One of Jesus’ memorable parables was the story of the Good Samaritan. A lawyer stood up to test Jesus by asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus reply by saying that one must love God and one’s neighbor. The lawyer then asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then told a story about a person going down from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell among robbers, was stripped and beaten, and left half dead. By coincidence a priest, then a Levite, and finally a Samaritan came by. Samaritans were both neighbors and enemies of the Jews. But it was the Samaritan who had compassion on the man who had been beaten and robbed. He bound up his wounds, took him to an inn to receive care, and promised the innkeeper that he would pay any amount needed to care for the man found half dead. (Luke 10:25-37)
This story has been used by many as an illustration of our need to care for one another regardless of our differences. Queen Elizabeth II remarked in her 2004
Christmas message that the parable is about “tolerance and respecting others.” She summarizes: “Everyone is our neighbor, no matter what race, creed or color. The need to look after a fellow human being is far more important than any cultural or religious differences.” (See Short Stories by Jesus, Amy-Jill Levine)
What the Good Samaritan has come to mean for us is someone who is willing to be charitable and to show compassion. Hospitals are named for the Good Samaritan. And individually we understand that Jesus would have us care for one another simply because we are children of God.
The test of our own compassion comes when we are confronted with the need to care for someone we don’t respect. The Most Reverend Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, in a sermon at Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati, on the occasion of their 200th anniversary, spoke about the Good Samaritan and gave current examples that might challenge us. He asked what we would do if the man robbed and beaten had been wearing a t-shirt reading, “Black Lives Matter.” Would we come to his aid? And if the person beaten up was Hillary Clinton, can you imagine Donald Trump picking her up, taking her to a hospital, and assuring her that her bill would be covered by
healthcare? The examples we might give are numerous. If the one beaten were a young gay or lesbian person, would you leave him or her to die? With the current opioid epidemic is our response to let them die by the thousands, or do we strive for treatment programs to help them get off their addictions?
Challenges are endless these days if we choose to be Good Samaritans. The first challenge is not about giving care, but to face our prejudices — our racial, political, and religious differences. How often do we condemn rather than show compassion? Do we play it safe by respecting the Pharisees’ model of self-righteousness; or are we willing to take risks as Jesus was to walk the extra mile for the least in the kingdom of God?
“Each day, we all face the choice to be Good Samaritans or to be indifferent travelers passing by.”