Ed: This post is part of a new series called “Reclaiming the Bible’s Prophetic Voice,” in which Council staff consider the biblical and theological roots of their work. You can read more from the series here.
The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
In Church, when we talk about immigration, the first question isn’t whether immigrants contribute more than they take or how to secure the border.
The first question is: “Who is my neighbor?” Are immigrants our neighbors?
How do we as Christians treat people who don’t have the “right” status? How do we treat those whom society rejects and treats as invisible? This is a major question throughout the Bible. In fact, many familiar passages involve the stories of migrants and other people who are marginalized, including the stories of:
- Israel (in Egypt)
- Exodus (Moses, Joshua)
In his book God’s Companions, Sam Wells (former Dean of Duke Chapel), reminds us that “strangers” represent not a threat to the Church, but a gift:
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me (Matt. 25:35-6).
These six acts of mercy embody God’s call to his people to worship him, be his friends, and eat with him. For they begin with food and drink; they constitute the hand of friendship extended across the bounds of shame, impurity, fear and need; and they are revealed to be encounters with Christ, and thus appropriately described as worship…
But an ethic that lapses into responsibility for or duty to the stranger is inadequate. It misses the crucial dimension, that the stranger is a gift to the Church… not a burden to it. As all the scriptural examples demonstrate, the stranger represents the hand of God, becoming present in the Church to rescue, restore and remind. The stranger is not the harbinger of scarcity but the sacrament of abundance – not the drainer of resources but the bringer of gifts. Caring for the stranger, sharing food, and offering friendship, are not matters of altruism: they are done in the simple trust that this person has something precious that will sustain or build up the life of the community, even if that gift is slow to be revealed or hard to receive.
Samaritans didn’t have the right status in Israel. They were considered “half-breeds,” people whose religious and social practices were suspect. “Good Jews” didn’t talk with them or eat with them. “Good Jews” passed by the other side of the street when they saw a Samaritan coming.
In this story, Jesus – as he often does – turns conventional wisdom on its head. The point of the story is not that we who have status should show hospitality to those who don’t. Rather, we need the stranger, the Samaritan, to show us what real hospitality is all about.
We find this throughout Jesus’ life. In the Gospels, discipleship is about becoming like those who don’t have status:
- If you want to learn how to give generously, become like a poor widow who gives her last two pennies;
- If you want to learn how to pray, become like a widow arguing her case before the authorities;
- If you want to learn how to be the greatest in the Kingdom, welcome little children (who also had no status);
- If you want to learn how to become first, make yourself last;
- If you want to learn how to become a disciple, take up your cross every day.
We are called to welcome the unwelcomed, to offer hospitality to those without status, and to break bread with strangers, for in doing so we welcome Jesus and become the Church together (Matt. 25, Luke 24).