Sometimes the best way to answer a question is with a story. Especially when their is a story behind the question. Luke in chapter 10 records this religious expert trying to trick Jesus by asking clever questions. Once it is determined that the extraordinary life the man seeks-comes through loving God with all that you are, and through others-he wants to qualify who the ‘others’ are. Jesus could have just told him ‘everyone’, but instead he tells a story.
This story is one of the most controversial stories recorded in the Bible. A man on a 18 mile journey from Jerusalem to Jericho is beaten, robbed and left for dead. People who could help him don’t, and one who shouldn’t does. There are some safe assumptions in the story. The two that don’t help the man are most likely heading to Jerusalem to be involved in the work of the temple. A priest and then later a Levite. If they are to be involved in temple work they must remain clean and pure. To touch this man might mean they would become unclean and be unfit for active religious duty. I often thought that these two where uncaring and rude as they separately walked past this traveler in his need. I have come to believe different. These men were merely confronted with a choice of either compassion or religious duty. They had to make a decision of either doing what they felt was right, or doing what was good.
Religion can make you think that the most important thing, is about being right. By ignoring the poor beaten man the two were not merely ignoring the right thing to do.
Instead they honestly thought it was the right thing to do.
Jesus in this story spins that notion around. If religious practice doesn’t actually make you a more loving and compassionate person, then it is evil and dangerous. If religious practice makes you numb to another’s pain, if it causes inaction instead of action, the it is some of the worst kind of evil. When confronted with compassion or religious duty. Jesus makes compassion our religious duty.
This story also challenges us to break the cycle of hatred. One of the most shocking twists in this story Jesus tells is that the hero is an enemy of the Jews. The animosity between the Jews and Samaritans in some ways is comparable to the troubled relationship between the Jews and Palestinians today. In this story Jesus tells, the one who deserves to ignore the injured man doesn’t, and in breaking the stereotype he breaks the chain. Martin Luther King Jr. Says it best, “In this moment the Samaritan asks a different question. While the Priest and Levite asked what would happen to me if I stopped. The Samaritan asked what would happen to this man if I don’t” Luke record s that the Samaritan had Pity on the traveler. It was the Pity that moved this good man to act beyond race or creed. His desire to be good trumped his desire to be right.
I am reminded that sometimes Christians don’t look like Jesus and sometimes non Christians do. You don’t have to believe that people who have different faiths than you are incapable of doing good, any more than you don’t have to believe that Christians are incapable of doing evil. Any action or spoken word that is loving and compassionate and full of grace is a moment that is full of God, full of Christ. No matter who does it.
I need to remind myself that when I say I am a follower of Jesus it’s not because of the road behind me, but instead it’s because of who is ahead of me. I am following Jesus in the hope that as I follow, I will be like him.