Thankful for Samaritans

The Gospel of Luke is a rather unsettling Gospel. It is a Gospel which highlights Jesus’ interactions with the outcast and marginalized—Samaritans, “a woman of the city,” tax-collectors. These were all people who were not part of the religious elite. The Samaritans were viewed as being unholy in their heritage, and tax collectors were viewed as being perverse in their political affiliations. And yet oftentimes in Luke’s Gospel, it is the person on the margins who is depicted as being a good example, while the people in positions of power and prestige are not to be imitated.

One of these occasions is found in Luke 10:25-37. This is traditionally referred to as the story of “the Good Samaritan.” But it could just as well be called the Bad Priest and the Bad Levite. As is the case in most of Jesus’ parables, there is a twist in the story. And the twist is intended to show that Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom radically different from other kingdoms. Jesus’ parable depicts a priest and Levite (viewed as holy people of God) as being neglectful and calloused when confronted with the suffering of another. It is the Samaritan (not viewed as a holy person of God) who excels in loving his neighbor.

This parable is doing more than just encouraging us to perform a kind deed. It is stating that the person at the margins might have something to teach us about inheriting eternal life (Luke 10:25, 36-37).

Similarly, the narrative of Luke 17:11-19 contains an unexpected twist. Jesus heals ten lepers and yet only one gives thanks. Luke includes an important detail at this point. “And he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:16). Jesus then asks why “this foreigner” is the only one who has glorified God. It makes a similar point as Luke 10. Here, it is the Samaritan who is good, and the rest of the people could learn a lot from him.

As we think about what we’re thankful for, I wonder if we at times sound a bit like the Pharisee of Luke 18:9-14. “God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people…” By now, we shouldn’t be surprised to know that a character on the margins is about to come onto the stage humbly to show us how to pray. It is the hated tax-collector, and he prays, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:14).

If the Gospel of Luke were to be written today who would fill the role of the marginalized? Who are your Samaritans and tax-collectors? Who are the people that we wish would just go away so that those of us who are holy could get on with the business of doing holy things?

God wants us to be thankful for more than houses, jobs, and an oversized bird on the table. Perhaps I need to be thankful for the Samaritans in our midst, and the things that I can learn from them.