The Good Samaritan, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
In the southwest corner of Colorado, near Ouray and Telluride, there are many abandoned gold mines, and lots of old mining roads up and down the steep mountainsides. The mines are closed, but now there is a booming business in driving jeeps on these old roads. You can hire a guide to drive you, or you can rent a jeep and go on your own. It is beautiful, it is a thrill, and it is dangerous. The roads are narrow, there are no guard rails, there are many inexperienced drivers out there, and it is a long way down.
Not everyone comes back. The locals can tell of many tragedies. One story I will never forget.
A young couple was on a jeep ride with their two young children. The father was driving, and stopped at the edge of a high cliff to get out and take a picture. The family stayed in the jeep, all buckled in. Something went wrong, the parking brake did not hold, and the jeep started to move toward the cliff. As the mother struggled to get the kids out of the seat belts, the father grabbed on to the bumper to hang on and try to stop the jeep. It all happened very fast. The mother and children could not get out in time; and the father, would not let go. All four went over the cliff, and the entire family perished.
Think about that. That father could have at least saved himself by just letting go. He could not save the others anyway. All logic would have told him to stay safe. But love make him unable to let go of that bumper. That is the sacrificial love of a parent. That is what someone will do for their family.
But what was it that made the Good Samaritan stop and help that poor beaten man on the side of the road? He might have been a father, but this wasn’t his son. There is nothing said of him knowing the man at all; and, in that part of the country, chances are the man was a Jew, and Jews and Samaritans had little time for each other. What’s more, whoever robbed and beat up that man on the road, might still be lurking nearby behind some rocks, just waiting for their next victim. Common sense, safety, and self-interest were all on the side of hurrying on by, which is just what the first two travelers had done. So why did this man stop?
Jesus tells us very little in this parable about the man’s possible motives, saying only that ‘he took pity on him.’ This is a parable not about thinking the right thing, or even believing the right thing. There are certainly many other parts of the Bible that talk about those things. But this parable is about DOING the right thing. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” was the question of an expert in the law that prompted the parable. “DO THIS and you will live,” said Jesus after the man repeated the Old Testament command to love God with his whole heart, mind, and soul, and, to love his neighbor as himself. And then after the questioner asked, “Who is my neighbor?,” Jesus told this parable. Jesus ended it by saying, “Go and DO likewise.” (continued…)
Grant us grace, O Father, not to pass by suffering without eyes to see. Give us understanding and sympathy, and guard us from selfishness. Use us to gladden and strengthen those who are weak and suffering, that by our lives we may help others to believe in you, projecting your light, which is the light of life. Amen.
–H. R. Sheppard (1880-1837)