I’ve preached several times on the story of Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. I love the story. It shows any number of things that are worthy of our continued focus as followers of Jesus — that the kingdom we are to live out is a verb, it is made real by our very acts of self-giving love, rather than a noun; that we are to be vulnerable as we aid those in need, and as we accept assistance and help in our our vulnerability not simply from people like us, but from strangers and even enemies.
Most importantly, the main point of the story is that the neighbor, the one to whom an obligation of love is owed, is the person in front of you, the person you meet on the road. You don’t choose your neighbor — God puts a neighbor right in front of you.
Essential to every sermon I’ve ever preached about this has been some generic description of the Samaritan as stranger, or enemy. But this has always been just assumed, and no scripture its ever quoted to support this. So, we all remember something we probably heard — or think we heard — somewhere in seminary, and add it to the reading, to help parishioners understand just what it means to receive this kind of care and assistance from this kind of a complete stranger.
It’s lazy, but I suspect most preachers just kind of do it.
So, the other day, I’m scanning scripture for an account of the demise of the Northern Kingdom. I know it’s there — I wrote a song encompassing the entire Deuteronomistic history — but I didn’t remember any of the specifics. I found a 2 Kings account, but couldn’t find a similar account in 2 Chronicles.
But 2 Kings 17 tells as us all we need to know about who the Samaritans are.
6 In the ninth year of Hosea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. 7 And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods 8 and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced. (2 Kings 17:6-8 ESV)
Idolatry. This is Israel’s sin — erecting idols to false gods and then worshipping them. “You shall not do this,” the Lord warned Israel (and Judah) “by every prophet and seer,” but, as the author of 2 Kings notes — “They would not listen.”
So, the Lord removed Israel “out of his sight.” Instead, the king of Assyria settles the land with people from across his kingdom. These settlers do not worship the God of Israel, do not fear Israel’s God, and so:
25 And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the Lord. Therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 26 So the king of Assyria was told, “The nations that you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the law of the god of the land. Therefore he has sent lions among them, and behold, they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.” 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there, and let him go and dwell there and teach them the law of the god of the land.” 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the Lord. (2 Kings 17:25-28 ESV)
And yet, they still worshiped their own gods too. “So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.” (2 Kings 17:33 ESV) They did not follow the covenant of the people whose land they had conquered and settled (and likely intermarried with).
So these nations feared the Lord and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day. (2 Kings 17:41 ESV)
These are the Samaritans. The remnant of Israel intermingled with its conquerors, who fear the Lord but have also tangled up their worship with other gods. With other practices. They are not quite the covenant people anymore. The have the teaching but they do not follow it. They have lost a sense of who they are. And whose they are.
And these are the people Jesus tells us we are to be vulnerable to. To be like. To care for the wounded we find, or, if we’re wounded, to receive their care. This is the person our God incarnate is using to instruct us in the ways of being a neighbor.
I’ve never seen this passage bundled in the lectionary with the Good Samaritan reading. I’m not sure why. They belong together.