The Good Samaritan is one of Jesus’ most striking and effective parables. It’s a story you can tell a child and it will be instantly understood. It works because it is so simple, so direct. It’s a story you can sum up in a few sentences and still be struck by the moral clarity of it.
One day while traveling the road to Jerusalem, a man is assaulted and robbed. His money is stolen and he’s left beaten and near death, unable to move or help himself. Along comes another man, a priest. He sees the man lying in the road and quickly decides he doesn’t want to get involved, so he passes by on the other side of the road. Soon a Levite stumbles on the man and makes the same decision. Then, at last, a Samaritan (a person who would have been abhorred and hated by the dominant powers of the time) finds him. He is moved with compassion for the beaten man. He stops what he is doing, cleans and dresses the man’s wounds, puts him on his animal, and goes out of his way and spends his own money to take the man to an inn where he can heal.
The lesson here isn’t difficult to discern. Of the three passers-by to stumble across the wounded man, who treated him like a neighbour? Which one of these men acted in accordance to God’s will for us and which of them abandoned their responsibility and turned their back on God in the process? Is a person’s worth or moral standing determined by their titles and positions, or by what they will do when nobody else is watching? Again, even a child knows these answers, the Samaritan is the good guy here.
So why is it so hard for us to live up to this expectation?
How many of us have passed by someone who was in need? Not just someone lying beaten and robbed, or homeless and panhandling. How many of us have known of someone who was hurting, who we have seen is having real trouble with something and our response has been to not get involved? I’d reckon all of us have at one time or another. For most of us, we’ve probably done it more times than we care to admit.
It’s not always because we don’t care, or don’t want to help. There are an endless number of justifications and rationales, some better than others, we use to excuse us from this fundamental responsibility. Sometimes we feel it’s not our place, that "there are institutions or programs for that.” Sometimes we’re hurting ourselves and don’t feel like we can spare the time or effort to help someone else. Sometimes we don’t feel like we’re even capable of doing anything, especially when problems seem large and unassailable.
But we have to. As Christians, we have to be the ones who stop. We don’t get the luxury of ignoring the suffering of our fellow man. We can’t just pass-by on the other side of the road. We have to stop and do what we can to mend, help, and protect those in need.
Consider the Samaritan himself. In the original context of the parable, Samaritans were considered an underclass, an unwanted people who often found themselves on the receiving end of prejudicial treatment. Most Samaritans at the time didn’t have enough to pay for their own needs, let alone extra money to go put a stranger up in an inn.
They were often targets for robbery themselves, or even worse, the potential scapegoat for a robbery. How easy would it have been for the authorities of the time to see a Samaritan carrying a beaten and bloody Israelite on his animal and assume the worst? Helping the man lying in the road was not some trivial matter of basic decency for the Samaritan, it was a sacrifice. He had to go out of his way from his journey, give up his own comfort and safety, and spend his own money that he may or may not have been able to afford.
And for what? To help a stranger who, if the shoe was on the other foot, probably wouldn’t have helped him? A stranger who helping was unlikely to earn him any distinction in his own community (why waste time saving someone that probably hates your people) and may even be risky to help. There was no personal benefit to be gained by helping, no angle or reward. In fact, he lost quite a bit helping the man and could have lost even more. But he still did it.
When we look at that example, our justifications for looking the other way in our own lives seem pretty thin, don’t they?
If we want to live our lives as Christians who follow the word of the Lord, we have to be the Samaritan in this story. We need to replace fear with compassion, self-interest with love, and convenience with justice. We have to stop, bend down, and help whoever we can, whenever we can.