The Abominable Samaritan

'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' That is the question the man asks of Jesus. It is the question of how to enter the kingdom Jesus is preaching, how to go about following Jesus as a disciple, of how to have his name enrolled in heaven. In other words, the very same question we have been hearing about for the past few weeks.

Jesus' answer is to read the man the commandments, love God and love your neighbor. The man then tries to justify himself by asking Jesus precisely who this neighbor is whom we are obliged to love, that is, what are the boundaries of the kingdom community, who belongs and who can safely be considered outside it. Jesus answers with the story of the Good Samaritan.

Do you remember the gospel of two weeks ago? Jesus and the disciples are on the way up to Jerusalem, and he sends messengers ahead to a Samaritan Village to prepare the way for him. The people would not receive him because he was on his way to Jerusalem. The Samaritans and Jews despised each other. Their religious difference was whether the Lord was to be worshipped in the Temple at Jerusalem as the Jews did or on Mt Gerizim as the Samaritans did. The Jews claimed that Samaritan worship was debased and paganized Judaism. If you want to know how the Jews felt about them, notice the disciples' response to their rejection of Jesus. `Lord,` they said, 'do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?` Jesus rebukes the disciples and they move ahead.

Now he tells this story. He turns the tables on the man who wants to know the limits of the kingdom. He puts the respectable people, the clergy of his day, on the outside, and says that the kingdom includes even the despicable Samaritans. The priest and the levite fail their fellow Jew, and the Samaritan, whom the wounded man would not ordinarily allow to touch him, is the only one who helps the wounded man. Then Jesus tells the man to act like the Samaritan. Jesus is saying that even the people you would exclude are your fellow citizens in the kingdom and are to be loved as you love yourself.

If you think about it, this is the way the Church is supposed to be, open to all. The sacraments are certainly this way. All you need for baptism is to ask for it, and after you are baptized all the other sacraments are available to you. Sacramentally, we have an open admissions policy. This all-inclusiveness is part of what we mean when we say in the Creed that the Church is Catholic.

But we, and the Church, live in a world where we are called upon to define ourselves by inclusion and exclusion. This happens at every level from family, through neighborhood, city and state to the level of nation and continent. It also happens in the Church, where we are chopped up into a lot of divisions, groups and factions. But Jesus is calling us to live in a different way.

The kingdom community Jesus preaches is based on inclusiveness and not sectarianism. Jesus called all sorts of folk, the sinners as well as the righteous, the sick along with the well. He welcomed all. So today he welcomes the Samaritan, who was considered an abomination to the Lord. And the Church continued this. Very early in its life it welcomed in Gentiles, who were also abominations. And the Church has gone to all peoples and taken them in along with their customs. The Church is not limited to one culture, but includes peoples whose table manners we would find abominable.

Accepting abominations is a difficult thing. There are, I suspect, for all of us, persons and their behaviors which we would consider abominations. Though of course, we are all far too polite to say so. So we deny their existence or choose not to recognize their abominations. But we will never build the universal community of God's kingdom that way. To accept abominations we must look them in the face. And to be able to look them squarely in the face, we must be able to see ourselves in the eyes of others who could just possibly consider us to some degree or other as abominations. Once we can accept the possibility that we could be abominable, then we can look at others with mutual acceptance. We don't destroy or erase. We just come to live together in the universal kingdom of forgiveness and acceptance.

Then not only might we help others who are wounded, as Samaritans ourselves, but we, the wounded, might accept the ministrations of those we think of as Samaritans.