We all know the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus tells in response to the lawyer who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life.
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
I’m often so familiar with this parable that I tend to speed through it whenever I come across it. Yeah, yeah, the Samaritan was awesome because he took the trouble to help. Boo to those indifferent priests and Levites!
But today, Keenan shared a great question to think about: Why did the priest and Levite ignore the half dead man in the first place?
Key reason: It would have been way too much trouble to help.
Think about what helping would have entailed:
- They might have gotten robbed themselves (the robbers who beat up this poor man might be waiting close by)
- They would have incurred high costs to take the man to an inn or a doctor (Two denarii was the equivalent of two days wages)
- They were busy with their own priestly / scholarly duties – serving the “greater good” of preaching to the people
- They would have had to be re-cleansed – touching a dead person meant that they would be “unclean” and hence have to undergo a length re-cleansing ritual
- Their friends and fellow priests would have made fun of them for being so “foolish”
All that trouble for a person they didn’t even know? Not worth it.
We often look at the priest and the Levite and chastise them for their lack of compassion, but how many of us would have acted differently?
Let’s not forget that helping our neighbour often comes at a very real cost to us. And how many times have we told ourselves that the cost is simply “not worth it”?
- When we get a desperate text in the middle of the night from a not-so-close friend
- When we’re told that we have to report at 7am on a Saturday to help out at a charity
- When someone urgently needs a blood donation that will cost us hours of our time
- When a colleague needs help with work that will take up our entire weekend
And yet, this is precisely what we’re called to do as Christians!
Jesus praises the Good Samaritan for truly being a neighbour and showing mercy to this man. Not only because he was “merciful”, but also because he incurred a very real personal cost – in terms of money, time, risk, and reputation (he was a Samaritan so helping a Jew wasn’t socially unthinkable at the time).
I have to admit – I’m a lot less like the Samaritan and a lot more like the priest and the Levite. I haven’t done much charitable work. I’m uncomfortable when it comes to talking to people outside my social circle. And I’m only “charitable” when it’s convenient and offers me some benefit.
Today’s reading reminded me that to build the kingdom of God, we have to:
- Remember that being a true neighbour is hard
- Step outside our own myopic selfishness
- Willingly take on those costs to be a neighbour
Easier said than done, but perhaps going down that path is how we can start to inherit eternal life.