“Go and do likewise.” This seems like a pretty clear command from Jesus. You just heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, so what is it that you are to go and do likewise? Clearly the context for the parable is Jesus’ effort to tease out the scholar of the law what it means to love God and to love one’s neighbor – that’s the theory of it, but what are practical elements of the divine command? The scholar of the law never gets to that “because he wished to justify himself.” He asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” And that is where the proverbial rubber hits the road. Even if the scholar figures out who his neighbor is, there are the practical matters of “doing.” Jesus words punctuate the ending: “Go and do likewise.”
We face the same questions. Shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. But parables, if they seem easy, then we probably missed the point of the parable. I think there are three things that seem to go to the core of what Jesus would have us do: see, draw near, and have compassion. Seems clear, straight forward – something we can do, yes?
Let’s consider “seeing.” The Samaritan is not the only one in the parable who sees the man in need. Think about the other two, the priest and the Levite. They see the man in need but promptly ignore him. It is probably safe to say they did not see him as neighbor. But then how did they see him? An unnecessary detour in their busy day, a burden, a liability, a threat, a “not my problem, glad that’s not me, too bad” person in the ditch. The Levite and the priest see him, but not as neighbor. And if not as neighbor, then God’s command can’t apply to him, can it? So, no need to draw near or expend compassion, right?
“And who is my neighbor?” Think about your neighbor – the folks that live next door to you. You have experience with them, you’ve talked to them – and you then see them in the morning as you are leaving for work. They are walking toward your car. How do you see them? Is it, hey “Good morning, neighbor!” –and you are glad to see them? Or maybe there in the inner dialogue, “what does he want now?” Or here comes that gossip mongering, home owner’s association know-it-all, “you’ve already borrowed half of my tools and not returned them” guy? How do you see them?
The priest and Levite give the man in the ditch a wide berth, creating even more distance between them, but the Samaritan draws near and become vulnerable in that closeness. It is in the closeness that one is opened to the pain, the misery, and the need. Maybe that is what the priest and Levite really are hoping to avoid? Once the Samaritan has seen the man and drawn close, he displays compassion, tending his wounds, transporting him to the inn, making sure he is taken care of. Seeing is vital, drawing near imperative, yet the final and meaningful gesture is that the Samaritan actually does something about it.
Seeing, drawing near, and having compassion – offer us an example of what it is to be Christ-like, for God in Jesus saw our vulnerability and need, drew near in the Incarnation to embrace us, and in the cross took action by identifying with us to the very end, rising again so that death could no longer dominate us.
When we fail to see, draw near, and help those we mistrust or fear or just want to ignore, we risk missing the saving presence of God in our lives and in the world. So who, we might ask, do we have the hardest time imagining God working through? For the scholar of the Law it was the Samaritan. Maybe for you it is your annoying neighbor?