I need to be honest here — I’ve never liked this parable. It makes me feel bad. I feel ashamed because don’t like going out of my way and messing up my day to deal with someone else’s crisis. Especially when I don’t even know them. It might even be dangerous in today’s world.
I want to know how to get out of this parable and justify myself, without becoming the priest or Levite. Because this parable is a mirror I don’t want to look in. And I need to find a way to deal with my conflicting emotions. In the back of my mind I hear the old shame-based message that goes with this story: “Get over yourself and go do something for someone. Forget about yourself and be a good neighbor to someone in need.” I guess I’ve done that. More than once. And I still don’t like it. I still resist being that available for other people’s needs.
We are never really told why the first two people pass by the wounded man. Perhaps they were busy, in a hurry, afraid of danger, or not wanting to get dirty. Perhaps they were simply a bit like me, not wanting someone else’s problems to become my problems. But the truth is, I’ve been those two myself. I have closed my thoughts to those homeless people I saw in Pasadena who stood there by the road, asking for a handout so they could go get drunk and forget about their misery for a few hours. I don’t know how to help them — so I don’t. There’s too many of them, anyway. What can I do? You see how easy it is to be here in this place. I know what it’s like to be a Levite on his way to Jericho.
There were also times when I was the man who stopped to help. It felt right and good. I was glad to do whatever it was I did that made a difference. I need to remember from time to time how giving life to someone can be so life-giving to me as well. That is God’s heart — to give to those in need.
But today it dawned on me that I am also the man in the ditch. There are ways that I have been assaulted and broken and disabled by life on this planet, just like everyone else. And on those days when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable, it is really hard to have someone tell me I need to be a good Samaritan. It’s just too much. I cannot pick myself up and be a resource to that other person in need. And I resent the shame I feel about not being a good “neighbor.” So when we teach this parable, we need to be careful who might be listening and where they might be in their journey that day.
Truth is, we can be any one of the main characters in the story. On those days when I am the good Samaritan, I can be grateful to God that my life is full and that I have life to give away. When I’m the Levite, I can go to God with my empty hands and ask Him to fill me, so that I may have life I can give away with joy and not resentment. And when I am lying in the ditch, I can open my arms to my heavenly Father and my friends and ask them to carry me on that day to where I need to be.