One Saturday I remembered the story of the Good Samaritan but failed it. I failed it because I had remembered it but I had not known that the Good Samaritan depends upon a particular view of time. How can you fail a story you might ask? Let me explain.
Do you remember the story of the Good Samaritan? At the foot of a rugged mountainous area, known for the thieves that hid in its crags, a man lies prone upon the ground. He is alone. This is the centre of his problem. His brow has separated, blood weeps from him, yet this could be solved if another was with him. When he rode his horse and carried his gold his problem was hidden from him and others, yet not from God. He was travelling, purposeful, perhaps hurried, on his way with business to attend to. It all hid that he was alone.
In the centre of the city, in the shadow of a Cathedral, in an area known for the homeless, a girl sits and sobs. She is alone. This is the centre of her problem. Her defences have failed, her aloneness is bared for all to see. When she arrived by plane the great wide land of Australia lay ahead of her and as she travelled she gathered gifts that she would carry home with her. Then the phone call had come, her Dad was sick but he said, "don't come home, keep travelling". Then another phone call, "your Dad has died". The gifts in her bag have always been worthless trinkets.The gold was the stories attached to them and the treasured moment that lay ahead when she would share with her Dad where she had been and what she had done. In a moment it has all been stolen. Thieved by death. And so today she sits on a plastic seat, in a strange city, she breaks all protocols and sobs. She is alone.
In the shadow of a Cathedral I discovered that I do not know the story of the Good Samaritan.
Please don't get me wrong I have read it the parable of the Good Samaritan. In actual fact it was read to me before I could read it for myself. I have read it in the good news version of the bible, in the NIV, in the Holman, in the NRSV and in the original Ancient Greek. Each translation being a moment in my walk of faith. But somehow I still do not know it. Jesus speaks in parables, which essentially ties our knowledge of God with the realities of lived experience. It is only when we allow his authoritative teaching to shape our own real experience that we know them fully. It is only when we recognise where we have failed to do this that we can truly taste the depth of Jesus' grace for us. It is in these moments that we discover the truth of God's word resonating in our own lives. It was in such a resonating moment that I came to see that the parable, the story, the life explaining, God describing, parable of the Good Samaritan depends upon a particular view of time.
Luke tells us in chapter 10 of his gospel that an expert in the Law approaches Jesus. Firstly, he tests Jesus and then he seeks, we are told, to justify himself. He is an expert in what we know as Old Testament law. The law, which revealed the very character of God to his people Israel. A law that revealed to Israel that they were not in fact alone. Gods promise to them was that he would be their God and they would be his people. In the law he revealed both his character and how to live belonging to him. The lawyer asks, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus encourages him to answer the question with his own knowledge, with the words of the Shema, the words of Deuteronomy 6:5, words that the lawyer would have recited daily as a reminder that he was not alone, as a reminder of what it meant to belong to God and to live as his person.
"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."
Jesus has connected this daily recitation and the fulfillment of it as the key to eternal life.
Immediately the man seeks to justify himself. Before we think negatively of the man we should stop for a moment. Seeking to justify himself is a sign that he has accepted Jesus' teaching that fulfillment of the Shema is the way to receive eternal life. It is the only logical course of action open to him. And so he asks, "Who is my neighbour?"
Jesus answers with a story that we know as The Good Samaritan about those who recite daily the Shema and how they turned away from a person in need. A Levite and a Priest walked passed a man alone. Those who daily are reminded of the solution to aloneness walked passed the broken brow, the prone brother, the one in need of the love of God. Luke does not tell us why. At best it is a skewed notion of Gods holiness in keeping with Jewish law.
Yet I wonder was it this? Or was it like my heart in the shadow of the Cathedral, in an area known for beggars, when my heart said, "This is a trick - beware!" Those that walk in the shadow of the mountains do they think beware? Yet, even more than this, my watch ticked. The tick of the town hall clock echoed it. The tap of busy footsteps applauded it. Time waits for no high heel or brogue. If I stop I will be late and people are counting on me. Those people are important. It would shame me if I let them down. Let's be honest, not a soul would know if I walked on past. I simply don't have time. The Priest and the Levite are travelling, people await their arrival, the sun moves in the sky warning that time passes.
Do I share more with the Priest and the Levite than I dare to admit?
The Samaritan's act answers the question; who is my neighbour? This answer is mind boggling - your neighbour is whoever is in need. To be a neighbour is to show mercy, to enact the love of God for any in your path. To make this the test of the fulfilment of the Shema is to make eternity an impossibility. Impossible until Jesus whispers in your ear, "but I have bought for you all eternity. I have done it for you. It is by grace you have been saved that time might have no claim on you. That you might do the works I have prepared in advance for you."
Did you notice in the story the currency of mercy? The Samaritan gives time, enough time to do all he can and then enough of the money he has earned with his time to carry that work to its completion. He solves the man’s central problem of aloneness with the lavish pouring out of time. In this story mercy's measure is the sacrifice of time.
You may have worked out that I stopped and talked to the weeping girl. How else would I know her story? Yet I know I failed Jesus' story. I did not free myself from the tick of the clock in order to give until she no longer had need. The tap of footsteps pushed me on. I mistook my own importance.
Mistook my own fear of shame in front of others to be what mattered whilst the eyes of eternity saw nothing but the weeping girl. Yet Jesus' grace whispers in my ear, pray! And so I do.
A small sacrifice of time given in hope that she too might know the one who offers to her all eternity.
Rev Jenni Stoddart is the Chaplain at Abbotsleigh, an Anglican school for girls. She is an Anglican Deacon who has worked in Sydney Parish's for 20 years focussed on youth, children and families. She loves preaching Gods word whether the hearer is 5, 15, 25 or 75 and even more when all the generations are all in together.