There was a lawyer who, to disconcert Jesus, stood up and said to him, ‘Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? What do you read there?’ He replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.’ ‘You have answered right,’ said Jesus ‘do this and life is yours.’
But the man was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of brigands; they took all he had, beat him and then made off, leaving him half dead. Now a priest happened to be travelling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan traveller who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him. He went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He then lifted him on to his own mount, carried him to the inn and looked after him. Next day, he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said “and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have.” Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands‘ hands?’ ‘The one who took pity on him’ he replied. Jesus said to him, ‘Go, and do the same yourself.’
The lawyer and the surrounding people knew the story of the Good Samaritan. It was a common teaching tale, told to make fun of the priests and the lawyers. A way to poke a sideways dig at the pomp and ceremony of the hierarchy with the oneupmanship of the commoner. Because the story usually ended with the hero being one of them; an ordinary Jew.
Jesus must see them waiting with baited breath for the third traveller; ready with the cheers and bluster that the story allowed them. However, Jesus is a master storyteller and not so predictable; an ordinary Jew is not enough of a surprise. After all, an ordinary Jew had an agenda all of their own; it was a way for the 'have nots' to criticise the status quo; the them and us - whilst creating a 'status quo' all of their own.
It's an easy game to criticise 'them' - we do it ourselves with the politicians and media stars. We find ways of judging the Other and the Stranger.
A Samaritan isn't just a stranger; they are the worst kind of stranger; the disowned family. Once they were children of Abraham, now they are alien, enemies. And yet, look at what this black sheep of the family did.
So the lawyer has the good grace to admit to the truth. The people around are challenged, and hopefully changed.
And so the story plays out today, and we watch our own priestly clan leave the lost, abused and forsaken by the wayside - naming them disobedient, unforgiveable and abominations.
In a time of the Church's desire to regress, regroup and restore, look who is becoming the 'stranger'; the Samaritan on the highway - a 80 year old, South American chemist 'turned' priest - turned Pope.
Jesus is the master storyteller and the Holy Spirit breathes a twist into every plot - the semi-retired diplomat, John XXIII or the fisherman with a foot in his mouth, Peter.
Francis' actions have been an uncomfortable example to many. From washing the feet of the unclean to embracing those treated as lepers; nurturing the young offender including women and Muslims; welcoming the unwed mother and her child - and the disabled child. Being a neighbour to the next person he meets, no matter what the seeming divide. And consistently inviting us to do the same.
There are many who wonder if there is nothing he wouldn't do - no expense he wouldn't spare - in the name of Jesus. And perhaps there isn't - so what does that mean? And what does that mean to the likes of us as the choice to look one way or the other gets closer and closer?
The story of the Good Samaritan irritated a lot people. People who were happy that their limitations were protected by a self-centred identity of who they were.
Who do you think you are?