Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
If you have ever played a sport, the chances are very good that you have heard of “follow through.” It is the continuation of the action designed to put the ball into the hoop or hole or bleachers, the puck into the net, the tennis ball into the opponent’s court, etc. Golfers are told to aim through the ball–to a spot three or four inches past, not at it. Basketball players are told to extend their shooting arm all the way out, letting the hand fall, sort of through the net. I could go on and on, but that communicates the idea. The story of the Good Samaritan is not just a story of a singular act of first aid, but the story of charity with complete follow through.
Let me begin our look at the story with its most important lesson. Jesus told the parable to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” The punch line comes after Jesus tells the story and then reverses the question. He asks, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Once the correct answer has been given–identifying the Samaritan as the neighbor–Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”
At the same time, knowing the story, its meaning and its punch line means next to nothing if we do not also see that the world’s Neighbor–our Neighbor–is none other than Jesus Himself. While I would never have you think that Jesus does not want you to be like the Good Samaritan, I firmly believe we must start by seeing ourselves as the one who was beaten and left half dead. Jesus is the One Who comes to us, revives us, pays our debts and gives–not just some but all of Himself–to us and for us. It is in His death that we survive and it is in His resurrection that we rise to wholeness of life, no longer half dead.
A man with no food cannot feed his neighbor; a woman with no clothing cannot clothe her friend; a Samaritan with no horse cannot put a beaten man on one to take him to an inn. In exactly the same way, only those who have been fully loved by our Neighbor God can fully love their neighbor!
In an issue of LectionAid, Glendon Harris offered a historical perspective that sheds some very helpful light on how the first audience might have heard Jesus’ parable. He wrote: “The setting of the story is on the Jericho road, a steep 17-mile stretch that drops from Jerusalem’s 2,000 foot altitude to Jericho, 1,000 feet below sea level. The road winds through an area of limestone caves, which offered ambush for brigand bands, and whose sudden turns exposed the traveler to surprise attack. The road became known as the ‘Bloody Pass.’ Many among Jesus’ listeners had traveled it. They listened and (in their mind’s eye) saw the certain man stripped, beaten and left half dead.”
Harris went on to note that the locale was probably intentional rather than accidental because Jericho was the residence of about half the priestly orders. A priest and a Levite were very likely to go that way. A Samaritan is in every way an unlikely candidate to be making the journey, let alone to be the hero of the story! The Samaritan was also a giver beyond normal givers. He did not call 911: “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.” Then, going well beyond immediate first aid, he gave up his ride and transported the beaten fellow to a place where he could receive continuing care. But the Samaritan was not satisfied with “could.” He saw to it that the man would receive the needed care by paying for it. He acted and he followed through! Glendon Harris added, with his keen wit, “That’s the good in the Good Samaritan.”
George Buttrick is the author of The Parables of Jesus. Some of his observations on this story are definitely quotable:
“Of spasmodic and inadequate relief it has been wittily said that it creates one-half of the misery it relieves, but cannot relieve one-half of the misery it creates. But the Samaritan’s love was painstaking and complete. He made himself responsible even for the prolongation of help beyond the limits of probable need. ‘I will repay you whatever more you spend,’ he told the innkeeper. Such love is costly. His beast was wearied and his saddle stained with blood, property rights surrendered at the demands of love. His journey was broken and his business errand hindered, profits capitulated to human need.
“Therefore his service was thorough in a manner which the story does not straightaway reveal. He bound up wounds of the spirit as he bound up wounds of the body. He poured in the wine of love as he poured in wine from a humbler flask. He gave rest to a broken spirit as he gave rest to the broken flesh…. Altruism is merely fragmentary–a morsel which but accentuates the hunger–if it fails to provide that meat ‘which the world knows not of.'”
What eloquence! He bound up wounds of the spirit as he bound up wounds of the body. He poured in the wine of love as he poured in wine from a humbler flask.
An article in The Christian Century once criticized Mother Teresa and her followers for ignoring the wrongs in the social structure of India. The Parable of the Good Samaritan says to me that there are times when that is precisely our calling. It is all too easy to pass by the individual on our way to dealing with major needs in society. Can you not hear the Levite now? “The next time the Levitical Congress meets, I’m going to introduce a bill to do something about these bandits and vandals! If the Romans won’t take care of the ‘Bloody Pass,’ we will!”
A few years ago, a newspaper in Brazil reported the story of a family living in one of the city’s slums. There were six children and another on the way. They lived in a shack the size of a one-car garage. There was one piece of furnishing–a single mattress for the whole family. The headline of the article read, “God, where are you that you do not answer?”
Glendon Harris observed that the more appropriate question is: “Where is the person or persons whom God can indwell who will ‘answer’ that family’s physical and spiritual needs?” He added: “God will be found in their ministrations.”
Unlike the lawyer in Jesus’ parable, the one in this Feddersen’s Fable was a woman. She lived some way from her elderly father and had not seen him for several months. One day he called and asked, “When are you going to visit?” She proceeded to tell him about all the demands of her busy schedule–the court dates, appointments, meetings etc.
He asked, “Tell me something: when I die, do you intend to come to the funeral?” Somewhat shocked, she said: “Dad, I can’t believe you’d even ask such a question! Of course I’d come to the funeral.”
“Good,” he said. “Let’s make a deal. Forget the funeral! I need you more now than I will then.”
The stripped and beaten around us don’t always look like victims of violence. They may be stripped of such things as dignity, employment and self-respect. They may be beaten down by abusive relationships, diseases, economic systems, uncaring employers or just the ongoing burdens of everyday responsibility. We may stand shoulder to shoulder with them at work or school every day. We may sit elbow to elbow with them on Sunday morning.
Those in greatest need often show no need at all. They are skipping down the bloody pass that leads to hell and won’t know their destination until they arrive. The Good News is that Jesus already went through that pass for them, but they won’t know that either unless you and I tell them the Good News about Jesus.
The Good Samaritan saw the man at the side of the road because he was willing to really look at him. Too often, we don’t see those who are right in front of us. We need to keep our eye on the goal and like our truly Good Samaritan, Jesus Himself, we need to follow through. And we must do serious battle every moment with the selfish forces that excuse passing by on the other side.