March 13 marks Good Samaritan Day – a fitting time for the Good Samaritan Society to celebrate our namesake.
The phrase “Good Samaritan” originates from a parable Jesus shared, which is found in Luke 10:25-37. The passage begins with an “expert in the law,” a religious lawyer, questioning Jesus about what one needs to do to inherit eternal life. There’s this sense that the expert is trying to trap Jesus, because he was viewed by some as an “outsider” because he ate with “tax collectors and sinners,” something not condoned for a religious leader.
Jesus replies to the expert and asks what the law says, and he quotes the two greatest commandments –love God and love neighbor. Jesus affirms his response, but the expert isn’t satisfied, and probes further asking Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
In other words, he wants to know, “Who are we talking about here, Jesus? Can you be specific? Where can I draw the line? Who is in and who is out? I mean, there are lines... aren't there, Jesus?" In response, Jesus tells a parable about a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by bandits. They robbed, beat and stripped him, and left him for dead.
Two religious leaders saw him lying in a ditch but kept walking. But a Samaritan, one considered an outsider who didn’t quite fit in to any social group, had pity on him, bandaged the man's wounds and carried him to the nearest inn, paid the innkeeper for further care and promised to return.
"Which of the three was a neighbor to the man who was robbed?" Jesus then asks the expert. "The one who showed him mercy," the lawyer replies. "Go and do likewise," Jesus says. "Do this and you will live."
It turns out that the Good Samaritan is none other than Jesus himself. He is an outsider to the expert, and yet it is this unexpected outsider who brings mercy, love, care and compassion to both the expert and to all people.
The parable offers us a deeper awareness of our interdependency – our dependency upon God and each other. It invites us to locate ourselves in two different places within it. First, we are invited to imagine ourselves as the person in need by envisioning the things that confine us, limit us or distract us. It may just be that the unexpected person, the outsider to us, may be our Good Samaritan who can help us to see clearly and give us new life.
And secondly, we are invited to go and show mercy like the Good Samaritan did. We are encouraged to see the needs around us, and then invited to serve as the Good Samaritan’s hands and feet in the world by showing compassion to others through acts of care, love and mercy.
As the Good Samaritan Society celebrates its namesake, let us be open to the surprising and unexpected “Others” in our life, and let us offer care and compassion to those we meet along life’s journey.