Jesus told a story about a man who was mugged as he traveled along along a dangerous stretch of road in Palestine. In fact, his attackers left him for dead.
As Jesus told the story, the crime victim lay in a ditch, unable to move and certainly not able to tend to his own wounds. He may have felt fortunate that others came along the route after him and perhaps would reach out to him. But he was soon disappointed.
A priest came by first, and he probably had his reasons for crossing to the other side of the road and continuing on his way. Perhaps it was easier to ignore the half-dead man by walking where he didn’t have to see him. So, too, a Levite came by and did the same. Perhaps by crossing the road, he was less disturbed by the moaning victim.
Model citizens, the cream of the crop — both of the potential rescuers strode by, perhaps running late to fulfill religious obligations.
In Jesus’ story, it is the one judged least likely to lend a hand who becomes the hero. The Samaritan heard the man, then saw him as he followed the weakened voice. Quickly, he jumped off his donkey and began tending to the wounds of a man who might have cited a long-standing feud between Jews and Samaritans and refused the assistance.
In Jesus’ telling of this parable — which someone described as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning — the Samaritan didn’t wait for permission to help the crime victim. Neither did the victim hesitate to receive assistance.
The Samaritan even prepaid for the care of his new acquaintance with the promise to come back and pay more if the recovery required it.
Tragedy has struck the world in recent days in various ways, both nearby and far away.
As this column is being prepared, news has come that a tremendous earthquake in China has killed 9,000 people. Several days earlier, in Burma — also known as Myanmar — a cyclone named Nargis may have produced a death toll of more than 100,000 with many more people without shelter and food. The nation’s rulers wasted precious time in allowing relief supplies into the country.
In Missouri, high winds battered the Kansas City area a few days ago. And just over the past weekend, deadly tornadoes swept across Oklahoma, southwestern Missouri and Arkansas, killing at least 20 people.
Governments may haggle over the details of providing assistance in the wake of catastrophes, but hurting human beings rarely request identification from those who offer them medical care, shelter and food. No Democrats making sure they are not being helped by Republicans. No Buddhists shying away from assistance offered by Christians, or vice-versa. No Palestinians turning down help from Israelis.
On the contrary, help is accepted freely and with gratitude. Tragedy is the great leveler. It helps us remember what is truly important — and what is not. Tragedies may blow down homes, but they also knock down barriers. Tragedy creates opportunities for people to be what Jesus called “neighbors” in his simple parable.
Jesus’ story was simply that. It was just a story. But it illustrated to His early listeners that with God the things that seem impossible — or at least improbable — can become life-changing. In the parable, the story came in response to the question: What must I do to inherit eternal life? The answer was found in a roadside ditch.