It stopped me in my tracks. Scanning through my social media landscape, I encountered a post that drew my attention. Though it alluded to a familiar story, it challenged me to re-examine the lens through which I read it.
Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
30-32 Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
33-35 “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’
36 “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”
37 “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded. (Luke 10)
Could I be the wounded or the robber? I paused, sitting in the discomfort gripping me. Why I have I always navigated quickly to assume the role of the passersby or Good Samaritan?
There is no doubt that Jesus was driving home a point in this specific context. The lawyer, familiar with the Jewish purity laws of the time, was looking for a way to make Jesus incriminate himself. What “Messiah” would publicly advocate for deconstructing them?
Jesus recognized the laws had become stumbling blocks on the path to reconciliation: to God and each other. He saw that the road to abundant life for all meant recognizing the Levite, Priest, Good Samaritan, Robber, and wounded person in ourselves.
The Jericho Road was known to be a dangerous place. It’s geographic location lent itself to robbers. They took advantage of the vulnerability of passersby. Victims depended on “neighbors” who came across them to sustain their life: putting aside all judgements, ideological differences, gender and racial taboos, and concern for their reputation and safety.
To be honest, striving to become a Good Samaritan is hard. It means asking God to search my heart and reveal what it is I am afraid of sacrificing for others well being. And in that reflection, I encounter a revelation: very seldom have I felt like the wounded and even more rare have I considered myself the robber. My unrecognized privileges have allowed me to focus on one part of the story.
How do I contribute to the atmosphere of the Jericho roads near me?
Do I use my resources to support economic and educational viability in more oppressed neighborhoods?
Am I knowledgeable about the implications across the world to the lives of those affected by what I consume here?
Pondering my role in the story is a lifelong process. I long to be not just a Good Samaritan but a transformer of Jericho Roads as well. Jesus’s promise for abundant life begins in the Kingdom that he ushered in. Here. Now. In a place that doesn’t necessarily understand why the roads are in need of repair. I am compelled to help his vision materialize.
Martin Luther King exhorts us to look deeper into the story and act on it. “I admire the good Samaritan, but I don’t want to be one. I don’t want to spend my life picking up people by the side of the road after they have been beaten up and robbed. I want to change the Jericho road, so that everybody has an opportunity for a job, education, security, health.”