Writhing on the ground from a fall, I happened upon a middle-aged man and woman who had fallen into the street during rush hour. Cars zoomed pass narrowly avoiding making the couple tragic road kill. I stopped just shy of them, turned on my emergency flashers and asked what had happen and if they needed paramedics.
It’s no mistake that I read the story of the good Samaritan from Luke 10 earlier that week. In the story, a priest happens upon a man who was left for dead in the street. First, a priest passes by like dozens of cars probably did before I arrived on the scene. A second man happens upon the man left for dead, and he passed on the other side of the street like many of the people who were angrily honking their horns and swerving out of the way frustrated by the inconvenience of two hurting people serving as obstacles to their destination. In Jesus’ story an unlikely man, a Samaritan, felt compassion and stopped to care for the man in the street. He got close, bound up his wounds and even went above and beyond by providing and paying for care for the victim.
Unfortunately, in my story, there is no good Samaritan. Just me.
In that moment, I was what might have been a 4th man in Jesus’ story.
Jesus could have described my response like this:
“Yet, another man passed by. Just before arriving at his house, in seeing the man lying in the street, stopped so that he would not feel guilty for passing, but provided only the bare minimum help that he felt was required of him.”
I stopped. I called the paramedics. But, I also kept a healthy distance and then left as soon as the paramedics were on the scene. I didn’t want to get too close. Dilated eyes, slurred speech and an inability to recover equilibrium gave me the suspicion that they were the abusers of substance rather than the victim of robbers like in the Luke passage. In that moment, I felt like their drunkenness gave me permission to not get too close.
The story from Luke 10 comes from a question. Jesus is asked by a lawyer how to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds with the sum of all the commands; to love God and to love your neighbor. The lawyer, seeking to justify himself, asked “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells him this story. Like the lawyer, I was hoping to justify myself. I knew I couldn’t pass and honor God, but I didn’t offer much help either. Now, I realize I might be too hard on myself. I am no paramedic and I am not even sure what “going above and beyond” would have looked like in my story. But, my reaction in that moment is a metaphor of how I treat my neighbors every single day.
When I happen upon my neighbors, I stop and show some minimal level of compassion. However, I know within my heart that I have a tendency to ‘not get too close.’ I reactively offer the bare minimum care I can without considering how I can proactively go above and beyond to love my neighbor. I give myself all kinds of excuses for this too. I may justify my passivity because of my neighbor’s behavior. I may justify my distance because of a perceived indifference I think they have toward me. I may even think I am justified because when I do reach out they don’t reach back. What is interesting about the story from Luke 10 is that neither the reaction nor the attitude of the victim is ever even mentioned. The focus is on the reaction and the attitude of the passers-by; passers-by who may be just like me.
Lord, give me the grace to be a good Samaritan who proactively loves my neighbors because of my love for You.