With cell phones, 911, and AAA Roadside Assistance, the traditional way to preach the Good Samaritan has become a bit threadbare. I believe that Jesus is doing more than simply encouraging us to stop and help those who are in trouble. The story is designed to shine a klieg light (Or should I say halogen light?) on some serious contemporary issues. Have you noticed that both the people who walked by the broken man and the lawyer who invited Jesus to tell the tale were members of the high-hurry professional culture? Jesus, like many postmodern Christians today, is not a big supporter of positional authority. In other words, a person who has a professional title (doctor, professor, boss, reverend, esquire) can’t be assumed to do the right thing just because they have the degree, have passed their exams, or have been ordained.
Elsewhere, Jesus says, “By their fruits you shall know them,” (Matthew 7:15-20). We live in time of medical miracles. Yet, medical professionals are often too busy and too specialized to exhibit basic human concern for the individuals that they treat. They prescribe pills without knowing the life situation of their patient. They dispense advice without spending the time listening and the necessary minutes by the bedside to earn the right to speak. In describing the actions of the good Samaritan, Jesus is also presenting a summary of way he himself acted as a healer in this world. He touched the sick. He asked questions. He cared about the whole person and their spiritual condition. He earned the right to be our healer. Such things are not taught in school nor are they evidenced by diplomas on the wall.
My brother was a member of that dying breed of small town lawyers who often listened to people tell him their problems without billing them. Elsewhere in America we have the best legal system that money can buy. Race, class, and cash have become the primary determinants for who gets justice and who does not. The high-hurry culture of professionalism runs counter to the Bible’s basic demand that we provide dignity and legal protection for the weakest members of our society (Isaiah 1:17, 10:1-3, Amos 5:23-24, etc). In nearly every community, there are opportunities for the church to advocate for those whom our current legal system has neither the time or the financial incentive to provide for.
Having pointed the finger elsewhere, I need now to say that the failure of the high-hurry professionals in Jesus’ story was primarily an indictment of organized religion. The reason the Samaritan stopped to help the broken man was because he was still a spiritually functioning human being capable of compassion. In contrast, the reverend and the head deacon were too religiously burned out and time crunched by church administration tasks to stop. We have a rule that is often spoken by nomination committees, ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person.’ This myth is killing our religion. If we want to be holy, we need to restore our personal sense of Sabbath. Then we will know how to listen and care as real human beings for the people in need around us.
I would further be remiss, if I didn’t mention that the context of the Good Samaritan is the racism and class divisions that mar every human culture. In Jesus’ day it served the political and economic interests of the religious elite and the Herodian Kings to have a distinct second-class group of hated people within the country. Samaritans could be blamed for the country’s ills and enslaved when cheap labor was needed. Then, as today, religious institutions were expected to provide cultural myths that reinforce the superiority of the ‘in‘ crowd. Jesus was dangerous because he told one parable after another that involved a reversal of stereotypes. This may be why we so often choose to go the traditional way from Jericho to Jerusalem, ignoring the U-turn Jesus puts in our path.