Reflections on Luke 10:33
But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion…
Why not end the story?
He answered the lawyer’s question about neighbors: “That man on the side of the road, beaten senseless, he’s your neighbor! Learn from him. It doesn’t matter who people are, or what they’ve done. Go to them. Love them!”
He then accused him. The simple picture of the priest and Levite passing by the body – with no mercy – did that. When we refuse to love our neighbors, we prove our rebellion to God. Our Lord said it countless times before: “You preach but you do not practice. 1 Your right doctrine means nothing when you do nothing.”
Why isn’t that enough?
But it’s not.
He’s got more work to do in caring for his soul. He decides to press in harder this time. He’s got to confront the hatred in his heart.
Another man enters the story.
Down the same road. Breathing the same air. Seeing the same half dead body. But he’s different. This man has compassion in his heart. He is unable to leave the broken man there in his suffering. He’s got to do something. He has to! For the greatness of the second commandment has burst into flame inside him.
And that’s the point of Jesus’ teaching.
He’s not talking about philanthropists, do-gooders caring for the less fortunate. 2 He’s describing what happens when the first commandment is embraced to the fullest. For it’s when we love God with everything we are, He fills our hearts with love for others. For those who experience the first live out loud the second.
And here he comes. He’s not just any man.
He is 100% Samaritan.
Samaritans! Outcasts, rejected by God according to the Jews -- according to the teaching of lawyers, priests, and Levites. They say Samaritans are wrong about God. Wrong about the worship of God. Wrong in their view of Scripture. Wrong in every way about everything. They do not qualify as neighbors. 3
And that, for Jesus, is unacceptable.
For this reason, He forces the lawyer to stare into the Samaritan’s face. If he wants to hate him – fine! Then watch him. Watch him as he first sees the man on the side of the road. Watch him as compassion fills his heart and soul. Watch him as he goes to him and does what the priest and Levite refused to do.
He loves him as a neighbor is supposed to love his neighbor.
Poor Mr. Right has to watch Mr. Wrong do what is right.
And here, if we could freeze the frame, we might ask: Does the lawyer get what’s happening here? Does he know that just as the Samaritan is caring for this man’s broken body so our Lord is caring for him and his broken soul?
These stories are one and the same.
Same mercy. Same compassion. Two men needing the same rescue.
* * *
This week, I focused on the patients.
You see, that was my problem. Every time I went to the ward, I felt this rush of anxiety. I knew nothing about mental illness. It was easier for me to shadow the doctors, nurses, and aids. I’d ask all kinds of questions, take copious notes, and, occasionally, read medical charts (when they’d let me). Then, after they left, I’d sit with the patients and observe them through the lens of their illness.
I hate admitting it – but it was safer for me that way.
This week, I resolved to change all that. I made three calculated decisions. I stopped hiding behind the staff. I stopped thinking of the people as “patients”. And I started honoring each person with the love and dignity they deserved.
Great plan – it just didn’t work very well.
Being on my own was hard. I found some people wanted nothing to do with me and told me so. Some walked away the moment I approached. Others let me sit with them but ignored me. While others latched on, talked a mile a minute as if we were best friends and then, later in the day, turned on me for no apparent reason. My brilliant new strategy was failing miserably.
I needed to find people who wanted me in their space.
People I could impact for the better.
Of the thirty people on the ward, I soon identified eight as being the most accessible. They didn’t mind having me around. A few seemed to enjoy it. So, I decided I’d spend the rest of the summer – the remaining two and a half months – caring for them. I’d see them as my summer family.
Not that I wouldn’t pray for the rest – or visit the rest (as they’d let me.) But I’d invest myself – my time, my gifts, my heart – into these eight people.
“How’s it going for you?” Leslie asked at our weekly meeting.
“Pretty well,” I responded cheerfully. I told him about the changes I’d made. When I mentioned the eight people in particular, he registered surprise.
I stopped and asked, “Is something wrong?”
“Why these eight? Why not the others?” he inquired.
“They respond to me. I think I can make a difference in their life.”
“Is that why you’re here?”
“I’d like to think so.”
Leslie shook his head but stayed quiet. I knew I’d upset him.
“If I can win their trust – day after day, week after week,” I stated, “I can do something for them. I can bring help in their lives. Even hope. Maybe pray with them. I want the Lord to use me this summer to make their lives better.”
“What if it doesn’t work?” he said curtly.
“I’m hoping it will.”
“What if you make no difference at all? What if, on the day after you leave, no one on that ward even knows your gone? No one misses you? No one even remembers your name? And what if they’re exactly the same – no change from when you first met them at the beginning of summer. How will you feel then?”
I couldn’t answer him.
“It’s hard for you, isn’t it?” Leslie observed, leaning toward me. “You’ve got to make a difference in people’s lives. For them – yes. But -- for you. It makes you feel better about you if you make people feel better about them. Isn’t that right? And sometimes in life, that’s not how it works.”
“But I’d like it to work,” I said slowly, trying to respond. “I can’t imagine being in a world where I make no impact at all – on anybody.”
Leslie nodded and said, “I believe that’s why you’re here.”
“What?” I reacted, and then remembered. At our first meeting, Leslie told me the bishop wanted me to experience people in suffering – real suffering -- where I could do nothing about it. I couldn’t fix them. I couldn’t quote a Bible verse or give godly counsel that would rescue their situation or ease their pain. I’d have to learn to stay there with them. Powerless and compassionate.
I nodded and simply said, “Ok.”
“Then change your strategy,” Leslie directed. “Love the thirty equally. Not just the eight. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir, it is.”
“And if you don’t know how to do that, trust the Lord to help you.”
I thanked him and, before heading home for the weekend, made my way back to the ward. I wanted to go to the game room and just sit for a while. Most were there – just hanging out, watching TV, doing what they do every afternoon before their 5:00 dinner. And, as usual, no one seemed to notice me. I’d become, as I now understood, invisible and insignificant. And I felt it.
“Hey there,” a man said, sitting down next to me. He was dressed casually – like everybody on the ward. Not recognizing him, I assumed he was a new aid.
“You’re going to be alright,” he assured me. “I’ll see to it.”
“Call me Sam,” he answered. “And don’t worry about anything. I know what’s going on here and I’ll make sure things go better for you. I promise you that.”
He grabbed my hand, shook it, and somehow I believed him.
1 Matthew 23:2-3
2 The secular world defines Good Samaritans as people who help those in need – without making any reference to God. And yet, the actual story of the Samaritan is impossible to understand without God at the center – the source of real love and real mercy. Jesus is teaching us that the second command is lived to the fullest when we give ourselves fully to the first.
3 John 4:9
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