by Anniel 3/19/16
But he [a lawyer], willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, and who is my neighbor? Luke 10:29 KJV. • Do you remember the first time you heard the parable of The Good Samaritan? Was your response, like mine, that the poor man was set on by thieves, beaten, stripped, robbed and left for dead? Lots of people passed him by, but no one helped him until one of the Samaritans, hated by the Israelites, came along, had compassion for him, and rescued him. Of course most people immediately resolve to always help those in need, their neighbors. I know that’s what I thought the whole story was about.
Then one day the thought occurred to me that the Good Samaritan was putting himself in real danger. The band of thieves might still be nearby, ready to pounce and rob again. No wonder the other travelers on the road hurried by. But I remember still being convinced we needed to have the courage to do the right thing.
The two following true stories about being a Good Samaritan, or not, later revealed to me how hard that decision is to make.
I worked as a paralegal for several years. Our office was on 4th Avenue in Anchorage. There was a two block east/west stretch of 4th Avenue which Bob Hope had jokingly called the “longest bar in the world.” Unsavory in spades, especially on the south side. Our office was on the east end of that stretch of street, while the court was west of us. Part of my job was to take our pleadings and filings down the five blocks to the court. I always walked on the north side to avoid the two blocks of bars.
Then construction began on a mall and hotel on the north side of the street between our office and the court. I was forced to walk on the seedy south side. I would take our legal papers in my arms, hold them protectively against my chest and walk fast past those two blocks where the bars were. This was the situation one day when I got right in front of the Montana Club, the most notorious of the bars. My arms were holding a large folder of pristine legal papers, my head was down staring at the ground, and I was walking fast, almost running, when someone grabbed me.
I was forced to stop and I looked up to see a very drunk native woman bleeding profusely from her head, as though someone had bonked her with a bottle. She held my arm and begged me to help her. Believe me when I tell you, I had no idea what to do. Blood and snot were dripping on me, the papers represented hard work so I could not let them go nor get them dirty, and what could I possibly do for the woman?
I don’t know how long I stood shocked and frozen there, it couldn’t have been long, but it felt like an eternity. Then a bartender stepped out onto the sidewalk, took the woman’s arm and led her away, as he assured me he would take care of her. I began running in earnest then. I felt like such a moral failure. After all, this woman was my neighbor. I still don’t know today what I could have done.
Some years later, before many people had cell phones, a main thoroughfare was built a few miles from our neighborhood. The road had just opened when a woman who had been working night shift drove down it and saw a screaming and seemingly bloodied woman run out of some willows by the side of the road. The woman in the car pulled over to help. She opened the car’s door to get out when suddenly a man ran up from the willows, dragged her down, ripped off her clothes, then beat and raped her. All the while the decoy woman she had stopped to help laughed and cheered him on.
This made me thoroughly rethink being a Good Samaritan. What if the victim had had children in the car with her, would they have been harmed too? Not that long ago in, was it Montana?, an illegal alien murdered two people on a reservation who had stopped to help him. He said they laughed at him, poor boob that he was.
The answers our duty to our neighbors are complex in ways I still struggle with. As our society is coarsened and more evil is let loose, our responses need to be considered carefully.
There is a big caveat here. Are the parables Jesus used to teach really as simple as they appear? Or are they like peeling an onion, layers upon layers of symbolism that always reveal new meanings to enrich our lives if we study them? Deciphering symbolism is becoming a lost art today, but let’s take a look at how it works.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is found in Luke 10:30-37 KJV. There is a stained glass window at a cathedral in France that tells and clarifies this story and shows the symbolism of each element in the parable as early Christians understood it. It might be easiest if I capitalize each symbolic person or part and then explain after.
And Jesus answering said, a CERTAIN MAN went down from JERUSALEM to JERICHO, and fell among THIEVES, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain PRIEST that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a LEVITE, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain SAMARITAN, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him. And went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on HIS OWN BEAST, and took him to an INN, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence and gave them to the HOST, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”
Early Christians used fallen Adam, often referred to as “a certain man”, as a symbol for every man. We are all on the journey of life between Heaven and Hell where we can lose everything. Jerusalem is symbolic of Heaven, the holiest place because the Temple Mount was there. Jericho, on the other hand, considered the lowest place on earth, was by the Dead Sea, where wicked King Herod kept a winter palace. An apt symbol of Hell.
The Thieves, of course, are symbols of anything that might turn fallen man from God. We all, like Adam, stand between good and evil, always in danger on our journey.
The Priest and the Levite were commissioned under the Law of Moses to aid the suffering, but failed in their duties. To touch blood would have made them ritually unclean, but showing their failure in their higher duty, to love their neighbor. This is a rebuke to the failing religious leaders of all times.
Did you know that the Jews tried to taunt Jesus by calling Him a Samaritan? The Good Samaritan is the symbol for Jesus, He who has compassion on us, saves us, and heals our wounds. His Disciples, which hopefully we are, are his “own beasts”, who emulate the Savior by helping carry to safety and care for the poor and wounded.
The Inn is the church, a place of refuge, while the Host is the church or synagogue leader who should be in charge of that refuge until the Lord, the Good Samaritan, comes again, as He says in the parable He will. Notice that two pennies is what the Lord says He will pay those who serve Him. In other parables He offers the same pay, no matter when the worker is hired.
Today we have great need to “go and do likewise.” How to do so in some kind of safety is a problem that requires courage and thought.
There is a wonderful but difficult poem by e.e. cummings called “a man who had fallen among thieves”, that ends by describing the person doing the rescuing of the wounded being “banged by terror, through a million billion trillion stars.” I am posting it in Poetry if you are interested in reading and discussing it. It describes some other aspects of the “thieves” who are there to harm every man. I suspect we’ve all met those thieves, one way or another.
a man who had fallen among thieves
lay by the roadside on his back
dressed in fifteenthrate ideas
wearing a round jeer for a hat
fate per a somewhat more than less
had in return for consciousness
endowed him with a changeless grin
whereon a dozen staunch and leal
citizens did graze at pause
then fired by hypercivic zeal
sought newer pastures or because
swaddled with a frozen brook
of pinkest vomit out of eyes
which noticed nobody he looked
as though he did not care to rise
one hand did nothing on the vest
its wideflung friend clenched weakly dirt
while the mute trouserfly confessed
a button solemnly inert
brushing from whom the stiffened puke
i put him all into my arms
and staggered banged with terror through
a million billion trillion stars
e. e. cummings