Sometimes we think we are cruising invincibly down the highway of life. Hundreds of facebook friends, constantly liking our posts. A good job, stellar performance evaluations. Maybe even an attractive spouse, plus kids with high g.p.a.’s and plenty of soccer trophies. [Spanish]
But the highway of life can take a sudden turn, and I can find myself staring at a lonely and dangerous stretch of road.
I think we can imagine that the scholar of the law who took part in the conversation we hear in the gospel at Sunday Mass–he fancied himself as cruising down the highway of a good and righteous life. So he found the parable of the Good Samaritan rather jarring.
The Law of Moses orders us servants of God to love our neighbors. So the scholar had asked, “Who is my neighbor?” After all, the world teems with countless “neighbors.” God cannot possibly expect me to love them all!
I must make some selections, thought the scholar to himself. I must have some criterion by which to distinguish the ‘in’ from the ‘out’ crowd. ‘In’ people talk like I do, apply good standards of personal hygiene, watch the same cable-news network as I watch, and have high-functioning kids like mine.
But the Lord turned the tables on him.
…Anyone ever taken the road from Jerusalem to Jericho? How about this: Anyone ever see the original Star Wars movie? Near the beginning, R2D2 went looking for Obi Wan Kenobi. The little droid escaped from the Skywalker farm on Tatooine and wandered into the dusty hills, where the Sand People could ambush you. That is what the road between Jerusalem and Jericho is like. Seriously. Winding, lonesome, dusty. Creepy.
Martin Luther King, Jr., described the road, when he preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan:
“The Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, ‘I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.’ It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing.”
Anyway, by throwing the parable of the Good Samaritan at the young scholar, Jesus seems to have been saying to him and to us: You want to find a way to choose your neighbors. You think you have a lot to offer, and everybody wants a piece. But: you could wind up needing a neighbor. Then the question you will have is: Who will have the kindness to help me? Who will think of me as their neighbor then?
And the answer of course is: The one who doesn’t fuss and get choosy about who his neighbors are. He will help. The one who doesn’t have too much pride, too much self-importance, to notice the woebegone people. The one who keeps his humble eyes open, and who simply cannot stand to see a fellow human being suffering.
Seems to me that, for us, the most important spiritual lesson of the parable of the Good Samaritan is: identifying myself with the man who got robbed and left half-dead. If all we do is try to copy the Good Samaritan, we could wind up right where the scholar of the law started, when he initially posed his question. He was thinking: I’m fine. I can offer so much as a neighbor, I need to start vetting the applicants.
No. I could be the poor soul by the side of the road. Actually, I am the poor soul, wounded and nearly lost. Desperation stares me in the face. I could get gravely ill tomorrow. My home and possessions could float away in a flood. Some hoodlum could steal my car. My friends could say, “You know, you’re annoying. We don’t like you anymore.”
And then there’s this: Even if my car is currently purring its way down the highway of life at an impressive little clip, I have to recognize that this road will end. Eventually the doorbell will ring, and it won’t be opportunity knocking. It will be Mr. Grim M. Reaper.
What good neighbor will come to my aid then? What good Samaritan will help me?
I quoted a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King earlier. Anyone know when he gave that one, the one I quoted? The evening of April 3, 1968. In Memphis. Early morning, April 4, a shot rings out in the Memphis sky.
So let’s identify with the Good Samaritan in this way: It’s not for me to apply a selection process to qualify my neighbors. My job is to love everyone in front of me, especially the ones who suffer.