October 14, 2018 – The parable of the needy

Text:  Luke 10:25-37

Sometimes it’s our familiarity that hinders us from finding a new insight. The first thing we need to know when we read the Bible is what kind of lens we are looking through. The lens is our worldview, perspective or our location. We all have it, but we are not always aware of it. The danger comes when we don’t know what ours is; it becomes the only way leaving no room for change.

You probably have heard or read today’s story, the so called parable of the Good Samaritan, many times in your life. The first thing we need to ask is why we call the story, the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told the story in response to the question, “Who is my neighbour?” without a title attached. The title, the Good Samaritan, suggests that the story is mainly about the Samaritan who does a good deed. Therefore we must follow his example.

I find such interpretation not only insufficient but also unsound. No one can live only by giving, giving and more giving. In fact, by focusing on the Samaritan only, we speak about a nearly impossible task. Look carefully how much this Samaritan gives to the man who is beaten up and half dead. He is moved with pity when he sees the wounded man. He takes time, and puts the need of the man before anything else. He moves toward this person, treats his wounds with olive oil and wine, very precious commodities in the Middle East. Then he puts him on his own donkey and takes him to an inn, meaning he is going to have to walk all the way. That’s not the end, but just a beginning. He spends the night to take care of him. The next morning he gives the innkeeper two silver coins saying “Please take care of the man; when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”

Can any of us do like this Samaritan did? Or has any of us met such a person in our lives? No matter how good our intentions are, our good works are done within the range of what we can afford and our fixed schedule. Rarely do we put the need of another before ours in a way that it guides our actions. Did Jesus give us a mission impossible? Another problem when we only focus on the Good Samaritan is that we blame the two, a priest and a Levite as if we don’t share the indifference with them. Looking more closely, we can see ourselves in the two who walk by on the other side. It is true that the two don’t show compassion as the Samaritan does. But it might be that they are on their way to go to important appointments, to attend to other human beings, or to fulfill their duties. They are as normal as anyone else, keeping their boundary, and knowing their limit.

We haven’t paid much attention to the needy, the one who can barely speak but becomes the driving force of the whole story. He has nothing, and he is not able to do anything by himself. His survival rests on the generosity of others. His total dependency, however, is what makes the Samaritan stop what he was doing, and turns the situation around. He can’t be a perfect giver, but he is a total receiver, the ability we hardly praise. Possessing nothing, he must know how to receive.

This is the parable of the needy. It invites us to look at the world not from the perspective of the Good Samaritan who is very capable, but from the perspective of the needy, who desperately needs help. We are not called to be perfect givers; we are called to be total receivers. That brings us back to our root in relation to everything else; we are the neediest in the whole creation. By putting ourselves in the most powerful position on the planet, we have forgotten how needy we are. How long can we survive without basics? We can’t live three weeks without food, three days without water, and three minutes without oxygen. By focusing on the impossible task – giving, giving and more giving – we have forgotten the balance – we can only give what we have received.

The consequence is huge when we forget who we are in the scheme of everything. The whole creation suffers, and the church feels tired and fatigued. It’s time to read the story using a different lens, which is necessary and sound. We are like the needy in the story, totally relying on God’s love. Our total dependency becomes the driving force of God’s new creation to turn everything around.

The good news is that God has come and will continue to come to us disguised as our neighbours with such compassion and kindness. Our neighbours, whether they are in human forms, animals, plants or the earth itself love us first, healing, comforting and filling our needs, before we even recognize them. How can we not love our neighbours?