I have a confession to make! I was on my way home today and I passed a man, walking down the road, who upon my approach, tried to flag me down to catch a ride. But instead of stopping to help him, I passed him by! I did not stop! As I passed him by, something within me wanted to help him, but I just could not bring myself to do it! I said to myself out loud: “Sorry brother, I would really like to help you, but I don’t know you!” It was after I said those words, that I began to have an inner dialogue with myself. What if he really needed help? Would it be held against me because I didn’t stop? After all, there is a passage in Hebrews 13:2 that says: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (KJV) Then I remembered the words of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel: “For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matt. 25:42-45 ESV) Why didn’t I stop to help that man? It was not because I am a cold and heartless person! It was not because I did not care! I did not stop because, quite frankly, I was afraid to stop! Out of the abundance of caution; I passed him by and I kept on going!
When I got home, I felt compelled to write about what happened because I realized exactly what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 24:12. In speaking about how things would be prior to his return, Jesus said: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Isn’t that just about where we are today? I really wanted to help that young man, but I can’t count the number of stories I’ve heard and read about people who stopped to help strangers, but they were assaulted, robbed, and even killed! Because this type of activity (Jesus called it iniquity!) is so pervasive and common these days, it is hard to trust people! It works both ways: It’s hard to trust people who look like they need help and if you’re in trouble; it’s hard to trust people who might offer you help! The love of many has indeed grown cold! Why? Because iniquity abounds!
And so, with that in mind, coupled with my own experience, I think we need to take another look at the story of the Good Samaritan. Now, I know Jesus told the story to illustrate who a neighbor is. But I want us to look at it again from the risk standpoint! It’s easy for us to be “Monday-morning-quarterbacks” and praise the Good Samaritan while at the same time condemning those who passed by on the other side. But when we look at the context of the Jericho road, I think we will have a new sense of appreciation for the Good Samaritan’s courage and the others’ caution!
The Jericho Road was a winding, steep, narrow road that ran from Jerusalem to Jericho. The distance from Jerusalem to Jericho was only about eighteen (18) miles, but in that short distance, the road descended from about 25,000 feet above sea level at Jerusalem to about 800 feet below sea level at Jericho! So, it was more than just a random choice of words when Jesus said in Luke 10:30: “A certain man went ‘down’ from Jerusalem to Jericho.” And with such a steep drop in such a short distance, he most likely literally “fell” among thieves! At any rate, with so many winding turns and steep inclines through the rocky terrain, the road afforded plenty of locations for thieves and robbers to lie in wait to ambush unsuspecting travelers. The road was such a notorious haunt for thieves and robbers, that most people would only travel the road in groups or in caravans.
Taking this into consideration, there are two factors I want to bring into focus. First of all, traditionally, we have been so hard on the ones who passed over to the other side. But if we were in their shoes, most of us would have done exactly what they did! The man was obviously hurt, but who’s to say that the ones who had ambushed him were not still nearby, lurking and waiting to ambush anyone who would come to his aid? Doesn’t that happen today? How many times have we heard news stories of a person, even a pretty female, used as bait? When someone stops to help, accomplices jump out of the bushes or other hiding places to attack, rob, and sometimes kill the “Good Samaritan.” Who’s to say that the man was really hurt? Perhaps they feared that he himself was a robber, faking his injuries to lure them close enough so that he might rob them. When we considered the circumstances in the context of text and even in our own times, I think we are remiss to be so quick to pass judgment on the ones who passed him by! I mean, after all, how many times do we do it, everyday? I did it just today!
Also, when we consider all of the facts and the extenuating circumstances, the Good Samaritan was even more of a hero than what we first thought! Jesus told the story to primarily call attention to the racial and religious tension between the Jews and the Samaritans of his day. Today’s equivalent wound be that of a Black Panther from New Jersey stopping to help a Klansman from Mississippi who got “jacked” on the south-side of Chicago! But aside from the obvious and primary application, we should also praise the courage and bravery of the Good Samaritan! No doubt, some passed by the man because they were racially bias, did not want to get involved, didn’t have time, or just didn’t care, but perhaps some passed him by because they were afraid! Some perhaps, really wanted to help him but were simply afraid to take the risk! You see, it’s costly to be a Good Samaritan! Aside from the money the Good Samaritan paid for lodging and medical care in the parable, he also paid in accepting the risk to help a fellow traveler!
Oh, my friend, it has gotten to the point that it’s difficult for people who really need help to get help because of all the people who fake distress in order to take the advantage. Because iniquity abounds, not only has the love of many grown cold, but even those whose love is still warm are hesitant and afraid to provide the help they know they should!
To the brother I passed by today; I am truly sorry! I really wanted to stop and give you a ride, but I was simply afraid! I did pray that you would make it safely to your destination. I prayed that someone would not stop and take advantage of you! I prayed that if you weren’t truly in need that you would not take advantage of someone who might stop to help you. I prayed that if you were really in need, that the Lord would forgive me for passing you by! I prayed for wisdom, because chances are, even if I saw you again, I would pass you by. . . again! What has this world come to? It is so hard to trust people these days, not just the strangers, but even the ones you think you know! Oh God! Help us to respond in a manner that is pleasing to you when we are confronted with the Jericho Road Situation!