29 Aug 2021
If you have had to go recently to an emergency room (ER) for an injury, you know this can be an uneasy place to be—especially when it is a long wait. And the COVID virus situation hasn’t helped an already difficult circumstance. There have also been reported incidents about people suffering in agony while having a long wait in the ER or even victimized and abandoned by passersby on the streets of our cities. What has happened to the spirit of the Good Samaritan?
Jesus story in the Gospel today answers the question, “Who is my neighbor?” The lawyer who asked Jesus the question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life” wanted a checklist for an answer. Jesus asked him to relate what Scripture says, he responded, “Thou shalt love the lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and they neighbor as thyself.” Jesus acknowledged this truth, but wanted to know from the lawyer “Who is my neighbor?”
I think if we asked people around us, we would get the answer that our neighbors are obviously the people who live next door. But then, some might include more--the people in their neighborhood. Some who have heard the Gospel story might consider that such answers are too literal? How about the policeman trying to keep the neighborhood safe? The fireman who puts out the fire in a house nearby? Are we stretching things to consider including the soldiers serving in Afghanistan? We might be confused about just how many people are truly our neighbors?
Jesus answered the question with a parable. He told us about a poor man who was attacked by robbers along the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. This is a long, winding road with many places for robbers to hide. The injured man in Jesus’ account was a Jew. He was beaten badly and left for dead. Two men came by the scene of the crime, but they gave no help. How often we see this today!
The first two men to arrive were his fellow countrymen—a priest and a Levite. These men served in God’s Temple. They were responsible for the sacrifices. In a sense, this was their excuse for not helping the victim. If they touched him they would probably get blood on themselves and could not serve in the Temple until they had been ritually cleansed. We might pause at this point and think why we wouldn’t stop and help when faced with the same situation? We might say to ourselves, “If I got involved, I could get sued!” or “I could get robbed myself!” The excuses we might come up with are endless, and a lot of these would come from fear in fearful times like ours.
All the Jews agreed that Samaritans were a deceitful race. They didn’t worship in the Temple in Jerusalem. Why would Jesus pick a Samaritan as the hero? Jesus’ audience was made up of Jews. He knew their prejudices. He wanted to shake their complacency by demonstrating that a Samaritan would respond to give help to someone who had been attacked and injured, regardless of who the victim was, while their own “best” fellow countrymen would not. Why? Because the Samaritan knew who his neighbor was--it was the one in need. God had given this Samaritan an opportunity to show his love for his neighbor. He cleaned the man’s wounds. He took the man to an inn so that he could recover. He not only took care of the man’s present needs, but he told the innkeeper he would pay for the victim’s later expenses. In this way, the Samaritan demonstrated he personally cared for another human being. He was a true neighbor.
Here we are in 2021, and the Church is still telling the story of the Good Samaritan because in essence Jesus Himself is the Good Samaritan, and we are the victims near death on the road to Jericho because we are victims of our sins. God sent His Good Samaritan—Jesus Christ, His Son--to rescue us realizing that we had fallen and are in desperate need of salvation. Jesus accomplished this by His death on the Cross. By this selfless act He paid our debts past, present, and future, and He redefined who is truly our neighbor—it is one who requires our compassion, our reaching out today in time of great need. Let us all follow the lead of the Good Samaritan.
Bishop Ed Tompkins