by Theresa Walker, MS, MAPD, MDiv
Theresa Walker, a spiritual mentor at the Samaritan Counseling Center, holds advanced degrees in Mental Health Counseling and Pastoral Ministry, as well as a Masters in Divinity from Christ the King Seminary, East Aurora. She assists clients at our main office in North Tonawanda, as well as our satellite offices in Buffalo, Williamsville and various Southtowns locations.
Most of us have a sense of what a “good Samaritan” means in the world today. We have heard of laws protecting people who act “in good faith” to help others because, in our very litigious society, there seems to be someone ready to file a lawsuit if they don’t like the outcome of a difficult situation. Many people think twice before they act – or, more likely, choose not to act – out of fear of doing the “wrong” thing. When was the last time you felt the fear but did something anyway? How did it turn out?
Let’s take a closer look at the story from the Gospel of Luke, where this concept originates. The lawyer in the story asks a rhetorical question, and when pushed to answer the question himself (he obviously knows the answer in legal terms), he seeks to justify himself, to save face by asking a seemingly obvious yet really more obscure question, “Who is my neighbor?” Looking around, we can easily recognize neighbors as people who live in our own neighborhoods, who look similar to us, who have similar values, religious practices, incomes, careers, families, perhaps even belong to the same ethnic, social or racial group as we do.
As Jesus tells the parable, he takes the lawyer on an inner journey that opens a new perspective for him. The lawyer is drawn into the story to hear with new ears and see with new eyes, and then is challenged to respond in a new way.
The nameless victim on the road is foolish: he has traveled on the often-dangerous downhill road from Jerusalem to Jericho alone, and now all his possessions are gone. His personal identity, once recognizable by clothing and adornments, has been taken away by others, leaving him wounded and abandoned. The priest does not recognize the man as being from his own religious group or clan. The priest realizes that if he touches a dead person or a foreigner (someone outside his belief system), he will become ritually impure. This challenges his identity, his “status quo”, so he rides by.
The Levite is also a person attached to a particular ritual system and faces similar challenges. He looks but cannot tell if this person is dead or alive, or of he is of the same or a different religious or social group. Anyone beset by robbers on this road was probably a foreigner or a fool asking for trouble, anyway. So the Levite, too, passes by.
Then the Samaritan comes along. He is also faced with risks that are not as readily apparent to us. As a foreigner, he could find himself in a legal predicament through helping the wounded man. If this man is of a different religion, the Samaritan can be charged by the man’s family with mishandling him (if he dies) or making him ritually impure (if he lives).
As the Samaritan looks on the wounded, naked man, he is “damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t” when it comes to deciding what to do, so he does the most human (and humane) thing. He gets on the ground with the wounded man and gets his hands dirty. The Samaritan applies stinging antiseptic (wine) and soothing oil to the wounds to begin the healing process. He provides for the continuing care of the one in need. He acts with compassion.
The question now changes from, “Who is my neighbor?” to “Who is a neighbor?”
The lawyer cannot bring himself to admit that a foreigner could be his neighbor, but he can see that the one who shows mercy to those in need is a neighbor to others.
Who are you in this story? Have you been wounded on the road of life? Have others ignored your pain and left you to struggle alone and scared? Are you feeling abandoned? Are you struggling with life circumstances that are challenging your values and beliefs? Do you ever wonder, “Where is God in all of this?” Does confusion blur your vision, leave you indecisive or without a clear sense of direction or purpose?
Counselors and spiritual mentors at the Samaritan Counseling Center are companions for the journey, trained in both mental health and spirituality. We are willing to touch the wounded places in your life, no matter what and where they are, and help you find hope and healing. We will greet you with compassion and walk with you through your fears and uncertainties, to help you move from paralysis to action. Even your most difficult problems can open up new ways of understanding for you, and you will discover strengths and abilities you did not realize you had. You, too, can hear with new ears, see with new eyes and respond in new ways.
Contact the Samaritan Counseling Center at 743-9117. Make an appointment to enter a journey of self-discovery.