06 January 2014

Walk like a Samaritan - Living well in 2014

by Dr Mark Keown

How should we live in 2014? Who should we emulate? Of course, the Christian answer is always Jesus, and he is the example par excellence at all times and in all ways. Yet there are many others we can emulate in the NT. The ones that I have been thinking about are an extremely surprising group to emulate, the Samaritans of the Gospels.

They are surprising because at the time of Christ Jews despised them with a vengeance. They were apostate. They denounced the temple and the religious system of Israel, having set up their own temple on Mt Gerizim and developing their own cult. They did not oppose Antiochus Epiphanes the Seleucid leader who violated Israel’s worship (c. 167 BC). They rejected the Prophets and Writings, relying only on the Torah (Pentateuch). They did however expect a Messiah (Taheb), a new Moses rather than one from the line of David, as they denied the Davidic monarchy.

The enmity between Jews and Samaritans was extreme seen when the Hasmonean John Hyrcanus destroyed their temple (c. 128 BC). A group of Samaritans once vilely desecrated the Jerusalem Temple by spreading around it human bones around AD 6. The hostility is seen in the Gospels when Jesus’ desire for accommodation is rejected and his disciples want to blow the place up. Jesus however had other plans for Samaria and the world and rejected this (Luke 9:51–56). A group of Galilean pilgrims were massacred in Samaria in AD 52. Jews treated Samaritans like Gentiles including banning their entry into the inner courts of the Temple. The word “Samaritan” was contemptuous and used by Jews of Jesus (John 8:48). Some Jews wouldn’t even say the word, as seen in Luke 10:37 when the Scribe avoids the name preferring “the one…”

With all this in mind, the accounts of the three “star” Samaritans in the Gospels are amazing stories when one considers Jesus was profoundly a Jew. By singling them out, Jesus and the Gospel writers show us how Jesus was not hindered by social boundaries and enmity. He loved his enemies indeed. So should we. Further, each example helps us know how to live in 2014.

First, there is the leprous Samaritan in Luke 17. He is one of ten marginalised lepers who come to Jesus seeking healing. Jesus heals them all instantly, sending them to the priest to be declared clean and included back into Israel’s community (cf. Lev 13 – 14). It is likely the other nine are Jews. Yet it is only the Samaritan alone who returns to Jesus with three ideal responses. First, he glorifies God. Secondly, he falls on his face and pays homage to Jesus. Thirdly, he thanks Jesus. He is commended by Jesus who emphasises that he is a Samaritan and a foreigner. He is our example for 2014. He is an example of how to respond to God’s mercy. We should “walk like a Samaritan” and live out of an attitude of praise, homage, and gratitude to all people and especially God no matter what our circumstances.

Secondly, there is the Good Samaritan of Luke 10:25–27. The story is well known. This fictitious man is given by Jesus as an example of what it means to love one’s neighbour, what attitudes mark the one who would seek to inherit eternal life. He is a “Christ-figure” who, unlike the religious leaders of Israel, who should have responded as he did, sees the injured man on the side of the road and acts out of mercy and compassion. He is unconcerned about the ethnicity of the injured man. He goes to him without hesitation, and at great personal risk from robbers and great personal expense. He cares for him with tenderness and love. His faith is seen in action. He is highly commended by Jesus as the example of faithful discipleship. If the previous Samaritan is a prototype of the way a disciple should receive mercy, the Good Samaritan is paradigmatic for giving mercy to others. We are to love our enemies. We are to love practically and not merely theoretically. Jesus says to the Scribe, “go and do likewise.” So, we should “walk like a Samaritan” and show mercy to those we meet in need in 2014.

Finally, there is the Samaritan woman of John 4. She is a broken woman, having been through five marriages and now living in an adulterous relationship. She is no doubt a despised and rejected woman. She is going quietly about the menial tasks of getting water for her family from the town’s well. She meets Jesus not knowing who he is. Jesus breaks all kinds of social boundaries requesting a drink from one who not only a woman with whom a man would not speak in public, but an adulterous Samaritan “unclean” woman. She responds with socially subversive hospitality and gives him a drink.

In a wonderfully deep and interesting conversation gently Jesus disarms her and reveals to her that he is the “Restorer”, the Taleb the Samaritans dream of. Her response is wonderful. She races back to her town. She tells them the good news. The people of the town respond and come out to meet Jesus. The social enmity of Jew and Samaritan is shattered as Jesus is invited into the town to stay with them. He does, and many become believers. This anticipates the great day when Philip will bring the gospel to the people after Jesus’ death and resurrection (Acts 8). Because of this woman’s testimony, many became followers of Jesus that day. She is the first mass evangelist of John’s story, a glorious example of sharing the gospel. We should “walk like a Samaritan” and be so excited to give witness to Jesus in 2014.

These three Samaritans inspire me to live a life of praise of God, worship of Jesus, gratitude in all situations, showing costly mercy to all, and sharing the faith. “Walk like a Samaritan” is the song we should sing in 2014. What better way to live.

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