Most of us are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan and his extraordinary generosity. He is greatly touted because of the service he offers to a foreigner who has been ignored by high church officials. The story mentions others, however, that are almost forgotten in light of the Samaritan’s work. What about the people who passed by?
I suppose the stock assumption about the two who did their best to ignore the beaten man’s plight was that they were sinful. This story, like all of the parables, has many more layers. It is interesting to note that both the priest and Levite were not wrong according to the Law. As men who served the Temple, both were forbidden to touch the dead or anything having to do with body fluids like blood. By passing the wounded (possibly dead) man they were both keeping the Law that they taught. The Samaritan, on the other hand, was an outsider and no one in that day would have wanted to be touched by this social outcast. Samaritans were of mixed race and many worshiped idols.
So we have a situation, like Jesus often presents, which turns convention on its head and shakes the order of the day. The good and the bad are clear and the lesson is pretty obvious, generosity, compassion. But where’s the lesson for the Priest, the Levite and the rest of us who might have passed the wounded man too? Since both scrupulously obeyed their Law, neither would be considered at fault. In the passing, both had “apparent” positives but what about the things that were lost by both officials?
Nothing was lost, you say? They both kept clean hands as well as a good sum of money! I think people who are on a spiritual journey sometimes confuse fear with good judgement. Some form of the phrase “Do not be afraid,” is listed three hundred and sixty-five times in the Bible. That same phrase was the very first thing from the mouth of John Paul II as the beginning of his Pontificate. Fear is the great enemy of spirituality; it fogs thinking and prevents us from action. However, there’s more. Both the Priest and the Levite were presented with a tangible opportunity to give and receive grace, to please God, to overcome fear and to grow in a way that would not have been possible any other way. Opportunity lost!
Saint Faustina Kowalska (†1938) gives a teaching that Jesus gave her about God’s opportunity: “Be watchful that you lose no opportunity that my providence offers you for sanctification. If you do not succeed in taking advantage of an opportunity , do not lose your peace, but humble yourself profoundly before me and, with great trust immerse yourself completely in my mercy. In this way you gain more that you have lost, because more favor is granted to a humble soul than the soul itself asks for. …”
A popular phrase says, “Life is messy.” Opportunities for holiness and growth happen all around us all of the time. They are not always perfect, easy and convenient to accomplish. The Lord will go to extremes to get our attention, if he has to.
“Christ [can be] a shard of glass in your gut. Christ is God crying ‘I am here’, and here not only in what exalts and completes and uplifts you, but here in what appalls, offends, and degrades you, but here in what activates and exacerbates all that you would call not-God.” ( Christian Wiman, poet, teacher, editor)
As Advent begins we are supposed to keep watch and have a heightened awareness of the presence of God and the opportunities He offers us. If you have always rejected situations that are hard, scary, dirty or difficult why don’t you use this Advent to re-think that path? Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and be inconvenienced. Think of the Priest and the Levite who both lost more than they gained.
Copyright© 2015, Kathryn M. Cunningham