…Jesus said: ‘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. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came to where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 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. The next day he took out two denarii 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.’
Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’
The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’
Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
After all that was said in the previous studies we will now look at the reaction of the Samaritan to what he saw.
So here was the Samaritan on the road. A member of the hated sect, and not considered to be a part of the people of the Covenant. There was racial tension, and even hatred by the Jews for the Samaritans. But here we have a completely different response to the situation of the wounded man on the road.
The first two men passed by on the other side, but the Samaritan, when he saw the wounded man, went to him. The first two kept their distance, and made it as far as possible, but the Samaritan came closer.
I fully admit that it is not directly relevant to this parable, but I had a certain thought come to my mind on rereading this passage. It is about those in the church who like to gossip and criticise.
I wonder how many of them really know the truth of the situation? How many know the problems that are in the life of the person or people that they are criticising? I mean really know. It is all very safe to make accusations and spread rumours while keeping a distance. But to get closer and to know the truth… Or to risk seeing the problems and maybe to have compassion… It is easier not to check the facts, to view with disdain from a distance, than it is to ‘get involved’ with the truth.
As awful as this sounds, I honestly believe that sometimes people avoid getting closer and finding out the truth about things because it may touch their heart. They actually do not want their own compassion to be touched. They prefer to have a hardness of heart to someone rather than to show love or compassion or care.
I wonder if maybe this is to avoid the possible work that they would find themselves doing to help? No. I don’t think it is that. I don’t think it has anything to do with laziness. But it may have something to do with hardness of heart.
In this respect I think of and remember the story of the Pharisees observing Jesus to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. And Jesus was distressed by the lack of compassion and the hardness of their hearts – that they would put such literalism and legalism above simple human kindness and care for one another.
The Samaritan was clearly not like this (or the other reasons discussed in past studies). He went to the man and examined the situation. Maybe, initially, simply to determine if the man was still alive. Considering the amount of care and commitment he displayed after this, I would not have been surprised if he would have placed the body on his donkey if he had discovered that the man was dead. He had the kind of compassion that wanted to do the right thing for the man – to do what was needed.
So we are told that, on seeing the man lying there in the road, he took pity on him. The word used has the implication of sympathy, or fellow-feeling. In other words, one of the things he may have thought about is that the same thing could have happened to him. And that if such misfortune came on him, he would certainly hope that there would be someone who would soon come and help him.
So here we have the direct link into the second love commandment – to love your neighbour as yourself. The Samaritan was doing as he hoped others would do for him.
This is something many Christians, and even many non-Christians, say that they believe in and have as a life philosophy – to treat others in the same way they wish to be treated themselves. Yet actually, when it comes to it, many, including many Christians, do not live up to these words. Take the gossipers, for instance. Would they really want others to be saying the kinds of things about them that they are saying in their gossip-gatherings? And yet they do it anyway…
And if these same people had some of the same problems as the persons they are criticising, I think they would hope that someone would have some compassion, some patience, and at least offer the time to listen to the story and offer some words of help.
Bad things happen in the world. This is a fact, and few lives are not touched by such things. What can make it much worse is when it is clear that some criticise and gossip about you, as though you brought all of it on yourself.Think about the friends of Job, for instance, who suggested such things after his misfortune.
It is time to look with fresh eyes, eyes of love and compassion, on all the people in your congregation. Do you know someone that no-one seems to talk to? Do you even know why that is? Have you listened to the gossip about the person or have you checked the facts? Sometimes things really are not as they seem.
I knew of a woman in one congregation who seemed to be the last person anyone wanted to talk with. And there was the occasional Sunday that she seemed to be wiping a tear from her eye as she left the church. I later found out that she was incredibly lonely. She was a widow and living on her own. Her own children did not bother to contact or to visit, and she had not heard from them for more than ten years.
This was, apparently, the fact that had started the gossips – people wondering what kind of evil deeds she had done to deserve her own children abandoning her. But I later learned the truth, from a disabled woman who was housebound and who had seen the whole situation develop. This housebound person could not come to church, so the leaders of the church would visit, bring communion, and spend some time in prayer and fellowship with her. When it was my turn to visit her again, I decided to ask about the lonely widow. At first the housebound woman looked at me a bit fiercely and asked me why I wanted to know. As soon as she understood that there was genuine interest and concern, and not the desire for gossip, she began to tell the truth about the situation.
Listen, it is simply the sad state of society that sometimes kids grow up and, in their adult life, do not feel the need to stay in touch with their parents. And then the parents become increasingly upset with them about it. Sooner or later it bursts into a big argument. And then sometimes the children, now adult, do not make contact at all any more. As simple as that. And now this woman was having to face the gossip about her in addition to this sorrow caused by her unthinking children.
You know, sometimes situations like this really can be rescued. I found out that, when the situation first arose, someone from the church had been to visit the children. But it was maybe too soon after the argument where words had been said and the hurt was deep and fresh. There was still hardness of heart.
Nevertheless I decided to visit one of the children, a lady with children of her own who was in her early 40s. At first she did not want to let me in or talk, but then decided that it would be OK. As we drank coffee together and talked, it became clear to me that maybe her heart was softening to the situation. So I risked a direct question: how would she feel if one of her children decided never to speak to her again? That was enough to open the floodgates of tears.
That mother and daughter were reunited, and the daughter spoke with her sister to put things right also. The two daughters knew about the gossipers and the things said behind the back. These daughters even went to privately visit the gossipers to let them know the truth and to judge for themselves their own behaviour.
When you see a situation, a person in difficulty or need, what will you do? Will you close your eyes? Will you pass by on the other side? Will you join with the gossipers? Will you harden your heart?
Or will you have compassion, pity, and draw close to the person. Will you find out what the problem really is, and see if you can help. Who knows, maybe this is the chance to show the love of Jesus to someone who really needs it.