We hear about a famous road in today’s gospel, the road to Jericho. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a favorite haunt for robbers and outlaws. A letter from A.D. 171 complains to the local authorities about the crime being committed along the road. The first audience who listened to this story would have identified with the victim; the man in the ditch. They would easily imagine themselves lying there on their backs in the depths of need; all their resources stolen.
The worst part was forcibly looking up and seeing one’s enemy. For the man in the ditch, it was an ethnic nightmare. Jesus was doing something quite radical in speaking of a Good Samaritan. The Jews and the Samaritans hated each other. At the time this story was told, it was explosive and offensive. Remember, Jesus told the parable to people who saw themselves as chosen by God exclusively. They saw Gentiles as Godless and inferior. They had even stronger hostility toward Samaritans.
Samaritans were Jews who had betrayed Israel’s heritage by inter-marrying with Gentiles. They were considered traitors whose children were looked upon as mongrels. They were ceremonially unclean, social outcasts and religious heretics. Jesus’ story is devastating to this point of view. He did something unthinkable; he made a Samaritan a hero. So, Jesus is giving us an early lesson in acceptance and the way we discriminate.
So, who is your neighbor? It is simple, it is easy. Your neighbor is the poor, the sick, the lonely and the neglected. These are indeed your neighbors because if you are human, nothing that is human is a stranger to you. And if you are Christian, everything human is a part and parcel of you. I cannot really tell you who your neighbor is; to whom you must show compassion. Only you know that, you with your eyes opened by God’s grace.
You in your particular situation, only you know who you must reach out to. Some years ago in Washington D.C. I heard a Baptist Minister preach of this gospel. When he spoke of the Priest and the Levite who passed by he said that Priest and that Levite were perfectly at home in Jerusalem. They could handle anything that had to be done in the Temple: the Torah, the Altar, the Incense and the animals to be sacrificed. The Holy of Holy’s and the Ark of the Covenant; they were experts and they could handle it all.
What they could not handle was the event on the Jericho road they had to pass by. I love being a Priest; I do not know why there is a vocation crisis. I cannot imagine anything more satisfying or more wonderful than being a Priest. And I feel comfortable up here, I know what to do in the Sanctuary. But I have to ask myself; what about my event on Jericho road?
We all have one; each of us walks, rides or jogs a Jericho road. And, on that road for most of us there is something we would rather pass by; rather ignore. Perhaps a part of ourselves that has fallen among robbers. We could become top of our field, stars at what we do and a huge success in the eyes of the world. You could do all of this and still refuse to look at the part of your life that is laying on the Jericho road that needs to be picked up, taken care of or needs so desperately to be healed.
Only you know what it might be; it could be so many things. It could be your compulsion to gossip, uncharitableness, or the way you can ruin a person’s reputation with just one sentence. It could be anger, loneliness, depression, pain or fear of life and death. We hear a lot of talk in church about helping others and that is good. I preach a great deal about that to the joy of some and the sadness of others. But, do not forget yourself while you care for others—your life, your feelings and your relationship with God; because you cannot give away what you don’t have.
As someone once said, the Glory of God is man and woman fully alive. But, you cannot be fully alive if there is part of your life that you cannot bear to look at. If there is part of you laying on the Jericho road, that is the part that God wants. Pick it up, take care of it and let it be healed. However, in the beginning, you may have to be your own Good Samaritan.