"Jesus invites us to look around the paths we walk and ask ourselves how can I help? And How Will I allow God’s love to manifest through Me?"
Throughout the world the term “good Samaritan” is synonymous with charitable do-gooders like the one in this story. For example, we have Samaritan’s Purse – a Christian organization that supplies aid to victims of war, poverty, and natural disasters. In the UK there’s the charity “Samaritans” that’s dedicated to suicide prevention. In Australia there’s the GSDS, the Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary, which does exactly what its name suggests. And here in L.A. as well as other cities, we have a hospital named after the heroic character in this story.
Good Sam has found his way into politics as well. In his first inaugural address, George W. Bush cited it when he said, “I pledge our nation to a goal: when we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.” While U.S. policies have radically changed since then, the Good Samaritan remains a beloved instruction manual on how to live life well.
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Luke begins with a lawyer asking Jesus, “What must I do to do to inherit eternal life?” As a lawyer, his sole job is to know Mosaic Law and to teach others how to live it. He knew the answer. But as Luke said he asked in order to trick Jesus.
I know from my own experience, trying to trick Jesus never works in your favor. The man discovers this when Jesus – keeping with Jewish tradition – answers his question with a question of his own. ‘’This is your area of expertise. You tell me, what does the law say?”
By knowing the Torah well, the lawyer nails the answer – love God and love your neighbor. I’m thinking Jesus has more pressing issues to deal with and so he kindly replies, “You are correct. Do this, and you will live.”
Now this would be the point where most people would stop while they’re ahead. But for some reason the lawyer was moved to throw the onus back on Jesus. And he asks another question. “Tell me then, who do you think I should love?”
This time, Jesus answers by asking the same question to him. He puts the burden of proof in the lawyer’s court. Jesus, too could have stopped there. But instead tells a parable about a bunch of different people. Was he trying to waste the lawyer’s time? Or did he see something in the heart of this man’s question? More importantly, what does it say about your own heart?
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To answer this question is to ask the question, “who am I in this story?” The victim, the robber, the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan, the Inn keeper, the lawyer, or Jesus? I’m sure we all want to be the Good Samaritan. I mean who doesn’t want to be the hero? Also, I don’t think I’m the kind of person who’d avoid helping someone in need. And I certainly don’t think I’m capable of ambushing and harming another person.
If I’m not Good Sam, then I guess I could be the innkeeper who gets to help without taking on any real risk. I also have a Master’s degree in Theology, but I don’t identify with the lawyer, even though we share the same responsibly. And let’s face it, I’m nowhere near being like Jesus, although I struggle trying.
If we take an honest look at this story, the one character I think we all identify with is the wounded traveler. He could be anyone of us. Jesus tells us nothing about him other than he’s been robbed and left for dead.
He could be rich or poor, married or single, young, old, nice or naughty, spiritual but not religious. His Tender profile could be you or me, because we are him. We all know what it’s like to be hurt, beaten and robbed in one fashion or another. This is what makes the story timeless and applicable. More than asking “Who am I in this story? Jesus is asking, ‘“How does your love for God and others play into it?”
The lawyer thought he was testing Jesus only to discover it was he who was being examined. His relationship with God allowed him to answer correctly, but Jesus is searching this man’s heart to see where he truly stands in relationship with others. For the best way to show your love for God is to be that love for one another.
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus reminds us that one day our hearts will be searched. We too will have to answer how we love God by loving others (Mt. 25:31-46). And we can’t answer with another question unfortunately. Just as a tree is known by it’s fruit, so too are we known by what we produce (Luke 6:43-45).
Ancient wisdom puts it this way, the one who sows kindness, reaps kindness. But the one who sows hatred reaps what he sows (cf. James 3:18). And I believe it was the Buddha who said, “Show a person kindness, and they will show you a person who is kind.”
Around the corner from our house is a bus bench with an public service ad that reads: “Kindness is King because of you.” Everyone of us is fighting a hard battle. We all know what it’s like to be the wounded traveler…kicked when we’re down, robbed of our dignity and wellbeing, left by the side of the road…forgotten and passed by. Thus we all need kindness.
Because Jesus answered the questions with more questions, the lawyer was able to break through the legal traditions, and discovered, the true mark of a neighbor is any person who offers kindness and mercy to someone else.
Amy Jill Levine notes, “our love for God or our love for neighbor cannot exist in the abstract.” We must get involved. We have to take action. We have to get off our ass, go down into the ditch, and give what we have so that others might be cared for.
As Kristen Berkey-Abbott reminds us, “Love is not an emotion, it’s an action.” I’d add, love in action is kindness. It is mercy, generosity, grace, forgiveness and patience. It’s all the things Jesus did when he healed the sick and cast out the demons in people’s lives.
By seeing what Jesus does and doing it ourselves others will be healed, and they too will learn God’s love for them, and teach it to others wherever they go. It’s like paying the grace of God forward, until the wounds of the world are healed.
Jesus could have ended his story with the question “which of these people is the man’s neighbor?” He could have stopped after praising the lawyer for getting the right answer again. But he doesn’t. Instead, the One who has the final word gives us this imperative: Go and do likewise.
Go be the one who shows mercy.
Go be the one who cares for a stranger or an enemy.
Go be the one who is willing to go out of your way to ensure all people get the healing they need.
Go be God’s divine love in a world crying out in pain.
Jesus invites us to look around the paths we walk and ask ourselves how can I help? And then allow God’s love to manifest through you.
As Berkey-Abbott so aptly put it, “We have to go through life behaving ourselves into love.” We might believe we are the Good Samaritan, but Jesus is calling us to be something greater.
In writing to the churches in Ephesus, St. Paul called us to “be imitators of God… and walk in love, just as Christ loved and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God…” (Eph. 5:1-2)
So I will leave you with his words: “Go, and do likewise.”
Go walk in the world as the love and mercy of God so we all can inherit eternal life. Amen.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol. 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010) pp.238-43.
Berkey-Abbott, Kristin. Living By The Word, Reflections on the Lectionary. Christian Century vol. 136 no. 4 (July 3, 2019) p. 18.
Levine, Amy-Jill. Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of A Controversial Rabbi. (New York: HarperOne, 2014) pp. 71-106.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”