I think everyone knows the story of the Good Samaritan. The parable that Jesus teaches about the man who helps the stranger whom he discovers on the road, the stranger who has been robbed and beaten up. An element of the story that we pass over is the fact that the man is a Samaritan, that doesn’t seem too important to us, but it is a crucial element in the story. Jesus makes the most unlikely person the hero in the parable, the outsider, the perceived enemy, the stranger outside the confines of their religion. The hero is not the priest or levite, as might be imagined, but the foreigner, the outsider, the stranger, the one who does not know our ways is the hero of the piece.
Why does Jesus do this? To shake people up, make them listen more? To say that the stranger, the least likely person, can walk where God want them, can be favored by God more than conventional or so called “respectable” people? To knock down their walls, challenge their small mindedness, to say that God is bigger much bigger than they imagine? It could be some of this and it could be all of this.
To understand what is being said her you have to understand some of the background. There was a division that ran right through Judaism in the time of Jesus, between Orthodox Jews and Samaritans, that is lost on us. Orthodox Jews believed that the centre of their faith was at Jerusalem, while Samaritans believed it was at a mountain called Gezrim, which was the exact place the Israelites entered into when they came to the promised land. Worship, they said, was to be done on the mountains where God had often met his people, and it should not be done in the city. This was the place God had chosen to meet his people, out in the open and not in settled cities. The Samaritans saw themselves as a people, like the people who had escaped from Egypt, a pilgrim people travelling to the heavenly city, no earthly city was their home, they were on the move, journeying, travelling, a pilgrim people rather than a people that had arrived in a city, a place, a temple. They were a people always on the move rather than a people who had arrived, a people walking, journeying with God, never standing still, never thinking they had reached their destination. The orthodox Jews saw themselves as having being given the city, indicating that they had arrived at least somewhere, in anticipation of the heavenly Jerusalem where they would meet God in the end. .
Today Jesus is going to Jerusalem in this passage. But we can well imagine that is more than just a journey to a city. It is loaded with meaning. In the eyes of the evangelist he is going to his fate, he is going to this city which is so important to Orthodox Judaism, to be tested, to answer his critics, to come before the authorities and, as it turns out, he is going to be burned up in the fires that will engulf him there, eventually taken out of the city walls to be put to death on the city dump.
But the city, as we know from this dispute with the `Samaritans, was more than just a place or a location, it was meant to represent the heavenly Jerusalem which all were journeying towards. It represents the glory of God here on earth where God had chosen to meet his people, his promise, their hope, everything that they lived for. For the evangelist it is a place where Jesus is drawn to, he is unstoppable, he has set his face towards that place, this will be the place of his defeat and ignominy but a place also of his triumph.
Before Jesus reaches this place he tries to stop off at a Samaritan village. This is a village full of people that are in a mortal duel against their own people. It is a place that has no truck with Jerusalem. They see Jerusalem as an unholy city, there live these upstart people, Therefore they don’t accept him in their village, this young prophet and Rabbi, because he is going to a city that they don’t favour. His destination is making a statement about religion that they have no truck with.
James and John’s response is to ask that fire be called down from heaven. Maybe what we are getting here is a 1st century curse. Jesus says there is no fire to be brought down, no curse to be issued, no condemnation to be made of this people. All he does is move on without comment. He doesn’t make them his enemies, he makes no judgment on their words, he issues no threats and no condemnations, no promises of retribution.
You can’t help thinking that Jesus sounds like one of those migrants that we hear and see today. He like them is travelling to a place. He likewise is going to a place where his heart yearns to be. Along the way he likewise is stopped from entering places, people are suspicious of him as the stranger, the foreigner, as the person who doesn’t know their ways. He likewise at the city gates is turned away and stopped from entering and has to turn back. He is unwelcome in their town, in their streets, among his people, he is shunned. But from his lips there is no curse, no condemnation, no judgment. He merely passes on, keeping going.
How hard the migrants’ journey is. To travel by boat to a port, any port that will take you. To have in your mind a place of safety and security, any place which is better than the one you have come from. To be on a journey carrying the lightest of loads, leaving everything behind. To have in your mind the hope of getting to a place of safety and peace. To be tired beyond tiredness. To be weary beyond weariness. To have closed doors, to have a suspicious eye cast on you.
The Lord knows all this. He came down from heaven to be as we are, to share our burdens, to carry our load. He allowed himself to be the rejected one, the one who had the suspicious eye cast on him. He was the outsider, the stranger, the one who did not know our ways. He became all of this, to lift up that which had been cast aside and cast down and thrown away.
The Lord has his eye on our migrants for he was once like them. He was cast out and rejected. He was the outsider and treated as the foreigner. He was once a person who was not allowed to enter our cities and towns, our villages and streets, for he was not welcome. He shares, he knows the burdens that the men and women of our times have to carry. He is carrying them, he is bearing their burden, he has not forgotten them.