A good lesson on life in the real world.

A few years ago, a seminary professor of mine decided to use the parable of the Good Samaritan to make a point about how fear influences the decisions we make. He turned to Luke chapter 10 and began to read. I zoned out for a few minutes. I know – best seminary student ever and something you never want to hear a pastor say. But it’s a familiar story. One we’ve all heard a million times. In fact, it’s become somewhat of a cultural norm to point to the Good Samaritan in everyday life. I use it regularly with my boys. I imagine you’ve used it as well in an attempt to convey what it means to be kind in a hurting world. So, I took a little mental break in class. No harm, no foul, right?
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After my professor finished reading, he looked up and said, “This is not a story about being nice. This is a story about the transformation of the world.” All of the sudden I was paying attention again. And then he went on to explain that Jesus is responding to a question by sharing that there are three types of people along the road between Jerusalem and Jericho.
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The first type are the robbers, whose ethic suggests that “what is yours is mine at whatever cost”. And the robbers will take whatever they need through violence, coercion and whatever means necessary. These are the people who will leave us physically, mentally and emotionally beaten and bruised along life’s road with nothing left but our shallow breath.
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The second type of person to walk along the dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho is represented by the priest and the Levite, whose ethic suggests that “what is mine is mine and I must protect it even if it means you get hurt in the process”. They aren’t bad people. Both the priest and the Levite are deeply respected in their communities. They very likely follow all the societal rules and norms. They sit on local boards. They pay their taxes on time and likely coach their son’s or daughter’s teams. They also show a great deal of love to those within their immediate communities, but because of what crossing the road to help might cost them, they put their head down and go about their business. So, without even recognizing it, they do more harm than good. Their focus is inward toward their needs and the needs of those who are most like them. It’s an ethic that leads the good and decent priest and Levite toward a life of valuing their reputations instead of relationships. And it often results with them choosing their own individual rights over the health and well-being of their neighbors. Unfortunately, this is the category where I fall most often throughout my life. And if we’re all being honest, I’d say it’s the category that most of us fall into more than we care to admit.
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Then there is the Samaritan, whose ethic is love. And along one of the most dangerous roads in all of history seems to live by a code that says “what is mine is yours…if you have need of it”.
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My safety is yours…if you have need of it.
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My security is yours…if you have need of it.
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My resources are yours…if you have need of them.
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My health is tied to your health.
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My well-being is tied to your well-being.
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Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. preached on this text often and once said that the real difference between the priest and the Levite from the Samaritan is the question that each must have asked. The priest and the Levite likely asked, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”. The Samaritan likely asked a very different question – “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
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Fear has a way of making us all behave badly. It was true for the priest and the Levite, and it is still true for us today. When fear is the ethic of our lives, we tend to cling to our own safety and our own individual rights. When fear is the ethic of our lives, we retreat, mind our own business and rarely cross to the other side of the road to help. And when fear is the ethic of our lives, we end up placing our hope in mottos like “We Dare Defend Our Rights” or “Don’t Tread On Me” as opposed to Jesus’ greatest commandment to “Love God and Love Your Neighbor”.
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It doesn’t take looking out the window for very long to know that we are all on a road somewhere between Jerusalem and Jericho right now. It’s dangerous out there. The heart-break and exhaustion are real. It’s not just the virus. It’s everything. It’s layers and layers of being beaten and bruised along a dry, hard road these past 18 months.
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So, we have some choices to make. We can choose to make our decisions with an ethic of fear. And for a time, choices based on fear have a way of making us feel safe, but that is fleeting at best.
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The other choice is to cross the road to help our neighbor. When we cross to the other side, we’ll get a glimpse of something Jesus talked an awful lot about. We’ll see what transformation looks like. We’ll finally understand who we are called to be. And best of all, we’ll finally encounter the Kingdom we’ve been longing for.

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