The Gospel of Luke 10:25-37 is undoubtedly one of the most straightforward of Christ's parables. It doesn't call for a lot of discussion. What it does call for is action: Go and do the same yourself.
What is most disturbing in Christ's story is not the attack on an innocent man, but the fact that two people who might be expected to help him pass by without even showing compassion for him. How could their feelings be so dulled, their sympathies so atrophied? This indifference to the pain and sufferings of others is so widespread today. It is the defiant cry of Cain on all sides: "I am not my brother's keeper."
A young man whom we will call Tom related to me a strange and shocking thing that happened to him. He had gone to a meeting near Youngstown and had parked his car in a bar parking lot. When he got back to the car, he found three police cars outside the bar with their lights on.
He looked for the cause of the police presence and saw a wrecked motorbike against the wall. Then he saw a lot of blood on the road, and noticed a dented crash helmet lying some 10 yards away. He was told that about half an hour before, a young man on the bike had hit the side of a van and ricocheted into the corner of the building. His body had just been taken away and the police were now busy taking photos.
Other side of wall
Tom went into the bar. Inside, it would have been impossible to guess that anything unusual had happened. There was a loud band playing and loud laughter. Nobody was talking about the young man who had just been killed on the other side of the wall where the band was beating and blaring.
Tom asked himself the cause of this. Was it shock at what had happened? Was it that they were putting on a stiff upper lip? Or were they just determined that nothing should spoil their fun? He couldn't decide which of these had produced the astonishing appearance of total indifference, but it looked as if it were the last reason more than the others. The indifference shocked him more than the accident itself. After all, accidents are unfortunately all too common today.
The wrong question
Why did the priest and Levite not stop? Because the first question that came to their minds was: "What will happen to me if I stop?" Whereas the first question that came to the Samaritan's mind was: "What will happen to the wounded man if I don't stop?" He makes it all sound so simple, because he is not thinking of what will be the result for himself -- he is not interested in that -- but only of what he ought to do.
People today are very cautious about getting involved. Getting involved is a messy business. It disrupts your life. You never know the amount of trouble you are getting yourself into if you decide to answer a cry for help. It is much safer, and far easier, to close your heart and go quietly by on the other side of the road. How often we unthinkingly define a good neighbor as "one who always minds his own business."
Unlikely source of help
The strong point in Christ's story is that it involved a Samaritan helping a Jew. It is the most unlikely person who emerges as the hero. The man who helped was not even a religious man. And he, too, could have conjured up several good reasons for not getting involved. Why hadn't the priest and Levite helped? After all, it was their job, so to speak. Besides, it was a dangerous road on which to hang about.
Then, to cap it all, the wounded man was a Jew, and they hated the Samaritans. Yet the Samaritan brushed all these reasons aside and opened his heart to the wounded man. His reaction was instinctive. Why? Because he was that kind of man. He could not find it in him to pass a fellow human being who was wounded and crying out for help. He was immediately "moved with compassion." But he didn't leave it at that. He stopped to help.
At one time or another, we've all acted like the priest and the Levite. We have passed by someone who needed our help. We refused to get involved. No doubt in each case, we could come up with highly plausible excuses. But when all is said and done, the real reason we did not help is that we lack concern for a fellow human being. We are simply too preoccupied with ourselves.
The parable of Christ is more relevant today than ever before. How many people today lie wounded by the roadside of life? Their wounds are not always visible. They are not physical and do not therefore appear on the outside. People can be wounded in spirit. Perhaps there are such people on my own street, if not in my own house: a depressed man who has lost his wife and mother, lonely kids, forgotten old people, all waiting, lying quietly, perhaps not having the courage to call out, waiting for the coming of a Good Samaritan.
Is my heart big enough to embrace even some of these? Ah, Good Samaritan, in a world of indifference and preoccupation with self, you shine out like a light in the dark. You are like water in the desert.
XThe Rev. Daniel Rohan is pastor of St. Mark Orthodox Church in Liberty.