You shall love the Lord, your God ... and your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27
The above text appears in the lectionary readings of many churches this coming Sunday, and those of us who work for Good Samaritan Communities of Care take this Scripture to heart. The story of the Good Samaritan is our byword, our mission and our calling.
You probably know the lesson. A man travels down a treacherous road to Jericho and is attacked by robbers who leave him penniless and beaten. In spite of his injuries, or, more important, because of his injuries, several people see his need, but they pass right by him. Why?
We're told that a priest and Levite ignore the wounded man because they are on their way to official duties at the Temple. If they were to stop, they would be late for their sacred tasks. That makes common sense, right? And, they must heed one even more compelling problem. Should they touch the bloodied man, they would be considered ritually unclean and by law unable to enter the holy places in Jerusalem. Of course, they do not stop. They have a job to do, and their single-minded purposefulness is sacred in nature, isn't it?
Which brings us to the Samaritan, another traveler along the road, who sees the injured man and chooses to stop and care for the stranger. In the minds of all who hear Jesus' story, this Samaritan has nothing to lose by touching the destitute man. This Samaritan is a foreigner and a misfit. He is considered ungodly, so who cares if he gets messed up by caring for another unfortunate and perhaps ungodly soul?
But here again, Jesus confounds his listeners' conclusions by reminding them that it is the Samaritan's concern and pity, not his status or lack of status, that motivates him to care. It is his love for another that makes him godly -- nothing else. Jesus says the one who shows mercy is the one who loves neighbor and loves God.
Loving my neighbor as much as I love myself. ... I've thought a lot about that demand in my work at Good Samaritan. OK, I'll be honest. Godly or ungodly, there are people who come into my facility who are incredibly difficult to love, especially as much as I love myself. They can be demanding and disoriented. They can cause painstaking delays. They do indeed render all of us unclean. As one nurse muttered recently, "You won't believe what got dumped on my shoes today."
So, you might ask, how can we love these residents as ourselves? How is it possible for us to be merciful to cranky and contagious people whom we'd have trouble with if they lived next door to us out in the community?
The best answer I can give is that, as health care professionals, we are trained to accept people just as they are -- yes, with all their smells and whistles. It's our job to care for them, but we get paid to do it.
Oh, there are some saints among us who are true Good Samaritans; those rare and amazing employees give their utmost without ever counting the cost. On a good day, those employees keep reminding me why I'm on this earth. But most of us could not continue to love and love and love without being reimbursed for our mercy.
That's what the story of the Good Samaritan is: a lesson in counting the cost of love. In the eyes of the world, the priest and the Levite were right to pass by on the other side of the injured man. They had sacred duties to perform, and it would have cost them too much to stop along the road. Practical, logical, bottom-line economics are on the side of the priest and the Levite, and they always will be.
But the Gospel truth is that we will only discover our most sacred duty when we go beyond the bottom line and give of ourselves in spite of the cost. The real Good Samaritan was never reimbursed for his trouble. We don't even know if he received a thank you, let alone a decent pension plan. The real Good Samaritan took the time to bandage the injured man's wounds, he brought him to an inn on his own animal, and he gave money to have the innkeeper watch over the man until he was healed.
Jesus said that is the kind of extravagant love we must show to our neighbors. A good neighbor doesn't love because it's just his or her job or because such loving fits the budget. No, a good neighbor loves, knowing that in the loving, he or she may give and never be repaid for the loss.
Makes for a lousy bottom line, doesn't it? On second thought, I don't know about that. I suppose it depends on whether you are the injured party. Most of us who read this article will have the benefit of being the priest or Levite -- good, law-abiding citizens who follow the logical, reasonable, budgetary rules of society. We think we'll never be the ones to need a helping hand.
However, the reality is that any of us, but for the grace of God, could fall into the "hands of robbers" and lose everything. Then, wouldn't it be heavenly to be cared for and healed by folks who are willing to give a costly love rather than those who regard mercy from the viewpoint of the bottom line? There, but for the grace of God, go I.
No, it's not my job to love my neighbor. Instead, it's my most sacred duty. Oh, Good Samaritan, keep calling me to see what you see on your side of the road!
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