A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side . . . (Luke 10:31)
If I leave my house to go to Charlotte, NC I’m probably going to end up driving north on I-85. There may be some alternative routes, but around here it is widely understood that the best way to get from Atlanta to Charlotte is on 85. That’s the road for all points north and east.
In the place where Jesus lived the same kind of thinking was at work when it came to making a journey from Jerusalem to Jericho. The primary route, perhaps the only route, was a seventeen mile stretch of road that snaked through a gorge known today as the Wadi Kelt. From Jerusalem it was a downhill journey, taking you from 2500 feet above sea level in Jerusalem to 800 feet below sea level in Jericho. The craggy landscape provided good cover for criminals. It was a risky trip – especially if you were alone.
But if you wanted to get to Jericho, that’s the way you went. It didn’t matter who you were. Very religious people walked this road. Thieves walked this road. Samaritans, despised by Jews, made use of this same road. Business travelers also navigated the Jericho road.
For all of them it was the same road. But in Jesus’s story the Religious types and the Samaritan walked that road in very different ways.
All of them came upon a man who had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead. The Priest and the Levite “passed by on the other side.” That phrase is used in the story twice. Fearing they would be made unclean they kept their distance.
The Samaritan traveled the road by holding his own plans loosely. When he comes upon the beaten and half-dead man he responds with both emotion and action. He feels compassion and draws near.
Passing by on the other side, and drawing near with compassion are two very different ways of traversing the same piece of earth. Which way will you choose today?
“Passing by” is what we do when we refuse to be interrupted. We’re in a hurry. We’ve got so much to get done. Quite often, we accept passing by as the best we can do when it comes to sharing our world with people we don’t understand. Since it is not overtly hostile, passing by can appear to be polite.
But being polite is not the same thing as being merciful. Mercy must respond to the wreckage it sees. There is an inner response of compassion coupled with the outer response of action.
How will you move through your world today? There’s a good chance you share office space or a neighborhood or a grocery store or a school with people you do not understand or do not like. You may find it easiest to steer clear of them; you’ll stay out of their way and they’ll stay out of yours. But there is a better way to live in this world.
See who is broken. Feel compassion. Draw near. Start a conversation. Invite a story and stick around to hear it. In other words, show mercy. Be a neighbor.
Walk with me through this day, O God, and make me ready for interruptions. Help me to grow dissatisfied with keeping a polite distance from those around me – especially those least like me. Fill me with mercy and help me to love my neighbor, I ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.