Sunday’s Gospel reading tells the parable of the Good Samaritan tells of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho along a dangerous stretch of road. It doesn’t say why he was traveling there, why he was alone, or who he was to take such a risk. The parable doesn’t tell much about the man except that robbers arrived on the scene, stripped him, beat him, and left him half dead on the side of the road.
We know very little about the man, but we do know a bit about those who followed behind him on the same road. First, a priest arrived on the scene. He wanted nothing to do with the man, for if the man was already dead, he would have made the priest unclean. The priest continued his walk on the opposite side of the road. A Levite came next. He too walked on the opposite side of the road, never offering help to the fallen man.
Surely, the man would die now, for if a priest and a Levite would not help him, who would? In the parable, as in life, we often question and judge the actions of those who fall. We fail to see their injuries. Instead, we concern ourselves with ourselves. We cannot take a moment to speak with the bum on the street corner. We cannot make eye contact with the homeless Vet holding a “Will Work for Food” sign in the median. We refuse to see even family members who hit hard times as having gotten anything less than they deserved.
It is like we are saying, “Well he walked down that stretch of road alone. He knew the risks. Who did he think he was? Why was his business so important he couldn’t wait for others to join him,…?” We see arrogance and stupidity and failure. We seldom realize how close we are to being that man too. We seldom realize that we also walk dangerous roads but have just not been caught yet.
It’s easy to judge the victim as he lays bleeding on the side of the road and say he should have known better, but we seldom notice the priest and the Levite are also traveling alone on that same dangerous stretch of road. They were no different from the man in many ways, and yet he fell victim to a horrible crime, one that probably left physical and most definitely emotional scars for the remainder of his life.
Fortunately, however, there was one more traveler on that stretch of road. The Samaritan had reason to walk those same paths the man, the priest, and the Levite walked. The Samaritan had more reason than the priest or the Levite to pass by the man’s broken dying body. What use was he to the Samaritan? Their people didn’t even get along. There was suspicion and fear, envy and anger. Past hurts had piled up on both sides and both sides had drawn invisible, uncrossable lines in the sand.
Yet, the Samaritan stopped. He lent a hand. He bathed the man’s wounds. He gave the man drink in the hot desert sun. He put the man on his own beast and walked beside him to an inn where the Samaritan paid for the man’s care and promised more upon his return if the bill ran over.
Jesus turns the story upside down. While many of us would scoff at the man, judging him for traveling alone on a dangerous stretch of road, Jesus does not. Instead, Jesus focuses on the man who helps the broken. While many of us would ask why this foolish traveler deserves mercy, Jesus makes us ask why the Samaritan would offer mercy.
The parable has been told so often it’s hard to think of the Samaritan as anything other than the Good Samaritan. It’s easiest to think of him as simply born good. We think it’s easy for him to be good because he was born that way. He was created intrinsically, innately, nearly perfectly GOOD. We mentally assign him super human strengths and write his goodness off as something he is capable of that we are not.
What if we are wrong though? What if the Samaritan had a heart of stone? What if his desire was to stare repulsively at the broken man? What if the site of the bleeding, naked man made the Samaritan’s stomach turn and made his fists clench? What if the Samaritan saw the man and thought, “Good! His people have hurt mine for centuries. He got what he deserved!”
What if this was the Samaritan’s initial reaction, but then he invited God, even with his limited understanding of who God is, into his heart? Is it possible God could have changed even the Samaritan’s heart? Is it possible that God could have worked to soften the Samaritan’s heart and allow it to reach out to the broken man offering help when others walked away? Is it possible that the Samaritan had to fight down feelings of nausea and repulsion, anger and bitterness as he reached out to offer his assistance? Is it possible the Samaritan had to fight back feelings of just uncaring, the belief that this man was not worth his time or effort, or the idea that the Samaritan deserved better and had better things lying ahead for him that he should move on to?
Is it possible the man was robbed and attacked so violently to bring the man and the Samaritan together if only for a moment? Is it possible there was a purpose behind the man’s suffering and that his suffering healed the Samaritan’s hardened heart while also helping change the man’s vision of his neighbor?
When we shrug off the Samaritan as simply “Good” we don’t fully credit him for what it must have cost to reach out to the man, but we also shortchange ourselves. We accept that we are not the Good Samaritan and we believe we were not given this kind of power. We believe because we were not born with this power, we do not have it and we never seek it, never cultivate it, never grow it, and never harvest it. We don’t even hoard our ability to do good because we don’t know we possess it.
We think life is too hard and should be more fun, and we walk away from those who need us most. Even in marriage, we harden our hearts and every day pass by our broken loved ones, stepping over their bodies as we fantasize and move onto our new lives in our minds.
We choose the path of the priest and the Levite and walk away through divorce. Later, we get caught up in negotiations that are battlefields and hold onto hurt, anger, and bitterness that can last generations. We point fingers toward spouses who have traveled dangerous roads and have gotten what they deserve. We leave them lying bleeding and broken on the side of the road, vulnerable to others with selfish or immature desires.
We fail to see collateral damage – our precious children. Instead, we expect children to join us for our ride. We want them to feel as we do and cast more blame when they struggle. We place band-aids on amputations caused by parents ripped from children’s lives, and we turn our backs on their hearts as they cry out for their intact family. We place our happiness over our own. We mistakenly believe that if we are happy, our children will be better off.
We believe we have no option but to walk away. Like the priest, like the Levite, too many in Marriage simply walk away from the challenge. Too many believe there is power in starting over rather than fixing the broken. They fail to see walking away is weak, as the priest and the Levite were weak. They fail to see strength is the Samaritan. Strength is staying and caring, reaching out when it is undeserved and unreciprocated. Strength is overcoming the hardened heart that resides in each of us.
Today, society is in crisis. We have fallen prey to beliefs that tell us we are too weak to demand more of ourselves, that we are not intrinsically good so we cannot be good, that we must seek our own happiness first, and that we must not make eye contact or real connections with anyone, much less those who may hurt us. This is true in our Marriages, in our schools, in our jobs, and in our society as we have seen with abortion, religious liberties, the loss of our Constitution, and in movements such as the recent Black Lives Matters.
We are all human beings. We are all scared sometimes. We all want to feel powerful all the time. We all want to be Loved. We all want the ability to Love. We all have hardened hearts, but we all also have the power to overcome those hardened hearts, just as the Good Samaritan did centuries ago.
There are people I don’t like, people I am suspicious of, people I know want to cause me harm. We need to tread carefully because God wants us to protect ourselves as His precious children, but to turn the world upside down, we must look at things differently.
Whether we are struggling in Marriage, facing a painful divorce, co-parenting with a challenging partner, or facing some herculean culture war, we must ask not, which traveler on the path of life is worthy of receiving Mercy, but how I can be made worthy of giving Mercy.
That is a challenge that surely requires Divine Intervention.
As always, thanks for commenting, liking, following, and sharing!
SUBSCRIBE to Single Mom Smiling’s monthly newsletter.