- love the Lord with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind;
- love your neighbor as yourself.
This fundamental law can be recited by most Christians and exists in similar form in almost all religions. It is the primary requirement for our relationship with God.
But, is being able to recite the law enough to get to Heaven?
The thieves saw an easy mark in the man on the road. They beat him, stripped him of his belongings and left him for dead. Maybe they were loving their neighbor as themselves, but I don’t think that is exactly what the law meant. Do you?
Along came a priest, someone who should be have been a living example of the law. Did he help the poor man? NO!! – he crossed the road so he would not have to see him. Whether he didn’t want to get his hands dirty or perceived he had something more important to do, he crossed to the other side of the road so he wouldn’t have to “see” him.
Enter the Levite – a member of one of the original tribes of Israel – the tribe who was responsible for religious functions. Now, wouldn’t you think that he would come to the aid of the man? After all, a Levite’s primary purpose in the community was to judge actions against the Jewish law and remind people of their obligations to God.
So, did he? NO!! – he crossed to the other side of the road so he would not have to deal with him. (Like being out of sight was out of mind – and therefore he had no responsibility).
The innkeeper saw the injured man, not as his neighbor, but as a source of revenue. Had the man appeared at this door without the Samaritan, he would have been turned away. The innkeeper had better things to do than care for a battered, bloody man who obviously had no money or means of payment. And this poor mangled man hanging around the inn would give his inn a bad name! This kind of trouble he did not need.
Then a Samaritan came along. Samaritans were the lowliest of all people to the Jews – they evolved from the intermarriage of the Jews with idol worshippers when they were exiled in the north. They were a reminder the Jews would prefer not to remember. They were so hated by the Jews that most would not even say their name.
(Did you notice that the lawyer could not bring himself to say ‘the Samaritan’ when asked by Jesus who was a neighbor)?
Samaritans were considered unclean and were to be avoided at all cost. Think about the story of Jesus and the woman at the well; remember the kind of grief he took from the disciples because he took water from her? We may not call them Samaritans today, but there are plenty of people who are outcast and marginalized that most people would cross the road to avoid. (Think about the homeless, mentally ill, non-Christians).
But are they not our neighbors?
The Samaritan, not caring that the man under any other circumstances would recoil from his touch, bandaged his wounds. Then he put him on his animal and took him to a nearby inn. . . a place where the Samaritan would probably not have been welcome, or would have had to enter through the back door (doesn’t that sound familiar?) He tended the man until he had to leave; he gave the innkeeper money to see to his needs. He trusted that the innkeeper would do the right thing while he was gone; he promised to pay any additional expenses when he returned.
He was his brother’s keeper!
Where do we see ourselves in this parable?
Are we the priest or the Levite – so assured in our holiness . . . or too absorbed in our own lives?
Are we the lawyer – wanting a cookie cutter guide to Heaven, not willing to give up our own prejudices?
Or are we the Samaritan – someone who goes out on a limb, inconveniencing ourselves so that someone who has greater needs is ministered to?
Do we consider that all people are our neighbors?
Not just those who live in Athens or Columbus as I do. . . or Athens county and surrounds?
Or those who are Episcopalian . . . or Christian?
Jesus told us “the greatest of these is love” and showed us that love by his death on the cross . . . for his neighbors . . for all mankind.
There is no secret answer (even though the lawyer really wanted one). To the Samaritan, the man on the road was worth being cared for and loved.
Just as Jesus let us know by his death that all of us are worthy of dying for.