He sat in a pile of rags and plastic bags on the side of the bridge. There was no way to avoid him—we had to pass right by his squished paper cup with its cardboard sign: “Anything helps.” Unable to ignore him, I checked all my pockets, pulled out everything I found, and dropped it into the cup, afraid to meet his eyes.
I turned anxiously, saw the tiny circle he held up in his fingers.
“This is a button!”
My cheeks flamed as I turned away. This shouldn’t even be my problem.
* * *
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25) The scholar tried to trap Jesus, but it’s a legitimate question.
“Follow the law,” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
To “justify himself,” he asked another question: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) As if the first parts of this commandment are easy enough for him!
If I loved God so all-consumingly that every nameable part of me was totally His, would I even need to ask?
Who is my neighbor?
Who is outside the perimeter of the circle of people I am required to love?
The priest and Levite acted within the law, preserving the ritual purity required for their roles. They couldn’t be reasonably expected to make themselves unclean to help someone. It wasn’t their job. It would have made them unable to do their jobs.
As the scholar recognized, though, the “neighbor” to the victim was the Samaritan who had no responsibility for him except as a fellow human being.
“Go and do likewise,” Jesus says.
Jesus didn’t cancel, change, or replace the law. His point is clear: mercy is the law. We may decide it doesn’t apply to our circumstances. We can decide not to choose mercy, and our reasons are between us and God.
But if we dare to ask the scholar’s question to justify ourselves, we might find it shows us how far we have to go.
This surprising artwork of the Good Samaritan may be a work you're unfamiliar with.
Abbey Dupuy is the Assistant Theological Editor for Blessed is She and writes her life as a homeschooling mama of four frequently barefoot children. She is a graduate student in liturgical theology at Saint John's University. In her spare time, she enjoys running, gardening, coffee, and cookbooks, not usually at the same time. She is a contributing author to our children's devotional prayer book, Rise Up, author of our Blessed Conversations: The Virtues study found here, and our Advent devotional book, All the Generations. You can find out more about her here.