So you think you’re the Samaritan?

Jews and Samaritans didn’t like each other, Jesus is showing that the whole human race are really neighbours and we should help each other whatever our race or nation, so off you go and do your best to be good boys and girls like the Samaritan. End of homily.

Wait - no! If that’s what you think Christianity is about, you have completely missed the point.

People often say, you can be a “good person” without religion. Well, if it's not obvious enough already, let me let you into a secret: Christianity is not actually about making yourself a better person. The Bible is not a self-help manual. The point of Jesus' stories is not to moralise and give Sunday school lessons about being nice. Christianity certainly has little to do with "Christian values."

Because actually – who do you think you are in this story? You think you’re the Samaritan? You think you’re the one going out helping the half-dead beggar lying in the ditch? You think that’s what Jesus is saying to you?

No, no, no…

You are the poor beggar dying in the ditch.

So am I. So are all of us.

After all, why is Jesus telling this story? Think back. A lawyer is trying to catch him out, trying to get him to add something extra to the Jewish law so that he will be condemned for blasphemy. Jesus replies with the fundamental Jewish commandment: love God, love your neighbour. Do this, he says, and you will live.

But the lawyer wants more. He wants to “justify himself.” He thinks that he is perfectly capable of following the Law already, thank you very much. He thinks he can be a “good person,” if he just tries hard enough.

But what Jesus is saying, to him and to us, is that you can’t do this by yourself.

Maybe Jesus is wrong. Maybe Christianity is wrong, and people can build a better world by sheer effort, with all our laws and values. I’ll just point out delicately that we haven’t done such a brilliant job so far.

But if Jesus is right, we’re not the Samaritan: He is. And the first step for us is to realise just how beaten up and broken and hopeless we are. Only when we see ourselves with this unflinching honesty can we know how much help we really do need even just to get through this life, let alone to the next; and how that help is nothing that we do, but something already done for us, by another broken man, 2000 years ago, on a Cross.

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