I spent a few hours down at the rail trail this afternoon, handing out water and lemonade to the joggers, walkers and bike riders.
So I am talking to one guy in a red t-shirt, and he says "you're a good Samaritan."
And as he left, I wondered. This man was comfortable making a NT reference, but to him, seeing a simple act of kindness brought to mind a Samaritan and not a follower of Jesus. Could you imagine a person in a similar situation saying "you're a good Christian"?
About five minutes later, another man makes the same comment, "You're a good Samaritan."
So when I get home tonight I do a little reading. I was surprised to find out that Samaritans believed in God and the Torah. They considered themselves Jews, though they were detested by the "mainstream" Jews. (One writer compares this to the rift between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.) In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells the tale of one man who rises above this bigotry to help a man in need -- exemplifying God's call to love your neighbor as yourself.
Today, the term "good Samaritan" is used as a common metaphor and applies to any charitable person, especially one who, like the man in the parable, rescues or helps out a needy stranger. My guess is that it represents a term acceptable in a secular society, where as any reference to God or Christ may be off-putting.
So while these guys weren't giving Christ any credit for me being out on the rail trail today, the fact that my presence led a few people to reflect on Jesus' words made me feel good.
But when a third guy came by and asked "Who can I thank?" I decided to clarify the situation.
"God," I replied. "You can thank God."