Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Samaritans by Terry Hampton

From "The Pilot" of 1992 comes this article by my good friend Terry Hampton. It perfectly captures his inimitable chatty style. Reading this brings back great memories of him, both as Vicar at St Aubin on the Hill, and as Rector of Grouville. He was evangelical, but not fundamentalist, religious but also fun. Some of that humour comes over in this article.

They’re in the Bible but... .
The Samaritans by Terry Hampton

"AT LAST, something from the Bible we have heard about! They were the people who looked after drunks, down-and-outs: and beaten-up travellers."

Well, not quite! What is strange is that a group of people that most first century Jews loathed and looked down on, should have given their name to a caring group made up of all sorts of people, who are dedicated to counselling the hurt. Let's first get sorted out as to why the Jews and Samaritans got so ratty with each other.

We all know that when. Israel came into the Promised Land of Canaan (later called Palestine, after the Philistines who lived there=eyes, yes, we do read these articles, Reverend. There were twelve tribes of Jews.

After the death of King Solomon, who had taxed and virtually enslaved much of the population for his building projects (see forthcoming article on Solomon) the country split into two sections, called the Northern Kingdom and the Southern:. Ten tribes ceased their allegiance to Jerusalem as the capital, and after some moving about, they agreed to make Samaria their new capital city. All went well for several hundred years.

Then came the threat of Assyria. Under King Shalmaneser V, Samaria was attacked and after a tremendous siege lasting three years, Samaria fell in 721 BC (one trembles to think what death many of the brave defenders endured).

Over 27,000 people were taken away into slavery in Assyria, and some of their names have been found on bits of pottery (ostraca).

To replace these people, the Assyrians moved in peoples from other captured places, and so the Samaritans became a racially mixed people.

Jerusalem was itself to fall in 587 BC to the Babylonian army, and the people of the Southern Kingdom became captives in Babylonia. On their return they began to rebuild their capital city and the Temple. The Samaritans offered to help, and were told to clear off sharpish! They were not racially pure: look up Nehemiah 13: 23ff for details.

Without Jerusalem for worship, the Samaritans built their own Temple on Mount Gerizim. They accepted the first five books of the Old Testament (the Torah) as their Bible, and had their own priests.

Warning to others

But relationships with their Jewish neighbours were often explosive and there were raids. At one point the Samaritans murdered the Greek governor of Syria and so it was destroyed by Alexander, the Great as a warning to others.

One Jewish King conquered the area and forcibly circumcised all the men, which did not endear him: to the people with those part: By the time of Jesus, most Jews avoided going through Samaria, unlike Jesus who several times went with His disciples through this territory..

Herod the Great did some superb rebuilding of the capital city and called it Sebaste (the Greek version of Augustus, the Roman Emperor and his overlord).

So we have seen how in one sense it is fitting that a nation made up of all sorts he given their name to a group made up of all sorts who care for others.

But, not so fast, where does the caring Samaritan connotation come in?

Readers of Luke's Gospel, chapter 10, will know well the story there told by Jesus to answer the question, "Who is my neighbour?" And to the amazement, and possibly fury of some, the hero of the parable was a Samaritan. (The usual adjective "Good" is not part of the original)

So: a word which was used by first century Jews as a term of abuse, "Are we not. right to say that you are a Samaritan and have a devil?" said to Jesus in John 8:48 was chosen by the founder of the movement Chad Varah - to describe the quality of caring that he wished to be given.

I wonder if any modern-day traveller has  told the small Samaritan community of  this delightful modern-day usage of the  ancient name? Perhaps the forthcoming  trips to Israel led by Fathers Wastie and  Giles will see to it that this information is  imparted?

So, what spiritual value is there in this sorry tale of destruction, deportation and racial bigotry?

There is the challenge to us to look again at any person or group that for whatever reason we "write-off." Jesus used a Samaritan as his hero in one, perhaps the most famous parable he told. He preached there (John 4), and later the young church would send disciples there, as Jesus had commanded them to do.

And the modern-day usage of the word Samaritan challenges us to care for all and any in need - because Jesus said "Go and do thou likewise." 

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