Thomas J Parlette
“When the Samaritan stopped to help”
Luke 10: 25-37
A couple of years ago, Reader’s Digest carried an article that featured 24 stories about what the editor called “the touching kindness of strangers.” One story was titled “The Man at the Market.” It was contributed by Leslie Wagner from Peel, Arkansas.
Ms. Wagner told of being in a supermarket one time. When she checked out, the clerk tallied up her groceries. Much to Ms. Wagner’s dismay, she discovered that her bill was $12 over what she had in her purse, and she didn’t have any credit cards with her. With embarrassment she began to remove items from the bags in her cart. To her surprise, another shopper saw her predicament and handed her a $20 bill. Ms Wagner said, “thank you for the gesture, but I just couldn’t. Please, don’t put yourself out.”
And the mystery shopper said, “Let me tell you a story. My mother is in the hospital with cancer. I visit her every day and bring her flowers. I went this morning, and she got mad at me for spending my money on more flowers. She demanded that I do something else with that money. So, here, please accept this. It’s my mother’s flowers.” Gratefully she accepted the gift.(1)
A very thoughtful act. We are always touched when we see a person do something kind for someone else. It gives both the giver and the recipient a good feeling. In fact, it’s a wonder more of us don’t perform acts of kindness for one another more often just so we can feel that sense of satisfaction.
Today we hear once again the well- known story about the Samaritan who stopped to help. It’s certainly familiar to us all. A man going from Jerusalem down the Jericho gets jumped by some thieves who rob him, strip him, beat him and leave him for dead.
Unfortunately, this was something that was common on this particular road. Bible scholar William Barclay notes that the road was notoriously dangerous for travelers – especially if you were by yourself. Jerusalem is set on a hill which is about 2300 feet above sea level. The Dead Sea, which is near Jericho, is 1300 feet below sea level. This makes Jericho one of the lowest cities on earth. This road between Jerusalem and Jericho descended some 3600 feet in little more than 20 miles. It was a road filled with sharp turns and narrow passageways, which provided several excellent lurking places for thieves and bandits.(2)
Fortunately, the road was pretty well travelled, especially by people travelling in groups. So this poor man was in luck when a priest happened by the scene. But, the priest caught a glimpse of the broken and bleeding body lying there by the side of the road, and quickly passed by on the other side. This seems very harsh, but let’s assume that he thought the man was already dead. As a priest, he was forbidden by liturgical law from touching a dead body, or anything else “unclean” – so he just kept going.
Likewise, a Levite came by and he too passed by on the other side of the road. Levites were also forbidden to touch dead bodies, just like the priests.
But there was a Samaritan who came by next, who saw the man and had compassion on him. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, and put the man on his own animal and took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day, he needed to be on his way, but this Samaritan paid the Innkeeper to take care of the man, and said “I will return and pay you whatever else you spend.”
The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the most famous stories in all of literature. Jesus told this story in response to a question from a lawyer, who asked, “And who is my neighbor?” That is a question that still haunts us today.
Who is our neighbor? Are immigrants, legal or illegal or neighbors? How about asylum seekers – are they our neighbors? What about people in the opposing political party – are they our neighbors? The question is still asked.
Luke tells us that the lawyer asking this question did so “wanting to justify himself.” That’s still the case today when we ask “Who is my neighbor?” We are still seeking to justify ourselves and our opinions.
As followers of Jesus, I hope we know that the answer to that question is, “Anybody who needs our help is our neighbor.” But that’s a lot of people!
Jeremy Taylor, a 17th century bishop, used to counsel aspiring ministers to “Speak kindly to everyone you meet, for everyone has a problem.”(3) Everyone does have a problem of some kind, a challenge they are facing, a nagging bit of anxiety or grief or sorrow that stubbornly holds onto your soul. So I guess that makes everyone our neighbor.
I doubt that there is anyone here this morning who doesn’t feel at least a twinge of guilt when you hear this story. We can’t help but think of that hitch-hiker we left standing by the side of the road, or that guy with the cardboard sign standing at the intersection by silver lake or the entrance to the Target north shopping center – asking for donations. We know the dangers of stopping, but it still bothers us to drive by.
We may pray quietly to ourselves, “Lord, what is my responsibility to these people. There is so much need. How far do you mean for me to go?”
While you ponder that question, let’s acknowledge that in our society today people are less and less likely to play the role of the Good Samaritan.
I once saw a picture that was printed on the front page of a newspaper that was very sad. A man who was a Vietnam Veteran, and been a paramedic in the service, was leaning on the door of a car that was stalled beside a busy expressway in some northeast region of the country, weeping.
On the way to work that morning a woman who had been driving that car had a heart attack and had fallen outside the car , and this man had stopped to help. Being a paramedic, he gave her emergency treatment and for some 20-30 minutes, he was able to keep her alive. But after half an hour, she died in spite of the treatment he was able to give.
But the reason he was crying by the side of the road was this. As he was giving aid, he kept trying to flag someone down to call 911 for an ambulance – but no one stopped to help. “No one seemed to care,” he said.
It’s a revealing story about the kind of society we are becoming. Obviously we have our reasons when we don’t stop to help, just as the priest and the Levite had their reasons. Still this story makes us all a little uncomfortable.
There are two levels at which we may respond to the story of the Samaritan who stopped to help. The first is at the level of simple civility or common courtesy.
I once read that just as Hawaiians have no word for “weather” because the climate is so good, Eskimos have no word for “thank you” because in a world that is so stark, helping one’s neighbor is seen as a duty.(4)
You would think that being civil to one another would be the least we could do. Every major religion or philosophy agrees on that. You most certainly do not have to be a Christian to extend common courtesy or simple kindness to a stranger in need.
Dr. Daniel Lioy tells about a professional football player named John Frank who spent 5 years with the San Francisco 49ers several years ago. Frank had played in 2 Super Bowl games. He was 27 years old and in his prime as an athlete when something happened that caused him to reassess his priorities.
In one particular game, an opposing player took a big hit and suffered a serious injury. John Frank rushed to his side. At one time Frank had dreamed of becoming a doctor before setting out on the road to pro football. In the off season, he tried to take some classes to prepare himself for a medical career after football. Still, he had a physicians heart. And so it was only natural when he saw this player go down, he would to try to help him. The result was that Frank got chewed out by one of his coaches for “giving aid and compassion to the enemy.”
Suddenly life as an NFL player was not quite as important for Frank. At that moment he decided to hang up his cleats and go full time to medical school instead of playing football. And today John Frank is a practicing physician. “Walking away from pro football seemed silly to everyone, but I’m happier now in serving the hurting. I have no regrets about giving up football.”(5)
We admire a man like John Frank, but it’s important for us to recognize that the kindness of the Good Samaritan is being shown every day all over the world. Courtesy, compassion and Kindness are the least of what ought to be expected of a human being.
However, the teachings of Jesus instruct us to go beyond what the ordinary person is apt to do. We need to know that there are people who do go that extra mile, who go above and beyond simple civility and common courtesy.
In her book Profiles in Character, former Congresswoman Barbra Cubin of Wyoming tells how her character was shaped by the moral influence of her parents Barbra’s parents divorced when she was young. A few years later, her mother remarried. Her new stepfather worked hard to support the family. One particular story demonstrates the kind of person he was.
Barbra’s birth father, while on a visit to Wyoming, was beaten and robbed. Evidently he was not in good condition and he was alone. At the hospital, a paramedic searched her birth father’s clothes, found his ex-wife’s phone number in one of his pockets and called the house. Barbra’s stepfather answered the phone. When he learned what had happened, he stepfather dropped everything and rushed to hospital to take care of the hospital bill. Then he took her birth father to a local motel and paid for his room and meals until he had recovered enough to go home.(6)
This above and beyond kind of compassion made a deep impression on Ms. Cubin.
There are many Good Samaritans of every race and culture all over the world. Those who follow Jesus, however, are expected to do even more. We are expected to give love and compassion to those whom other people pass by.
Archibald Rutledge once told about visiting a church service where the singing was contagious, the prayers were splendid, and the minister was most impressive. As the congregation was leaving following the benediction, however, there was a woman unkempt and weeping, sitting by the church fence.
Only one of the worshippers paid any attention to her, said Rutledge. One of the ladies went over and knelt down beside the desperate woman and sought to dry her tears and comfort her. Rutledge concluded that only one person in that entire congregation really knew how to worship God. It was the one who stopped to help.(7)
An unknown author painted this revealing picture: On a street I saw a small girl, cold and shivering in a thin dress, with little hope of a decent meal.
I became angry and said to God, “Why did you permit this to happen? Why don’t you do something about it?”
For awhile, God said nothing. That night God replied in a dream, “I did do something about it… I made YOU.”
That is the call of this story about the Samaritan who stopped to help. We are God’s instruments for helping those in need. May God give us the strength to live up to that calling, that we may go and do likewise.
May God be praised. Amen.
1. Dynamic Preaching, Vol XXXV, No. 3, p8.
2. Ibid… p8.
3. Ibid… p9.
4. Ibid… p10.
5. Ibid… p10.
6. Ibid… p10-11.
7. Ibid… p12.