“A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.” ~Lk 10:30
With intrigue and suspense, Jesus narrates the story of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke. I cannot count how many times I have heard this tale. In storybooks for children, in the Gospel reading at Mass, and in motivational talks, it seems that people frequently discuss the merits of the Samaritan man who stepped out of his comfort zone to help someone in need. Often, I hear this story referenced as an encouragement to participate in issues related to social justice. We, the Christian faithful, are encouraged to be like the Good Samaritan. We are encouraged to go out and help others, providing for the needs of the poor.
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about this story in a slightly different way.
I am a stay-at-home mom with a baby, so I do not often have the opportunity to travel to the poor areas of my city to give material goods to the needy. Yet I can still actively imitate the Samaritan from the Gospel. Quite frequently, especially since I gave birth to my child, various people will approach and begin chatting with me. Sometimes, our conversations will not dip beyond superficial topics, but at other times, people will speak of struggles or harsh realities that they deal with. I’ve come to find that even though I may not come across a physically “half-dead” person like the man in the Gospel reading, I meet many people who are emotionally or spiritually beaten. As in the story of the Good Samaritan, I have a choice. Before the Samaritan approached and helped the man, both a priest and a Levite walked by. Instead of stopping to help the beaten man, they moved on the opposite side of the path. I can easily behave like the priest and Levite. I have very valid reasons to avoid the “half-dead” man on the road: I am very occupied caring for a baby, I have many chores to accomplish around our home, and my free time is very limited. When I am trying to complete items from my daily “To Do” list or am grocery shopping with a fussy baby in my arms, stopping to listen to another person is not the first thing that I want to do.
Recently, when my son was cranky, I took him outside for a walk. As I breathed in the fresh air, I saw a middle-aged man outside with his dog. I greeted him, but even though this man responded and started talking, I kept walking by slowly, not intending to stop. I didn’t particularly want to pause my stroll, because I wanted to focus on having some peace and quiet by myself as I rocked my baby to sleep. Well, this man kept making small talk, and I reluctantly stopped walking so that we could chat for a moment. As he talked, I realized why God moved me to walk outside with my cranky baby that day.
On the surface, this man looked like he had it all: adult children, a wife, a steady job, a roof over his head. On a deeper level, he was broken and half-dead as he looked towards a bleak future and a possible divorce on the horizon. I could not fix his marriage, and I could not tell him how to save it. In fact, all I could do at the moment was listen and offer him my best smile, encourage him, and assure him of my prayers.
God calls each of us to serve others and to imitate the selflessness of the Good Samaritan. In my life, I believe that God desires me to be fully present to others, so that I may listen to and pray for the beaten and broken people who come across my path. I may not provide for their material needs, but like the Good Samaritan, I can offer a few moments of my time to smile, talk, and share the joy of Christ. Although I may never see these people again after a brief encounter, I can continue to pray for them, lifting up their unique situations and struggles to God. The story of the Good Samaritan should not simply be a piece of inspirational Scripture that we hear in our parishes and never put into practice; instead, we need to live it out in our daily lives. Whether God calls you to minister to the materially poor or the spiritually broken, God is beckoning you to love and serve others each day. How will you respond?