautifully said: Matt 25: 34-40 "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me some-thing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
Jesus now refers back to the original question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" by saying, "Go and do likewise." This man needs to know God does not bestow the life of the kingdom on those who reject the command to love regardless of their pious acts or legal knowledge. Everything else must be matched by personal care of those in need. Ultimately, that was the last gift of Jesus for each one of us. He cared for us as if each of us was the only one for whom He cared.
"I would love to tell you what I think of Jesus,
Since I found in Him a friend so strong and true,
I would tell you how he changed my life completely,
He did something that no other friend could do.
No-one ever cared for me like Jesus,
There's no other friend so kind as He;
No one else could take the sin and darkness from me,
O, how much He cared for me!"
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
Send an e-mail to Gordon Moyes - firstname.lastname@example.org
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