Most people don’t pray they will be able to show mercy. They hope for good luck or strength to meet a challenge. They yearn for things to break their way today. Sometimes, when they’re panicked, they pray for God to pity them. They pray for themselves, and they hope for the best for themselves. But, seeing themselves as a limb of a larger body or one part of a whole? Most of us don’t think we are put here to pray for others, hope for the best for others, or put others first.
We are hard-wired from birth to be angry, resentful, make excuses, and plot revenge. It’s on full display every day. Rude people. People who cut in line. People using each other, lying to each other, purposefully harming each other. And the consequences? On the surface, usually, there are none. But, under the surface, the damage to mind, heart, and even the internal working of the body is catastrophic.
We want to be kind, gentle, and cheerful to others, but we’ve got to protect ourselves from getting hurt.
We can hold our breath until we’re blue in the face. We’re still going to be angry and resentful; we’re still going to make excuses and act in vengeance. We’re going to keep on doing it because we’re selfish. That’s what original sin means. We want to be kind, gentle, and cheerful to others, but we’ve got to protect ourselves from getting hurt.
For example, think about the man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He fell among thieves, was stripped of his clothing, wounded, and left half dead. Next, a priest came down the road and passed by him. A Levite came down the same road and also passed by him. Then the Samaritan came down the road, saw him, and had compassion. The Samaritan bandaged his wounds, poured on oil and wine, and set the man on his animal. He then brought the man to an inn and took care of him. When the Samaritan had to leave, he said to the innkeeper, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back” (Luke 10:35).
So which one are we? Selfish priest? Rude Levite? Kind Samaritan? It doesn’t matter. The parable isn’t about us. We don’t get to be disappointed that we’re the selfish priest or rude Levite. We also don’t get to take the high road, cast in the role of good Samaritan.
Jesus’ parable isn’t about selfish priests, rude Levites, or kind Samaritans. It’s not about us, not directly. The parable is about Jesus; the man left half-dead. He’s the closest thing to Jesus in the parable.
Now ask, “What’s the moral of the story?” “What’s the point?” The point is, even though we’re hard-wired from birth to plot revenge, Jesus suffered and died for all of us who are half-dead, suffering, and dying, moment to moment. More than that, Jesus says, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40).
We’re the thieves and he’s the man left half-dead.
We don’t see the hater, the jerk, the gossiper suffering and dying moment to moment because we’re too worried about our own suffering and death. That’s why we don’t see that Jesus suffered and died for them. They don’t see us as someone Jesus died for either. We don’t see that as we attack each other, we’re attacking Jesus in the other – stripping him and leaving him half dead.
We’re the thieves and he’s the man left half-dead. To follow him isn’t as simple as, “Be like the Samaritan.” It’s not even as simple as, “Stop being rude, mean, and cruel to each other.” Instead, Jesus says, “Take up my cross...”
We’ll continue to cheat, be selfish, and inflict pain on each other. But, we’re also baptized children of God. In baptism, we had Jesus’ cross laid upon us. So, if there’s any ministering to be imitated in the Good Samaritan’s example, as Robert Capon writes:
“It’s the ministry to Jesus in his suffering and death. That suffering and death are to be found in the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, in the hungry, thirsty, outcasts, naked, sick, and imprisoned. They’re the ones in whom he dwells and through whom he calls you to become his neighbors in death and resurrection” (Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus).