The Good Samaritan is a loaded parable, packed with applications and implications. It’s one of Jesus’ most powerful reversals of cultural expectations in his time. Perhaps the one lesson we always take away from it the most is that we should always stop and help people when we have a chance, no matter the excuse.
There are other gleanings as well. People will surprise you and reverse your expectations. Being a designated man of God or clergy member doesn’t automatically make you righteous. Not caring enough about somebody can be as bad as hurting them. Having a clean heart is more important than being ceremonially or hygenically clean. But the one I’ve heard the most is the very simple truth that we should always stop and help people when we have the opportunity, and that this is good.
Yet no matter how much this parable is taught, and no matter how many angles we look at it, there are times when I am still surprised to find a fellow Christian (sometimes, even myself) fail to directly apply that parable to a real life situation.
One day I was conversing with another guy who I looked up to a lot. He was a strong, faithful Christian who was not ashamed to spread the Gospel and stand for what he believed in. He was kind, good-hearted, and intelligent. In our conversation, we were talking about The Good Samaritan and I told him that one good application of the parable’s teachings is that if I were on my way to Church, and saw someone who had, for example, wrecked their car into a tree, that I should stop and help that injured person, even if it meant that I would be late to or even miss Bible class and worship.
That’s when my friend made a wrinkled face of hesitation. “Weeeeeeeell,” he said, with a strained pause, “God really wants us to be at Church.”
I don’t even remember now what happened to the conversation after that. I don’t recall if he ended up agreeing with me or not. I was so stunned to see even the slightest hesitation on my friend’s face. I could not think of a more direct illustration. You’re on your way to Church. Someone needs immediate help. And you pass them by because you don’t want to miss worship. How are you not like the Levite, or the priest? In a modern application, just imagine an atheist or Muslim stopping to help the man. Because he had the time.
You see, in the parable, it’s not just a man of God who passes by the injured man twice. It’s men who seem to have a legitimate excuse. After all, God wants us to remain ceremonially clean. Touching a body that might die would render us unclean, and if our job is to keep the temple or work in it, our work for God wold be hindered.
Only, the work for God means absolutely nothing if we do not have love for our neighbor. Absolutely nothing.
I’m not the first person to say this, and I don’t even know who was, but the lesson my friend had yet to learn was this:
Going to Church is not as important to God as being the Church.
We are supposed to do both.
The Church is not a place we go to or a time we have set aside. It’s who we are when we put on Christ. I don’t want to miss worshipping with the saints. But I am supremely convinced that if I see someone in immediate need on my way to worshipping with the saints, I need to stop and help them. Not only does the Good Samaritan tell me that, but the whole of the law and prophets tells me that.
“Which of you would not help a child out of a well on the Sabbath?” asks the Lord (Luke 14:5). The Sabbath was, to make a rough comparison, the “Sunday” for ancient Jews. It was a day God’s people were not meant to work, but to rest from labor and contemplate and celebrate the creation as a place where God dwells and rests himself. And yet, if an emergency arose, the most important of the laws moved us to set aside the letter of the law (regulatory measures) to fulfill the spirit of the law (love). The Sabbath was made for us by God out of love. And on the Sabbath, what better way to demonstrate love than to save even so much as a neighbor’s ox? This wasn’t self-serving work; this was other-centered service.
Sometimes doing the right thing looks like we’re violating one of God’s holy commands. Jesus could hardly commence with half his ministry without offending somebody who was mistaken about this.
Saying this doesn’t mean I’ve always been good at living it out. My offense to my friend’s hesitation is also a disgust with myself, for all the times I’ve used a cheap excuse, under the guise of doing God’s will, to not fulfill the greatest command.
May we never set aside loving our neighbor just so we don’t “miss Church.” If we miss that opportunity, our neighbor himself just might “miss the Church.”