Here is a truth that I’ve seen played out many, many times during my 30 years of ministry: the poor, the marginalized, the despised, the discriminated against, the unwelcomed and unwanted, and the unprivileged—those who are strange to us, whom we tend to avoid and ignore: they are usually more generous, more tender-hearted, more empathetic, and more merciful than I am, perhaps than we are. Why is this? I think it’s because they know what it’s like to be cast aside and passed over.
Certainly, we are not cold-hearted people. We can be sympathetic. We have sacrificed for others. Our heart is touched when we see suffering and injustice. As long as those in need don’t feel threatening. As long as we know, or can relate those who poorly treated. As long as we’re not too inconvenienced. And as long as our heart is not hardened or our eyes distracted by whisperings that the different will take advantage of us or don’t really deserve our help.
Certainly, we’re able to care. But caring at a distance is much easier than caring up front. Caring in a crowd seems better than caring one on one. And caring with a check or with our mouths or on social media feels safer than stooping down and holding a hand and speaking real words.
The picture Our Lord gives today is a man who’s on his hands and knees putting on bandages. Whose compassion is not re-tweeting a meme, but putting himself in harm’s way. A man who focuses on the person in front of him. Who’s not trying to save the world, but simply do whatever he must to help the one unfortunate soul whom God has given to him.
That picture is contrasted with the two men who seem so callous. They look too busy to care. Too caught up in their own causes and needs that they won’t reach out to one who doesn’t fit their picture of hurting. These two men—godly men, we’re told; good men, we must suppose—these two men leave the healing to someone else so they can pray.
We see the picture Jesus paints. We understand the picture. And we fit ourselves—or, at least, we want really hard to fit in with the Samaritan, and not be like the other two.
But the truth is that we can’t really be the help we want to be; we can’t really aspire to be the Samaritan; we can’t really minister to another until we understand that, really, actually, truly, we are the one who fell among robbers. That we are the one who is lying half dead.
How did he get there? How did the man fall among robbers?
We could blame the victim, or the circumstances, by saying that he put himself in that position by traveling the wrong road, at the wrong time, in the wrong way, with the wrong sort. But that’s not Jesus’ concern. Our Lord is not about past regrets or casting blame. He simply wants us to realize that we are the man lying their half dead. A person who needs mercy. Help from a stranger. A stranger with no reputation; who willingly became the lowest slave, the despised and rejected. We need him.
Christ Jesus is this Samaritan. And accepting help from Him means that we need to see that we need help. That we have, in whatever way, been laid low. That we’re no different than the people we talk against, the people we’re sure are ruining our society, the people whose appearance awakens a visceral reaction.
We’re no different, not because we’re the same, but because we’re human. Humans made in the image of God. And, at the same time, humans who stumble and fall; who rebel; who line up against the stranger; who shake our fist at another and say he is my enemy. We’re all, to a person, no different in our willfulness, in our meanness, in our selfishness, in our pride.
And so we all, every one of us, depend on the mercy, the kindness, the generosity of not just a Good Samaritan, but more so the Good Samaritan. Who willingly shoulders our fears and burdens. Who pours out healing that comes from deep within. Who takes care more than lectures. And who promises to return with greater and more care.
We can see this Samaritan only when we see our need for Him. When we see that He’s not the Samaritan we want, but the Samaritan we need right now. Because He alone can take us up.
And once we see that, then we can begin to be this Good Samaritan to another. Then His mercy to us flows through us. Then we’ll see that our task is not to care about all the causes, but to care for the persons whom God has placed in our paths. For helping those persons—those who are different, stranger, shunned, scorned—helping them helps us on our way to Jerusalem. In our way of salvation.
Then, and only then, will we begin to run without hesitation toward the attainment of the Lord’s promises; to whom belongs all glory, honor, and worship; now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.