Prayer Workshop - July-August, 2017
The Good Samaritan
“Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds to the lawyer’s question with a story about a man traveling the Jericho road who was robbed, stripped naked, beaten, and left for dead. In his helplessness he was passed by twice — first by a priest and then a Levite — who walk all the way to the other side of the road to avoid the man.
The road between Jerusalem and Jericho was widely known to be dangerous. Traveling along it was potentially hazardous, and halting one’s journey for any length of time courted serious risk. The priest and Levite may have weighed this risk in their minds and decided that the increased threat to their safety wasn’t worth it. It’s easy for me to shake my finger at them both. Shame on you, priest and Levite! But I can’t shake my finger long before I feel the pangs of hypocrisy.
I too am guilty of their choice. I have done what I could to avoid someone in need of help, and I can imagine what the priest and Levite might have thought: I have somewhere to be or Someone else will offer help or I do plenty for other people. I do not know what grief they felt — if any — at having left the man for dead. What I do know is that neither the priest nor the Levite did anything; it was a Samaritan who took action.
By all accounts, the priest and the Levite were the ones I would have expected to help the man. I have to wrestle with the fact that it was a Samaritan — an outsider and foreigner — who bandaged the man’s wounds, put him on the Samaritan’s own donkey, and found him a place to stay.
I generally think I am a neighbor to someone when I bake them a pie or water their plants while they are out of town, and someone is a neighbor to me when they bake me a pie and water my plants. Of course these are good and decent things to do for each other. But if I pay careful attention to the parable, I come away from it uncomfortable about what it asks of me. Being a neighbor is about more than baking a pie or watering plants. These are things I would do for people I am expected to help, people who might be expected to do something for me in return. But what about the people no one expects me to help? What about the people I will step around to avoid?
As I sit with the parable, I am beginning to understand that Jesus is calling me to act with unguarded compassion toward the person who doesn’t look like me, speak like me, or have the same customs and ideas as I have. The good Samaritan reminds me that being a neighbor to someone may involve risking my comfort, my own concerns and priorities, or my time and commitments. It reminds me of the times I have passed someone in need; and if I take the story seriously, I can no longer leave someone “lying on the side of the road.” It also reminds me that the next time I find myself in dire straits, it could be the most unexpected person who stops to help.
Several meditations in this issue address our responsibility as Christians to help those in need. You may want to read again the meditations for July 1, 5, 17, and 19 and August 6, 9, 18, 23, 26, and 29 before responding to the reflection questions below.