The parable of the Good Samaritan is a summer story. I do not mean that it happens in the summer, though it might, but that we usually get it in the summer. Well, into the Pentecost season, we hear this familiar parable. However, now we are hearing it where it comes in the gospel- at the start of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. He and the disciples have just left a Samaritan village, where they were not well-received, and they are now on the journey that will end where? (At the cross)
Why are they traveling to Jerusalem? Is it so that they can be near the temple for Passover? Is it so that Jesus can confront the religious authorities and bring about revolution as the Messiah? The journey begin far off, but with each encounter and each parable- Jesus and the men and women traveling with him get closer to Jerusalem and the events of betrayal and crucifixion.
Here’s a question, though, for the start of their journey. Is what happens in Jerusalem inevitable? Does Jesus have to be crucified? Does the purpose of his time in the flesh on earth culminate in the events of one dark Friday? If we believe that people have free will, given to us by God, then Jesus does not have to end up crucified. People could choose to recognize the Messiah, they could heed to urging of the Holy Spirit, they could be open to God’s work in the world. But in anger and fear, in rigidity to their expectations, in a desire to control God, many people will stand and say, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Were there enough people to resist that? Maybe, but where were they? Many people who are in that Jerusalem courtyard believe they are good people. They believe they are people doing the right thing. Yet, when we look at it (and perhaps when others on the periphery looked at the crowd), we think they are very wrong. How could they think they were right to crucify Jesus?
Where did they go wrong? Is it possible that the events in that courtyard start on the road to Jericho? Does denying Jesus in a story where well-intentioned people pass by a man dying in a ditch after having been robbed and beaten? The people who pass by have good reasons, you know. In the story, there are two people who pass by. Ostensibly, the priest and the Levite have very particular reasons for not stopping. If they touch blood or a dead body, they will be ritually unclean for a certain amount of time and, therefore, unable to perform their religious duties. It could have been a trap, set by the robbers, to gain additional victims from those who stop to render aid. The men may have been in a great hurry and trusted that any one of many others on a busy road would stop to help.
Jesus offers these two examples because those listening to his story would have understood the religious reasons, but also known that carrying for others is supposed to trump religious minutiae. Then Jesus drops his bombshell for big effect, a Samaritan- one who is outside the laws of Moses and, thus, presumably outside the affections of God- is the one who does the right thing. A Samaritan is the one who genuinely has good reason not to stop and help a Jew, but who abandons all else, offers aid, and promises to return. (Speaking of, can you think of someone else unexpected who abandons their position, offers gracious aid, and promises to return?)
One can always find a reason not to help. It’s just this time- when I’m so busy, when I’m not sure what to say, when things are tight, when I don’t want people to know how I feel about this, when I’m afraid… There are always good reasons for not acting this time (or ever), but are they good enough?
The trouble with thinking that your reasons are good or that you’ve done enough is that the world keeps moving, the powers that oppose God keep working, and eventually… not stopping for someone, not speaking up, not heeding the Spirit’s urging… leads to standing in a courtyard with a crowd who are yelling, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” We wonder, “How did we get here?” and we tell ourselves it happened because Jesus came to die.
But if he didn’t. If his death is the result of people’s actions, when did it start? It started when people wanted to pinpoint who deserves care, who deserves neighbor love… and who can be left in the ditch. It starts when people want to point out who “deserves help” and who made their own bed. It starts when there is a line drawn between people for any reason- for race, color, creed, habit, affection, or location.
The Levite and the priest probably told themselves that they would stop next time. Next time. There’s always a next time. That’s one of the problems that Lent brings before us. Putting off caring for your neighbor, speaking up against injustice, making God a priority brings us right to the foot of the cross. In Lent, there is no next time. There is now.
Now is the time. Now is when you stop. Now is when you call. Now is when you write. Now is when you reach out, stand up, speak to, lift high… There are no good reasons not to do so.
The Lenten reminder that there is no next time is rooted in what we know is coming- not the death, but the resurrection. This is the season in which we reflect on what it means to be people whose decisions are not final. We like to think that the world hinges on what we do. Yet, all of history is in God’s own hands. “Crucify him” was not the last word, resurrection is. There is no next time because we are not waiting to receive God’s grace. It has already been poured out for us and on us. If we have already received, why should we wait to give?
Recognizing Jesus as the one who saves the world does not wait for Easter. It doesn’t wait until we have more time, a better physique, or more money. It doesn’t wait until we are confronted with a clean-cut, sanitary, comfortable moral decision. Recognizing Jesus as the one who saves and is alive in us and in our neighbor… happens right now… with people all around us… all kinds of bodies, all kinds of needs, all kinds of grace.
The road of the decision to crucify starts when people give small reasons for ignoring the needs of people in front of them and promise, “Next time.” God never says, “Next time” to us. Thus, it’s not a response that we should give to God.