Thinking Like a Samaritan
January 20, 2016
“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” (Luke 10:33-35, RSV)
Although he has been gone from our midst for almost 50 years, the words and ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. still inspire us to reach for his dreams. Many of his famous quotes such as his “I have a dream” speech from the 1963 march on Washington are well known, but his writings and speeches contain less well known statements that are worthy of our consideration. One quote with which I was unfamiliar until recently refers to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. He said, “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”
We are biologically hard wired to think of ourselves, of what will benefit us, but Jesus challenges us to think equally of what will benefit our neighbor. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus entreats. By the standards of the world, the actions of the Good Samaritan weren’t smart. He took time from his journey. It cost him substantial money to put the victim up at the inn and pay the innkeeper. It exposed him to the risk of robbers. But the priorities of God’s Kingdom aren’t those of the world. If the Samaritan doesn’t stop, the nameless victim likely will die. That’s the answer to the Samaritan’s question and the motivation for his actions. And so he did the right thing; he expressed through his actions his love for his neighbor.
In American society today, there is a strong emphasis on “taking care of number one” by thinking of ourselves first or thinking only of ourselves or our families or our friends or those who are like us. Like Jesus, King challenges us to think like a Samaritan and look at the consequences of our action or inaction for the other one, the one who is helpless, victimized, oppressed. This week as we remember Martin Luther King, let us honor him by accepting the challenge to live as he did, doing the right thing even if it does not benefit us. Another King quote:“The time is always right to do what is right.” The time is now.
Prayer: God of mercy and compassion, let us share the attitude and the heart of the Samaritan and let us love our neighbor just as we love ourselves. In the name of the one who told the story, Jesus. Amen.