This morning I woke up with the story of the Good Samaritan on my mind. More than anything, this probably means I am well on my way to becoming a theologian, or an “expert in the law”, as the theologians in the days of Jesus were called. The law being the laws of Moses, or what we now call the Old Testament.
One day, an expert in the law asks Jesus a question: how do I live my life in a way it will be meaningful into eternity? Since he knows the answer, Jesus has him reply his own question. He answers rightly: “Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself”. Love of a neighbour often takes the shape of help. You help someone you love and is in need. It is an act of love to help. But hey, you can’t help everyone, can you? That is probably why the expert of the law would like to reduce his responsibilities and limit the number of neighbours he might have. He thus asks “who is my neighbour?” And then Jesus tells him a rather embarrassing story.
A man has been robbed and is laying beside the road, naked and half-dead. He is clearly in need of help. Luckily for him, a priest happens to be walking down the same road. But the priest is either scared, or doesn’t want to get his hands dirty, or has no time for something messy like this. He might be on his way to some important meeting, or going home after a long day. I could think of many reasons not to get involved in this. Better move over to the other side of the street and ignore the problem altogether. Too bad for the man in need. But he gets another chance. The next to walk by is a Levite, a priest-assistant. Unfortunately, he too walks past the injured man and leaves him to his own device. The third to show up is an outsider, a Samaritan. Unlike the priest and the Levite, he did not worship the Lord in the temple in Jerusalem, the only rightful place to do so, according to the law. But this Samaritan “came where the man was”. This is an important first step – to come close to someone in need. Once you are close, you can no longer ignore the need. The Samaritan “took pity on him” and helped him as well as he could. He took care of his wounds and brought him to a safe place where he could stay as long as he needed to get better. He also promised to come back and make sure everything was well taken care of. He showed what it is to be a neighbour: to take care of those in need, with love and mercy, no matter who it is or where you find them.
But the embarrassing thing is that it was an outsider who did right and showed love. And then I wonder if this is happening today as well. If the church and its members are not acting when there is injustice and suffering, but ‘outsiders’ are – then something is wrong. And the outsiders in this case may be the protesters in the streets, the activists who oppose unjust decisions made by governments or Muslims fighting religious discrimination. They all may never have seen a church from the inside, may not worship God “in the right place” or “in the right way”, but they do show love and mercy for those in need. They do get involved in something messy, in something that has an uncertain outcome and takes them off the road they were walking.
I admire activists. I admire the Good Samaritan. I think I am more like the priest, or the Levite. It seems easier not to get involved and to stay at a distance. If I don’t come close, I don’t have to “take pity” and act. But Jesus told the expert of the law “to do likewise” and act as the Samaritan did. I pray for the church to get involved in fighting injustice – and I know it is already happening. I pray for myself to find the courage to become an activist and to get involved together with the ‘outsiders’, as they show what it means to be a neighbour. No knowledge of “the law” can beat that.
Read the original story of the Good Samaritan here.
Want to know how to get involved and act? A good starting point is Sojourners – Put your faith into action.