When Jesus told the story of the Samaritan, His immediate purpose was to provide an answer to the disingenuously posed question, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). The expert in the law (v. 25), was seeking to have his indifference toward others excused on the grounds that neighbor was too ambiguous of a term. It couldn’t be deciphered and therefore he couldn’t be expected to love. It’s a pathetic little argument (right up there with some of the rationalizing we do), and Jesus rewards his duplicity by casting his peers (the priest and the Levite), in unfavorable roles.
That’s not why we love this story though. We cherish it because it champions compassion and condemns apathy. It embodies the attitudes and actions that make for a better world. We treasure the story’s elegant simplicity that enables it to touch the hearts of people of every age and every culture. Following are some of the simple truths I see in this story.
Caring is something we must do as we are going. Everyone in the story is busy going somewhere. The man who is attacked by robbers is heading from Jerusalem to Jericho. The priest, Levite, and Samaritan are all traveling as well. Everyone is involved in something else at the time they come across the man in need. That’s usually the way it happens. Opportunities don’t call ahead and schedule appointments. If we’re to honor the call of Jesus, we must be ready to change our plans.
Caring is doing what we can do. There are sensitive people with tender hearts who nonetheless stumble over opportunities to help because they don’t have all of the answers or resources for a particular situation. They pass by, not out of indifference, but perceived impotence. The Samaritan did what he could do and then left. He didn’t hang around until the man was better or feel under compulsion to do so. If we are to be in the habit of helping, we must learn to accept that we can’t do everything and do what we can.
Caring involves other people. In the case of the Samaritan, he enlisted the help of the innkeeper. I’m making a bigger point of this than the story does, but nonetheless it’s important. Getting others involved in caring benefits everyone. We can always do more working together than we can as isolated individuals. That means the person in need is better taken care of and that’s what really matters.
Caring is our calling. This is seen in Jesus’ affirmation of the Torah message of loving God and loving your neighbor “as yourself.” No one has to be told to love themselves; the survival instinct is part of our DNA. Through Scripture and story, Jesus connects where we start (loving ourselves), with where we are to finish (loving others). We were created for community.
With these things in mind, let’s pay attention to who’s on our road.