Today we have Jonah and the Good Samaritan, probably two of the greatest stories of compassion ever told. In Jonah we will see the unreserved compassion of God and the Good Samaritan illustrates the potential of human compassion.
Of course we only have the beginning of Jonah’s story today. He is a very reluctant prophet. He decides he can just run away from the task the LORD asked of him. He would prefer to die rather than go to Nineveh and he tells the sailors to throw him off the ship into the stormy sea. We might be able to sympathize with him if we consider that Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire and a great enemy of Israel. We could understand Jonah’s fear of going to the city, but as we will read on Wednesday it is not out of fear that Jonah is fleeing, rather he does not want to warn the Ninevites of their impending doom because he is worried that they will repent and God will spare them. He is actually wishing, wanting and waiting for their destruction!
Isn’t that our attitude too? Look at our sayings like, “Let them stew in their own juice.” Or “He/she made his/her bed now let him/her lie in it.” Or “They deserve everything they get.” Those usually are not said with a sense of well-being for the individuals we are speaking of. They usually indicate a lack of compassion for the individuals at best and more often an actual desire that they will receive their retribution, which borders on revenge.
And then we have Jesus’ story of the “Good” Samaritan which is an oxymoron to Jesus’ audience who harbored centuries of animosities against Samaritans. The Samaritan is not a gentile, he is bound by the same Torah as the Priest and the Levite and therefore the same law of love of neighbor (Lev 19:18). Since he is traveling in Judea though it is less likely the injured man is his countryman or kinsman, and therefore even the Torah would not require that he help this man, but he is “moved with compassion” (v. 33). In spite of the cost of time, effort, money, and personal danger, he freely demonstrates unconditional love to the one in need, mimicking the kind of love God offers to us.
It is also important to look at the setting of this parable. Jesus tells this dramatic story in response to questions put forward by a “scholar of the law” (v. 25). The lawyer first asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25) Jesus has him answer his own question and he gives us the well-known combination of love God (Deut. 6:5) and love your neighbor (Lev 19:18). It is through a love of God that the believer is to approach people. This then has profound implications for the how, why, and who of the love for the neighbor. And so the lawyer asks his second question “Who is my neighbor?” (v. 29) After Jesus completes his story, he once again has the lawyer answer his own question. Note that the lawyer cannot bring himself to name the hero as a “Samaritan,” he simply says “the one who treated him with merc.y” (v. 37) However, it is obvious from the lawyer’s questions that “He does not want to live by mercy. He does not even know what it is. He actually lives by something quite different from mercy, by his own intention and ability to present himself as a righteous man before God.”
And how like this lawyer we are in our smugness and our self-righteousness? How many times do we “test” God’s mercy for us? How rarely do we extend that same extravagant mercy to others? And certainly NOT to our enemy! When asked to be “merciful as God is merciful” (Lk 6:36), we run away from the task as Jonah does. We bemoan the task as impossible, and indeed it is a high standard, but it is what we are to do“to inherit eternal life.”
“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.” (Mohandas Gandhi)
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