In The Ditch
I’ve been in church since 9 months before I was born, so I’ve heard the story of “The Good Samaritan” more than a few times. You may fall into that category, or you may be new to the story, but either way - stay with me for a few more minutes.
LINK TO PASSAGE - I'll just wait right here while you go read that....
Cast of characters:
Expert in the law: self-righteous smarty pants who thinks he can outwit Jesus
Jesus: Son of God (what else is there to say?)
Victim: Unwitting man who was travelling along minding his own darn business
Priest: Holy man, too busy to be holy
Levite: Also holy, only a little less so
Samaritan: Lower class citizen (in the eyes of the holy men)
(Yes, I’m projecting. And judging. But it’s my article, so I can do as I please)
While Jesus is teaching, an “expert in the law”, meaning someone who is well-versed in the Old Testament and teaches in the Synagogue, asks him a question. Well, not just A question, but THE question -
“how can I obtain eternal life?”
Because he is described as an “expert in the law”, we know right away that he already knows the answer to this question. Jesus knows this as well, this is why he responds basically with “You tell me”.
So, Mr. Self-Righteous takes the stage and eloquently answers his question. Correctly, of course.
Next we see Jesus stand up, slow clap, and say “Well done! Now go and do what you said.”
But, in order to justify his own choices, the teacher of the law replies with another question, “Who is my neighbor?”. We have to assume that he thought he knew the answer to the question. With all of his education and years of teaching, he had figured it all out and wanted to “justify himself” by asking Jesus to put his stamp of approval on his interpretation.
Why else would he have asked? Certainly not to hear the answer that Jesus actually gave.
In true “Jesus” style, he answers the man with a parable. There's nothing like a good story to solidify a concept in someone’s mind.
A man is traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, a route with a reputation for bad things happening to good people, when he is robbed, beaten, and left for dead in the ditch.
Along comes a priest. A man well known for his high place in the temple and for his holiness. He sees the man (that is made clear), but chooses to pass him by.
Maybe he is judging the man for being silly enough to travel this road alone. Maybe he is thinking of the next place he has to go and doesn’t have time to stop. Maybe he’s just thinking of how the blood will soil his garments.
Whatever he was thinking, he saw a man in distress and chose not to stop.
Next comes a Levite. The Levites were also recognized as holy people because they were set apart from the rest of Israel as a tribe to take care of the temple. He sees the man (also stated clearly) and chooses not to intervene.
Maybe he is thinking of how touching the man will make him ceremonially unclean and doesn’t want the gossip around the water cooler that will surely come. “Hey, have you seen Steve? He’s been gone for 3 days.”, “Yeah, I heard he was made ceremonially unclean so he has to stay home for a week. Wonder what he did….”
(Again, I’m projecting. But like I said….)
Lastly, we have the Samaritan. Samaritans were thought of as second class citizens. If you look back just a chapter in the book of Luke you’ll find the disciples asking Jesus if he would like them to call down fire and destroy a Samaritan village just for not allowing them to stay there. I think that pretty much sums up the opinion of the day.
But the Samaritan truly sees the man in the ditch. He takes pity on him. He gives him his own cloak and donkey, and uses his own money to take him to a place where he can find help and shelter. The least “holy” of the 3 is the one that truly shows up for the hurting man.
At this point in the story Jesus looks at the teacher of the law and asks “Which one was a neighbor to the hurting man?”. You have to imagine the expert almost whispers when he says “the one who showed mercy.”
Who is our neighbor?
How do we obtain eternal life? Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Who is our neighbor? Is it the one who deserves our love and attention? Is it the one who has done the right things in order to obtain favor? The one that won’t hurt us if we step into their life?
The one who is in front of us. The one we see. The one who needs what we have to give.
Everything that Jesus did, every word that He uttered, was showing us the kingdom. He is the king, we (the church) are his bride. For the bride to truly represent the king we have to represent his wishes in his kingdom.
If we are to be his bride, to “be the church”, then we must show mercy. We must truly see people. We cannot practice a religion of self-preservation (the priest and the levite), we have to display a Kingdom of compassion. If we don’t, why would a hurting world look at us and want to be a part of what we are attempting to share?
I’m sure the priest and the levite were headed to important places to do important things. They were likely on some holy mission for the good of the temple. They knew all the right teachings, they knew the right words, but they missed the point of it all.
Knowledge isn’t enough.
Most of my life, when I would read this story, I would try to identify what character I would be.
Would I be the priest or the levite? Too busy or self-important to help someone in need?
Would I be the Samaritan? Would I be willing to go shoulder-deep into someone else’s mess in order to show mercy?
Would I be the man who’s been beaten and left for dead? The man who sees the other believers, who are supposed to be representing Jesus, passing them by? Jesus’ people making assumptions of how we ended up in the ditch, instead of stepping down into it with us?
If I were to be honest, right now I most identify with the man in the ditch.
If we are going to “be the church”, we have to open our eyes to the need around us. All 3 saw the man in the ditch, so it wasn’t enough just to notice him.
We have to open more than our eyes, we have to open our lives.
We have to be willing to get a little messy, to put aside our perfectly laid out plans, to act in a manner worthy of the kingdom we represent.
In Jesus’ words “Go and do likewise.”
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