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I was walking in to work the other day, a normal day, just another guy on his cellphone, walking down the sidewalk, in my case, talking to my mom on the phone… Most days when I walk this sidewalk, I walk it lost in thought, shifting gears from personal life to work life, thoughts drifting… the background noise of traffic, the cars, the buses, the jackhammers and the like, was just that, background noise, when a fellow rushed past, and did something I had never seen before.

Well, I had, but not there.

See, I usually walk down this one street past a church – you can see it here.

Like most people, I walk down this sidewalk without looking, without seeing…

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Not only are the sounds background noise, but the sights are, too, if that makes sense.  They are so often ignored, rarely acknowledged.

But this fellow appeared from around the corner.  He was wearing faded, torn jeans, worn running shoes, and an old dark blue jacket that barely covered what it needed to cover.

I wasn’t sure whether to dodge out of his way or brace for impact, but I did dodge, and kept walking.  Curiosity turned me around and I looked back to see he’d stopped running.

He’d stopped alright, but he wasn’t standing.

He was kneeling.

No.

He was doing more than that.  He was praying in a way I’d definitely done, but very rarely seen.

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He appeared so deeply, profoundly distraught that I was speechless, and I stood, rooted to the spot.  I added my prayer to his, but couldn’t decide what to actually *do*.

I couldn’t tell what he needed physically – I mean, he’d run around the corner so fast, so he was physically okay. He was praying, and praying hard, and to interrupt seemed… I don’t know, out of place?

My mind went all over the place…Why was he there? Was his family in danger? Hurt? Had he done something wrong and was there literally at the feet of Jesus, asking for forgiveness?

I didn’t know.

And I didn’t ask.

I felt very much like one of the characters in the story of The Good Samaritan – only I wasn’t the Samaritan who helped the fellow.

I was one of the other guys.

Who for whatever reason, didn’t help.

And it got me thinking.

Like the other guys, I had my reasons, all of which have the strength of wet toilet paper when I look back on them.

How many times do we not help someone out when we could?

How many times have we let someone down when we could have helped them up?

How many times…

Then I got to thinking just a little more about the figure this fellow was kneeling at the feet of…

The fellow whose birth an awful lot of the world is celebrating in one form or another this month.

The first bit of the story – the one of The Good Samaritan – quoted from the book of Luke,

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Now at this point, it says clearly in that last verse, that he wanted to “justify himself” – He was an expert in the law, Jesus knew that. This guy was looking for a way out, a loophole. He was trying to do something that should be familiar to all of us: find a way to obey the law and be comfortable doing it, so he asked that second question:

“Who is my neighbor?”

Unspoken there is the question, “Who isn’t my neighbor?” “Who do I even have to acknowledge?” More simply put is this: “Who can I ignore?”

And then Jesus told this story:

30-32 “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

33-35 “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

36 “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

37 “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”

 (from the book of Luke, chapter 10, The Message Translation)

So a little history here:

A priest walked by…

He. Walked. By.

The priest… the holy man who should have been able to do all sorts of things to help the injured traveler, not only walked by, but actively avoided him by walking on the other side of the road. Understand, this was not, shall we say, a good neighborhood. (the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known to have bandits and the like, but you’d think someone seeing an injured person would try to help that person, rather than walking off to the side and avoiding him.)

But he didn’t.

It wasn’t convenient.

A Levite walked by…

Levites were special people according to the Bible. They were from the tribe of Levi, They were supposed to watch over and take care of the priestly duties in the Sanctuary. They couldn’t inherit land like all the other tribes, and they had extra responsibilities, but they got the best of everything in return. That didn’t mean they were perfect, but they were definitely considered special. Some translations imply that the Levite actually went over to look at the fellow, but then went on his way, not touching him, as that could have made him unclean. (there were many rules about touching dead bodies, which would prevent people from doing the things they were supposed to do), so that was his excuse…

And he kept walking.

It wasn’t socially acceptable.

It’s just that both he and the priest were walking *from* Jerusalem, meaning their tasks, ritual and otherwise, were done. They were going home. Their duties were done. The excuse of being unclean would have been pretty much a wash.

And then a Samaritan walked by.

Understand, at the time, the country of Israel was split into the northern and southern halves, and while those halves could trace their lineage back to common ancestors, they had definitely diverged in culture, beliefs, and – well, prejudices.

It got to the point where people would not only walk to the other side of the road to avoid each other, but would actively go out and try to wipe each other off the map (see here).  We see this kind of stuff on the news even today.

The Samaritan was treated as not only an enemy, but a much less than second class citizen, one to be avoided, one to not speak to or associate with.

So when Jesus talked about Samaritans, he wasn’t being gentle about it, he was being pretty hard core, and telling the Jews there to love their neighbors.

Period.

Not just when it was comfortable.

Not just when it was convenient.

Not just when it was socially acceptable.

And he used what they thought was the lowest form of life on the planet to get that point across, with all the gentleness and finesse of a sledgehammer.

“Here, see this guy? The injured one? The Hurting one? The one down on his luck? He needs help, and he needs it now. And you guys are too ‘Holy’ to do it. So who does? The guy you hate (the Samaritan) helps the guy you say is one of your own more than your holiest of people. Take that and think about it for a bit, THEN tell me who the neighbor that you’re supposed to love actually is.”

So much harm has been done to people in the name of religion.  Be it physical harm, psychological harm or whatever, to the point where Christians are parodied, and become caricatures of what God meant us to be.  And the people causing harm in the name of religion (on purpose or by accident) are missing the point altogether.  The folks who need our help are often ignored, rarely acknowledged, or are simply relegated to the same background as the normal sights and sounds of the city.

What did Jesus Himself say we should do?  He put it in pretty simple terms.  You’ve heard of the 10 Commandments.  The religious types of his day, trying to trap him, asked, “What’s the most important commandment?” and in that story above, Jesus narrowed it down to two.

There’s quite a bit said in the Bible about the “Body of Christ” – and for a long time I had a hard time getting my head around that concept…

Then I realized that we – those who are supposed to be following Christ, imperfect as we are, are His body here on earth.

We are His hands.

We are His feet.

We are the ones who are supposed to help…

And I realized that that traveler from Samaria, reviled by so many in his day, still had lessons to teach 2,000 years later…

Tom Roush

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