"Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
"But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
"The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, "Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend."'
"Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?'
"The lawyer said, 'The one who showed him mercy.' Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise.'"
- Luke 10:25-37 (NRSV)
One of the many troubling aspects of this parable, which is included in the lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, is that the two men who seemingly ignored the suffering traveler were both clergy.
It's easy for us to read this parable and feel some sense of compassion for the hurting man or a sense of admiration for the Samaritan. But as I read and re-read this parable, it occurs to me that as a pastor, I'm one of the guys who walked past the suffering man.
Now, I don't want to be too hard on the priest and the Levite. Commentators and theologians have given lots of legitimate reasons why they ignored the traveler, often having to do with ritual uncleanliness and the subsequent inability to minister effectively and offer atonement for the sins of the people. These don't seem like bad guys; they simply wanted to be as effective as possible in their current appointments.
In fact, it seems to me that they passed the traveler for a very utilitarian reason: they were simply too busy doing very important work to be bothered with one more thing. After all, it was a well traveled road, and, sooner or later, someone else was bound to help the poor guy in the ditch.
Man, too often, I fear that's me.
I'm reminded of a favorite episode from Jesus' life. On his way to Jerusalem to face, ultimately, the horrors of Golgotha, Jesus had a lot on his mind. All pastors are doing important work and feel the stress..."What about this project? How many people will it touch? Can we do better? Can we reach more?" (More of our preoccupation with programming, I suppose.) Jesus' mission was obviously even more important...the fate of all creation depended on what he did in Jerusalem, how faithful he was, how effective he was.
Yet, blind Bartimaeus, seeking healing, called to Jesus as he walked along the road, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" The disciples told the blind man to be quiet, as Jesus was very busy, and simply couldn't be bothered with one more healing, one more blind man...one more suffering traveler in a ditch.
Then, we read in Mark 10:49 my two favorite words in Scripture..."Jesus stopped."
Busy Jesus wasn't too busy for one more healing, one more blind man, one more suffering traveler in a ditch.
How often have I failed to heed the voice of the one in need, because I have been so busy doing good things, too focused on big projects and important events, too distracted by the work of ministry that I fail to live the reason for ministry?
I fear that I'm guilty, far too often. John Wesley's words to distracted and failed clergy cut deeply, "O house of Levi and of Aaron, is not the day coming, when the virtues of heathens and Samaritans will rise up in judgment against you?"
So, I need reminded that I am not only called to be an effective leader and faithful pastor, but also a good neighbor, not failing to stop to help one hurting soul, even if it throws off my schedule and sets my day on a very different course. After all, at whatever destination, whenever I finally arrive, Jesus is waiting for me there.