We all know the story. A guy goes to Jericho from Jerusalem (Luke chapter 10), gets robbed and beaten, and left for dead. The “religious leaders” leave him there but an “outcast” shows love and compassion (Luke calls it mercy) and gives him what appears to be life-saving aid.
In today’s vernacular, the story would read somethign like this:
A baptist left Hollywood for Beverly Hills. On the way, he wandered too close to gang territory and was robbed and beaten until the thugs assumed he was dead. A Catholic priest drove by and saw him but knowing the area, passed the man withotu a second glance. Also, a minister of a local congregation drove down the street but seeing the man lying in the road, drove around him, sure he’d meet the same fate if he stopped.
Finally, an Iraqi muslim drove down the street and seeing this man, stopped, and helped him up, and gave him something to drink. To the man’s surprise, this Iraqi gentleman helped him into a car and drove him to a local medical center where he promised to cover the man’s expenses.
Ok, so the story has holes as I tell it but I wanted to show how big of a deal it would be for a Jew to be helped by a Samaritan. Everything I’ve ever read focus’ on the Samaritan and we can all understand why. That kind of loving selflessness is the kind of thing that great novels are written about and the kind of thing that inspires heart wrenching ballads.
What about the victim though? This man is a stranger in an area. Everything he has with him- possibly everything everything he owns, has been taken from him. He’s battered and physically as well as probably mentally broken. Those he expects help from, ignore him. Then, when it seems like he’ll die in a gutter in a strange place, someone helps him. He is surprised at who helps. He’s also completely helpless himself.
He is completely at the mercy of a stranger with whose country his country is at war! Their beliefs are somewhat similar and diametrically opposed but he can’t think about that now. Without this man’s help, he’ll die. Because of a stranger who doesn’t fit a stereotype, our traveller will live. Can you imagine how that felt?
Can you imagine the fear in his eyes when he looks up and sees the man? Can you imagine how grateful he is for every sip of water, every drop of medicine, every bone set? The turmoil that swirls in his mind as he tries to understand why this man is helping. Does he wonder what his friends at church will say when they find out he got help from “the enemy”? Does he wonder if the Iraqi gentleman will take guff for helping out “the infidel?”
How is the victim’s life affected by this experience? Has he learned compassion? Would he now risk his own comfort and safety in order to help another? What if the other was “the enemy?”
On the other hand, what if he tried to make up for it? What if he couldn’t accept the merciful gift of the Samaritan? What if he tried to repay the debt in some way? Don’t we do that? Someone blesses us somehow and instead of graciously and gratefully receiving the gift in order to allow the giver to be just as blessed as he tried to bless us, we try to repay them. We give our own gift. We look for a way to make it up to them.
We sometimes even push them away. In our desire not to be indebted to someone, we often push them away in order to avoid any further blessings that would add to our perceived debt. How that cheapens what someone has done for us but we continue on until we feel like we’re “even Steven” again.
And, unfortunately, sometimes that’s how we serve. In the back of our minds, we know that ‘as you sow, so shall you reap.’ We just keep sowing hoping that our reaping at least balances those books. Based upon Jesus’ telling of this parable (I know, He was using a story as an illustration, not a fact to be disected), this isn’t how the Samaritan operated. He saw a need, he met the need, he left.
At that point, the only person left is the victim but Jesus doesn’t mention him. The point of the story isn’t about the guy’s reaction to his rescuer but I can’t help but wonder about him. If I was the victim, would I be grateful? I hope so. Would I feel obligated to my benefactor? Probably. Would I feel resentful of that feeling of obligation? I hope not!
When it comes time to help a broken brother or sister, do we leave them on the side of the road and just go around them? Do we stop and give them aid?
What if we’re the ones in need of help? Do we accept it? Do we work to move on past our difficulties in order to avoid giving others a bigger burden than they’ve alerady borne? Do we learn from those difficulties in order to help others?
It just struck me, Jesus never says that the Samaritan said much if anything to the victim. He helped the victim but the only discussion shown is between the innkeeper and the Samaritan. We don’t see any lectures about the foolishness of travelling alone in that region or about what a bother he’s been. Jesus didnt’ do that with the woman at the well either.
I’m just rambling. I couldn’t help but think about this man tonight as I write another story. I imagined myself as this victim and it was a horrifying feeling for me. As a victim, with what I’d just been through, my first response was that I pictured being sold into slavery once I’d healed. I pictured being beaten and starved if my work was unsatisfactory. Then I looked at the mercy offered with no strings and I went through another kind of agony. The kind that said, like Mr. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, “… and how am I ever to repay him?”
You would owe your life to a stranger and you couldn’t do a thing about it. It’s kind of like salvation isn’t it? We’re dead, battered on the side of the road. The world ignores us as the rotten filth that we are but a “Good Samaritan” stops, picks us up, cleans our wounds and pays the price for our healing and care and there is nothing, not a single thing we can do to repay him.
Gratitude is a given! What kind of ungrateful clods would we be if we didn’t at least show gratitude but our gratitde doesn’t pay the debt. Nothing, not a thing we can do, can repay that debt.
That old devotional song keeps running through my mind.
He paid a debt He did not owe,
I owed a debt I could not pay,
I needed someone to wash my sin away
And now I sing a brand new song: Amazing Grace
Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay