We live in a time when Christians seem militantly concerned about the truth. What is the truth? Who is telling the truth? Who agrees with my truth? Of course, God Himself is concerned about the truth, since He invented it. But when a desire for truth causes dissension and discord among brothers and sisters, what do we prioritize? That was a problem for a contentious lawyer in the Gospel of Luke, too.
An expert in the Mosaic law approached Jesus to test Him (see Luke 10). This lawyer asked about the legal criteria for gaining Heaven, and then he answered his own question: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus approved his understanding, but the man needed more information: “Who is my neighbor?”
The Good Samaritan
In response, Jesus told one of His most famous stories, the parable of the ‘good Samaritan’:
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”
The lawyer to whom Jesus spoke this story sought the truth so he could act on it correctly and be assured of eternal life. Except the lawyer already knew the truth. So Jesus told him a story about something deeper than knowledge.
The men who passed by on the other side of the road were acting wisely, at least from a human perspective. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notoriously dangerous. The bandit attack recounted in Jesus’ parable was oft repeated in real life. To stop for an unknown person along the way was to make yourself vulnerable. And to walk close to a problem, to look or listen for more than a moment, was a potential trap. The priest and Levite acted on the truth when they hurried on their way.
The Samaritan, however, ventured close enough to see and hear human suffering. He was moved by a compassionate heart. His sacrificial acts of mercy were not done for the sake of Heaven but for the sake of a severely injured man.
Is it better to be right or to be loving? Of course, we should know the Scriptures and the world (Matt. 10:16). But cultivating mercy for the hurting and oppressed around us is even better. To act on our knowledge is often commendable, and at times it is all we have. But much more desirable, something to pray for and to work at, is to become a listening, loving person.
Christian friends, I encourage you to prayerfully apply this parable to two difficult, contemporary topics: masking and racial justice. Is your particular view of science more important than loving those who fear disease? Is your interpretation of the world more important than getting close enough to listen to your black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ? What would it mean in each of these situations to take the side of the good Samaritan rather than the side of the contentious lawyer? A voice of pain is crying out from the ditch. Don’t pass by on the other side.
Lord, bless your children with a stronger resemblance to their brother, Jesus, and help us abide always in Your love.