Often when I revisit a familiar biblical story, something new emerges. Sometimes that new thing is a simple truth, other times it’s a detail that I simply overlooked as if it wasn’t important.
This happened when I re-read the story Jesus told to explain to a lawyer exactly what a “neighbor” is. While Matthew, Mark and Luke all record this teaching by Jesus, only the Gospel of Luke includes the “Good Samaritan” parable about the wounded man who was bypassed twice and then helped by a third person.
The detail that caught my eye this time was this opening sentence: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers who stripped him, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead” (Luke 10:30).
As I prepared to teach this lesson to middle-school students, I dug into some reference books. The fact that the robbers took his clothes meant his identifying clothes were missing. That fact, the author said, means no one knew his race, his class, his religion — his very identity.
We readers might surmise that the man walking “home” to Jericho probably had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for business since it was a main city of commerce. His clothes would have been distinctive — well crafted, made with fine material and possibly a head-dress that identified his guild or profession. Or, maybe, this man was a priest who had been to Jerusalem on the required yearly pilgrimage to participate in religious rituals. Naturally, his garb would have been distinctive of a religious sect. Or maybe he was from another region making a trip to secure land, to sell woven fabric, or . . . In any case, the clothes the man was wearing would clearly mean something.
The conclusion of this story is one of healing. A Samaritan, a stranger and someone who was considered an “enemy” of folks in that region, stops to attend to the wounds and even takes the wounded man to shelter. He pays for the lodging and promises to come back (after his pilgrimage?) and pay for any extra expenses. (I wonder what the Samaritan was wearing?) This generous person did not seem to care about the hurt man’s identity. He simply helped and, in my view, went beyond simple caring.
The lesson for all of us is to look beyond the obvious clothing, tattoos, earrings, hair color and professional attire and tend to things that need care, respect and healing. Those who are wounded feel so vulnerable, so “naked” with their problems, so lonely, so hurt that they often are bypassed.
One of my students, acting in our staged dramatic reading of the Luke text, said “I didn’t care who stopped or what she was wearing! I was hurt and I needed help!” I am grateful that there are places where folks are welcomed regardless of the ability to pay, or race or creed. The need to offer help to someone passing by is both an opportunity and a ministry.
May that spirit of hope be present in every office, church, Sunday School class and gathering this day and every day.
Dorothy Nickel Friesen, a retired Mennonite Church USA conference minister and pastor, lives in Newton, Kan., and chairs the board of Springs Forth! Faith Formation Inc., which publishes multiage curriculum at springsforth.com.