As I edge nearer, I can tell it is a person. Not just a bundle of old clothes. Someone has beaten him. He half-lifts his head, drops it.
His face is swollen. He is moaning. I can see the blood now, both dried and soaking still through his shirt.
And I have edged close enough to recognize him. He is my most bitter enemy. Each reader can supply his own. He (or she) might be a bishop, or a priest known for preaching a false gospel, or a church member powerful in leading astray the innocent in this new 'revelation of the Spirit.'
Maybe he's a politician whose ideas (we are extremely polarized in this country right now) are reprehensible to me. Or someone who once did me a most awful wrong.
The parable of the Good Samaritan, which any of us would recognize from the introduction above, preserves that unexpected 'twist' that is a hallmark of Christ’s teachings.
That sudden careen in the road, redirecting all traffic, forever.
In the episode preceding the parable, an expert in theology stands up to query the Master on what is needed to inherit eternal Life.
Christ returns the question with His own quizzing. What is written in the Law?
And, how readest thou?
Or, in our speech, what is your take on the matter?
The expert answers, 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.
While it may seem of note that, in two other incidents reported in two other Gospels, Christ is the one stating the summation of the Law using those two verses, they follow verses found in the Old Testament:
- You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV)
- You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18 ESV)
The word, 'might,' in the verse from Deuteronomy, Brown-Driver-Briggs defines in a manner that renders the verse more exactly as, 'with all your heart and all your soul and this, exceedingly.' Too, the original verse does not contain what the expert of the Law added, and with all your mind (which also appears in the two passages wherein Christ teaches this summation of the Law).
Whether Christ in His teachings or the experts in their testing of Him were using 'mind,' in addition to heart, soul, and this, mightily, is not mine to know. One might surmise, however, that somehow, the accepted reading of the necessity of the added wording was a marker of the day. The Pharisees, as none would need reminding, were in the habit of laying burdens on people's shoulders that they themselves were unwilling to shoulder or help manage.
Something in the exchange provoked the expert, however, because he did not bow politely, and thank Jesus for His comments. Scripture points out that the expert asked the next question, 'in order to justify himself.' Christ had merely affirmed that the expert was correct, then added that he should do that, that he might live.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is the answer Christ gave to this expert's further question, who is my neighbor.
And it is in this parable that Christ will present an individual who is ‘not of the Tribe,’ and even an enemy of the Jewish people, as the one who healed. Against the priest and the Levite who did nothing save cross to the other side of the street when they saw the injured man lying by the side of the road.
When asked which of the three was a neighbor to the man, the expert in the Law answered, the one who showed mercy.
Such exquisite and yet quiet exactitude in Christ’s response to him. Go thou and do likewise.
When presented with a similar example from our own lives, what indeed do we do? Sure, you say, easy. I take care of him, like the Good Samaritan did. Call 9-11, ride in the ambulance with him (for his collar is gone now, as is his wallet, and all his ID cards), contact the church, his family, stay with him until they arrive. If the hospital requires it, I empty my pockets to get him in.
Whatever is needed, I do.
We tend to know better, at least in the ‘story’ version of all, and readily produce the correct answer.
In truth, however? In the day to day of all, where personal vendetta and the distinct razor edge of antipathy (if not a very enmity) leads us to raze and destroy another, set on doing anything we can at any juncture to annihilate and shame, for the very falseness of another’s vision of that essential Truth—as much as for lesser reasons of pique—can we be said to show mercy?
And if we cannot love, in this hour, who is going to be Christ to our enemy? The answer is not, he's not like me—let him fend for himself!
For certainly, Christ is the Good Samaritan, and quite certainly, if one follows a gospel that is not His own, that one has made Christ his enemy.
And in such case, if these who are supposed to be followers of our Lord yet have diverged to a way not His own, are transposed into the parable of the Good Samaritan, and lie there by the side of the road, our own personal example of 'greatest enemy,' injured, who is going to bandage that enemy's wounds, and make sure the innkeeper has enough money to continue his care until we return from the next portion of our journey?
If the teachings of Jesus mean so little in the practical application of our day to day, what have we got to return to the Lord for His investment in us, when He returns?
I think that inherent in the Love of God as it becomes what is Christ in us, what is new life in us, is that it is not a 'personal' love, where I like you and you like me and we are friends and because of that, I treat you better than I treat other people (and put up with more from you than I do from others who perhaps do the same thing).
I want to be very careful here of what I am saying. Christ’s parable resonates because it is the individual lives that we each lead, set against those who oppose what is to-the-marrow our understanding of life: we who hold to and are held to the Truth that is the only Truth of the entire universe are held to that same mercy...
For it is our mercy to another that determines how we answer the Law by which the very universe is held: to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Yet, as Christ may have warned, in this last hour when the very gates of Hell seem to gape and grin out at us, in its leering: will we be able to do it? In this battle against both an apostacy and a delusion that are reframing the very faith, how will we love our neighbor as ourselves?
[Editor's note. I think this post was originally drafted in November of 2012. Not sure. It is presently divided into four parts (one of which may have been posted at some point).
I have hedged over posting it, but it is late and I am dry as a bone after a really long day.
Tonight, it seems like it will do. Must?]