Neighborly Action

Augustine postulated the scenario in which someone had fallen into a pit with no way to get out. He is desperate. If he doesn’t get out, he will eventually die. Suppose two people come along – let’s name them Harry and George. Harry said, “Why George, look at that fellow there in the pit. How do you suppose he got there?” To which George responded, “I don’t know. Maybe he was pushed in there because he did something horrendous. Maybe he deserves to be in the pit. Maybe he tripped due to his own carelessness. In which case, he still deserves to be there.” Harry added, “Yes, those are distinct possibilities. But what if he is innocent and the person who pushed him is the culprit? His case hinges on how he got there and whether or not he deserves to be stuck in the pit.” The man in the pit shouts up, “I would be better off if, instead of discussing the how and wherefore, you came up with a plan to get me out.” What the man in the pit desperately longs for is compassion; a compassion that motivates an action – a neighborly action.

              Luke 10:30-37 is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The setting scene is a discussion between a lawyer and Jesus about what one must do to inherit eternal life. And the answer is love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Ah, but what exactly does that mean? So Jesus picked up the conversation and responded with a parable about a certain man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. Jesus’ hearers would have been familiar with how dangerous this road was. Strabo, who wrote a traveler’s guide, tells of Pompey dealing with robbers on this road. No surprise then, that this certain man fell among robbers and was beat and left naked and half dead. Sometimes extreme situations were used to give clarity to everyday questions. And this was an extreme situation. Unless someone comes along and helps him, he will most likely not survive.

              Ah good news. A priest is coming down the same road. The man is saved. But the priest is not moved with compassion. Instead he goes to the other side of the road, passes by, and leaves the man in his desperate state. All manner of guesses at motive exist here. Was he concerned about the possibility of making himself unclean by touching what looked like a corpse? Well, probably not, since the rabbis taught that if someone died without family a priest could bury that person without risk of being made unclean. Was he fearful that the robbers may still be hanging around to try a two for one robbery? Was he just plain tired after a week of service in the temple? Maybe this person deserved what he got. Jesus doesn’t tell us and maybe that is telling. The point is, the person who the audience tended to pin their hopes on, left the man in his desperate state. A Levite comes along with the same results. This is less surprising. Levites were not looked up to as much as priests. When they heard of the Levite, the audience probably thought, “Well, maybe he will help, but if the priest didn’t bother, why would the Levite?”

              Samaritan. Well that’s no good. All hope lays on the road. A Samaritan? It would not be outrageous to find a Samaritan here on this road. It was outrageous to think that the man’s situation had improved with the Samaritan being on this road. The Samaritan had compassion. And this is the key to the parable. Feeling a compassion that leads to action. So, he tends to the man’s wounds with what he had: oil and wine. The wine was probably and antiseptic and the oil was for soothing and healing. The Samaritan placed the man on his own beast and took him to an inn and paid for his room. The next day, he gives the innkeeper enough to have the man stay there for about two weeks and pledges to pay if more is needed. This is significant, because if you couldn’t pay your bills you could be sold into slavery. More importantly the Samaritan pledged himself for as long as the need is present. Jesus ended by asking, “Out of the three who was the neighbor?” The lawyer responded with, “Well, I suppose it was the one who showed mercy.” This probably shows a reluctance on his part to name the Samaritan as the neighbor, but it is also the key of the parable. Compassion is key. If you are desperate, do you care if the person who offers help happens to belong to that group? Samaritan? Why yes, a Samaritan can be your neighbor if you need help.

              Jesus tells the lawyer to go do the same. Go be the neighbor. Be a neighbor to whoever needs help; be a neighbor regardless of race, status, or religion; be a neighbor when there just might be some inconvenience involved. Allow compassion to move you to action – a neighborly action. There is no list of who you have to love in order to keep this command. Just be a neighbor filled with motivating compassion.