Imagine for a moment the kind of road your mother warned you about – deserted, poorly-lit, dangerous; imagine a parking garage, late at night, dead battery in both the car and your cell phone; imagine dusk falling on a lonely, dirt road in the middle of nowhere and you are low on gasoline…imagine…
For whatever reason, one poor soul ventured down the Jericho road alone, without any other companions.
The well-known Jerusalem to Jericho route was a commonly traveled road, but with so many twists and turns it was a treasure-trove of hiding places. Just 17 miles long (with a 3200-foot drop into the Jericho valley) most people traveled with companions for safety’s sake.
We know nothing of the man; he was just “someone” who by bad luck was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A band of thieves attacked him and stripped him – of money, clothes, dignity, and even hope. He was left to die at the side of the road on a well-worn dirt path. Who cared?
Jesus cared. He cared enough to make it into a simple story about that “Love Thy Neighbor” thing.
“Who is my neighbor?” questioned a young person well versed in religious law. He was trying to trick Jesus into saying something controversial whose answer would lead to a conflict with the law and the Temple authorities.
It started with a simple question on how to gain eternal life. “That’s easy” said the young man. “The law says to love God with all your heart, all your strength, and with all your
mind; and your neighbor a yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
“Who is my neighbor?”. The question raised up issues of law as well as social rules concerning authority, social position, relationships, and responsibilities. It was an ethical question, and in response to the challenge Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.
Everyone Jesus named – the Priest and the Levite - had their own reasons for ignoring the injured man. Too busy, too tired, too old to be bothered; too dirty, too much trouble, too…whatever.
But the Samaritan – unclean and impure BY THE LAW - reached out to care for this stranger in need. This Samaritan, who by his very birth, was anathema to the Jews, took it upon himself to help a stranger, a Jew who, if he knew it was a Samaritan who helped him, would have spit on his rescuer.
The Samaritan understood the covenant of God and acted on behalf of God in a way the priest and Levite failed to do. He performed an act of charity and piety that even the victim’s own people denied him – they just “passed him by.” His actions showed him to be “neighbor” despite the cultural and religious boundaries.
The traveler who goes alone moves among us and makes us question our motives and lack of motivation for those times when we just “passed him by.” More people than ever before in this nation’s history are in the midst of poverty. The homeless on our streets, living in cars (or caves), and filling the few shelters that exist, are often employed and have families with school-age children. These are the travelers who are isolated and wander our roads without help, without a place to belong.
The story of the Good Samaritan transforms “neighbor” from something we are – an identity, a name, a state of being – to something we do – and action, a task, a way of living.
The encounter between the unnamed, uncared-for stranger and the Samaritan takes place while they both are traveling. The journey from place to place is transformed into a pilgrimage, and that which is holy and sacred is revealed only in following the road – accompanied by a neighbor.
Grace and Peace,