Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-33) in response to a question asked by some religious leaders. They ask Jesus, ” what is the greatest commandment?”. Jesus answers that there are two – “love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself. If you obey these two commandments you will be able to fulfill all others”. Then someone asks, “who is my neighbor?”. This is where Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan. Parables are not factual stories. Jesus often uses them to help people understand some point he wants to make, which in this case is the answer to the question “who is my neighbor?”. Jesus then tells the parable and he asks a question. “Who was neighbor to the injured man who needs some help”? The answer is “the one who helps the injured man “. I believe the point Jesus is making is that your neighbor is anyone who is in need of some kind of help, and you have the ability and means of providing at least some of that help. At the same time anyone who gives some kind of help is a neighbor of the one needing that help. In other words, we are all neighbors of each other. Sometimes we need the help of others. Other times someone needs our help. So when we give and receive help, according to God’s will and direction, we are fulfilling the two great commandments – love God and love your neighbor.
As we go through life, we have opportunities to be neighbors to each other, as Jesus explains. We can develop our own parables, but we can also experience and observe some totally factual stories. Here’s an example from my own experience. It’s a two part story, as is the parable of the Good Samaritan. First there are the two people who pass by the injured man. Then there is the man who goes out of his way to care for the injured man. In my story, there are two incidents, which took place about ten years apart.
The first incident took place when I was about ten years old. My best friends and I decided to do something new – ride our two wheeler bikes from our neighborhood in Jersey City to Journal Square – a trip of about two miles. All was well as we started our trip. However, we never made it to our planned destination. About half way there I had a flat tire. So we aborted the rest of the trip. We decided to return home. Obviously, I realized that we would all have to walk our bikes, since mine had a flat tire. But I was mistaken. My “best” friends told me that they would ride home and meet me at my house. I would be walking my bike home all alone. So off they went and I began the long walk home all by myself. I was so upset I began to cry. My friends had deserted me. Eventually I got over what happened. I still considered them to be my friends, but I also learned that you can’t always count on your friends when you are in need.
The second incident took place about eight years later. I was serving in the U.S. Navy as a musician in the band on the aircraft carrier U.S.S Saratoga, which was sailing in the Mediterranean Sea. One of the ports we stopped at for a few days was the island of Rhodes, Greece. On one of our liberty days a few of my friends in the band and I decided to rent bikes and take a self-guided tour of the island. About half way through our tour it happened. I had a flat tire.
Almost immediately I recalled what had happened the last time I got a flat tire while bike riding with my friends. I remembered how my friends had left me to fend for myself. I assumed that the same thing was going to happen again. So, to avoid the embarrassment of having to be told, “we’ll keep on going, and we’ll see you back at the ship”, I said “you keep on going, and I’ll see you back at the ship”. Then I was taken by surprise. Their response was, “no, we’ll walk back with you now, find a bike repair shop, and then we’ll all continue our tour.” And that’s what we did.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when the response of my friends was to care about and for me. Because after about two years in the Navy, and especially when spending six or more months at a time living in very close quarters day after day, I should have known that friends look out for and care about each other, as did my friends on that day.
As I said. These are true stories. Not a parable. The first story is about how some guys who had been close friends for years turned away from one of their friends when he needed help. That was and still is bad news. It can leave you with a sense of hopelessness. But the second story is about how some guys who had been close friends for only a few months chose to help one of their friends when he needed help. That was and still is good news. It provides a sense that there was and is hope for a future in which love of God and love of neighbor will prevail in this world as in heaven. And for that, I thank God.
Grace and peace, Ray
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Patty Perez and Ray Gough
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A Spiritual Autobiography