The Good Samaritan is a familiar story to most Christians. A man gets beaten up by robbers. Two religious people don’t take the time to stop, but one kind neighbor goes out of his way to offer both relief and care. Isn’t that the way it’s always told?
As I look back over the years, some of the Sunday School lessons and sermons I’ve heard dive into the motives behind the religious leaders’ callousness or busyness, perhaps needing to stay ceremonially clean for some reason that day. Many have zeroed in on the charity of the Samaritan, going out of his way for an enemy.
What if we sometimes need to focus our attention a little differently? Have we all overlooked something important in the midst of this oft-told tale?
The Questioning Begins
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Such an innocent-sounding question. After all, I’m sure many wanted the same assurances that we do, a checklist to perform to know that we’ve done all God’s asked of us. I know I’ve thought on more than one occasion, “Just tell me what to do, Lord.”
Reading the Bible, praying, and listening for God’s voice in my life is not an exact science, especially when you add in pain from a recent wound. Sometimes I just want to know that I’m getting it right, at least more than I’m missing the mark.
Jesus responds with a question of His own
“What is written in the Law?” [Jesus] replied. “How do you read it?”
Such a smart counter-move by Jesus. He knew this legal expert’s heart wasn’t seeking an honest answer to his basic question. No, this lawyer was playing a game of chess. Unfortunately for the expert in the law, he didn’t understand that he’d underestimated his opponent.
He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Indisputable quotes. When the lawyer spouted off these passages from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, he showed his knowledge of the written law of God.
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But that’s not really what the lawyer wanted.
Oh, but the lawyer hadn’t accomplished his mission, and everyone listening who was important in his eyes knew it. He had to press on, ask Jesus more.
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
He might have thought he’d maneuvered Jesus into position for an easy end to the game. But have you ever played a game with a master of it? You know, one of those games where you think you’re holding your own fairly well, and then suddenly, in one or two moves, it’s all over? You never had a chance.
The Good Samaritan enters our world.
In reply 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.”
And so starts the passage commonly referred to as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. One injured man, two religious men likely protecting their status and busy schedules, and one Samaritan loathed by all of Jesus’ listeners.
For much of our lives, the challenge goes out for us to be the Samaritan, the one who reaches out in spite of boundaries placed by culture and beliefs to help someone abused by life. I’ve heard dozens of sermons about being aware of those around me, of going to them and providing what I have, even to make sure I have the margin in my life to be able to take the time to love on others. Yes. Very true.
But . . .
He’s not the only character in the story.
Every so often in our lives, we’re not the Samaritan. We’re not even the priest or Levite who were busy about their duties for God.
No, sometimes, usually against our will and in spite of our plans, we are the man attacked by robbers. The one left naked and beaten and half dead. The one in need of a neighbor who will show mercy.
What do we do then?
Walk through the muck.
Joanne Steen and Regina Asaro wrote in their book, Military Widow:
Working through grief is like walking through mud. Each step is an effort, and progress is measured in inches, not miles. Like mud, grief is messy. By the end of the day, you’re covered in it from head to toe, and should you stumble and fall, it’s downright embarrassing. When you’re stuck in the mud, you want to give up and quit. But, the only way to get through the muck and mire is to keep moving forward.
The death of a loved one isn’t the only thing that throws us into grief. Consider these other common sources:
- The loss of or change in a job or a relationship
- Failure to get a promotion or recognition
- Life taking a turn we didn’t anticipate or don’t want
- Kids making choices we don’t want or see as wise
The authors of Military Widow are absolutely right. We must journey through grief. Some days, we must fight our way through.
But don’t miss the full point.
When Butterflies Emerge
Have you ever watched a butterfly leaves its cocoon? One year, I purchased a butterfly kit complete with several caterpillars and a small net suitable for their survival. We hung it up in our kitchen where we could all watch the transformation. I was fascinated as they built their cocoons, and we all counted the days waiting for them to emerge. And then the first one started the long, difficult process.
I knew what to expect. I knew the butterfly had to struggle, and that I would want to help. But I had to restrain myself and my children, letting the insect figure it out for itself. This painful process is absolutely critical to the success of the butterfly. As Priscilla Shirer told her boys when they watched this happen, “If it gets out too early, without fighting through, it’ll be crippled the rest of its life.”
Do you see the parallel for your own life?
Priscilla emphasizes it well in Discerning the Voice of God.
The challenge is part of the plan. . . . We knew that, didn’t we? Or maybe we’d forgotten. Or didn’t want to admit it. But since our heavenly Father’s goal is to help us reach our full spiritual potential as believers in Christ, we too will often be challenged by the things He calls us to do. Sometimes really challenged. And it won’t be a mistake or a divine mishap. It will be on purpose.
The butterfly must struggle, but it is a battle it was designed to win—if it does one thing. Focus on getting out of the cocoon. If it is distracted by anything else, if it gets discouraged and ceases to fight, it will die trapped in its struggle.
But don’t stop there with that picture in your head. Keep reading.
Do you know what the butterfly does as soon as it’s free from its bonds? It rests, for a good long while.
Isn’t that what the man going down from Jericho did once the Samaritan had him settled at the inn? Rest, allowing his body (and probably his mind) time to heal.
I am better off healed than I ever was unbroken. ~Beth Moore
The man injured by robbers and the beautiful butterfly are two very different situations, but not so different in some aspects at all. Both require intense focus on the difficulty at hand. And both require rest to recover in order to fully return to their life in the world.
Maybe you’re in the midst of some hard knocks of your own right now. Or perhaps you’ve recently been left on the side of the road, bruised and bleeding.
Don’t discount the ministry of others to tend to your wounds.
And don’t negate or neglect the wondrous ministry of rest that God provides. Your heart and mind, and probably body, need it more than we often realize.
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