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In the previous article, we talked about the journey of life and the story that Jesus shared with the lawyer who came to make Him look foolish. This story has vital lessons for our lives and relationships.
“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho . . .” (v. 30). Notice that, in this account, we have no identifying information about the central character of the story. Was he a merchant, a foreigner, a father, an apostate? Why are we given no detail about that poor man who made the lonely trek to Jericho? Because that traveler represents you and me and our partners and our children in our journeys of life. He is every man and every woman and every child. Jesus is telling a story about us, about you and me.
There is unexpected significance that the journey was from Jerusalem to Jericho. Jerusalem had unique spiritual significance. It was the Holy City. It was the temple city. Its elevation would not normally be noteworthy—except in contrast to that of Jericho. “From Jerusalem, at 2,700 feet above sea level, to Jericho, at 850 feet below sea level the lowest city on the globe, is a descent of over 3,500 feet.” Jesus’ choice of those particular endpoints for the journey must have significance. Were the two cities chosen specifically because Jesus was teaching of everyman’s descent from the heavenly presence to this hellish world? Was Jesus inviting us to understand this parable as a type for each of our mortal journeys? We might paraphrase the story: “Each of us goes down from the presence of God to this lowly, desolate world.” Jesus is talking about our own inglorious descents from Heaven.
“. . . and fell among thieves” (v. 30).
The risks of a lone journey along the road to Jericho were well known to the Jews of the time. Why did the traveler take the risks? And why do we take the risks of mortality? Why did we choose to come to this desolate place?
A heavenly one-on-one
In my mind I picture a time ages ago when Father called you and me—each of us individually—to a Father’s Interview. He looked on us with love and shared His appreciation for us: “I love you, Dear One.”
Then He told us: “You are ready to go to earth.” We tensed at the prospect of leaving Him. He continued: “I can customize your earth experience to prepare you for the place you want in Eternity. So the key question is, where do you want to spend Eternity?”
Each of us trembled. Dared we say? Dared we hope? He prodded: “Go ahead. Tell me. Please.”
We blurted: “Oh Father! I want to be with you! I want to be a part of your work! I want to spend Eternity with Jehovah and all the noble and great ones.” Then we hung our heads in shame. How dare we hope for such a thing? How could we be so presumptuous?
But He gently lifted our chins. I imagine a tear coursing down His face. “And that is where I want you. I want you back with Me and all my most cherished ones.” He pulled each of us close and filled our spirits with His goodness. We leaned into His love and felt more at home than we ever had. After what seemed like an eternity, He leaned back and sighed. “The education for exaltation is very rigorous and demanding . . .”
We interrupted: “Oh! I’d do anything to be with You again.” He smiled, but had a concerned look in His eyes. “Let me show you something.” He opened our minds to see every hour, every minute, every second, every hiccough of our personal mortal experience. After all, He is not a person to sneak big surprises into the small print of our mortal contracts. In my opinion, He showed us every single thing we would experience in our mortal education from the pains of birth to the anxieties of death and every struggle in between. We were sobered.
He asked, “Would you bear all of that to return Home?”
“Gladly. But . . .” We hesitated. “Can I do it? Am I strong enough? Am I good enough? Do I have a chance of making it?”
Father replied. “No, you can’t make it on your own. You would get hopelessly lost. You will often be confused and uncertain. You will become forlorn and dispirited. But, if you’re willing to go, I’ll provide my two Extraordinary Helpers. I will provide you my Third-in-command, the Holy Spirit, who will teach you, comfort you, and cleanse you. And I will provide my Second-in-command, my dearly Beloved Son, who will give you the teachings you need. And He will pay the price of all your debts so that you can come Home clean and perfect.” Father glowed.
At this point our eyes were big with amazement and tears coursed down our cheeks. We slipped from His arms to our knees “You would do all that for me?”
“And all the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). Never in all of eternity had there been such Good News! Right then and there we committed to make the perilous journey. We signed the contract. We made a covenant.
However, somewhere between our Heavenly Home above to the bedeviled and beleaguered earth beneath, we suffered from a veil that hid that sacred pre-trip moment from our view. So we started this journey dazed, forgetful, and vulnerable. As newborn babies we cry and flail our limbs. This cold and breezy place is clearly not our Home. The bad news is that things will get worse before they get better. Our mortal pathways are strewn with thorns and thistles (see Moses 4). As we journey through mortality in this harsh world, we continue to be vulnerable to brutal attacks. We often fall among thieves.
The treacherous journey
“. . . and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead” (v. 30).
What a perfect description of what every person experiences in the course of mortality! We all get injured and left alone along our treacherous journey of life. We lose the robe of innocence and heavenly grace. We are often stripped of our hope and whatever dim sense of identity we had. We are wounded not only by difficulties but also by sin and filth. We are left exactly half dead. While our bodies still breathe, our spirits are dead—cut off from the Divine Lifeblood that sustained us when we walked in the Garden of Heaven with Father.
Each of us is wounded in mortality. No one is spared. Ironically, those who have the highest aspirations suffer some of the hardest injuries. They chose the tougher training.
However, if we learn the mindset of faith, our troubles no longer surprise us nor bother us so much. We know that everything we suffer was carefully designed by a Perfect Father to prepare us for our Work on High. We also know that the entire First Presidency of Heaven is looking after us.
Hoping for help
“And by chance there came down a certain priest that way . . .” (v. 31)
Ahhh! We are hopeful! Priests are those people in the community commissioned to see to the well-being of the people. They are the spiritually elite. Certainly this priest will stop and care for our injuries.
“. . . and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.” (v. 31)
Yikes! Why would he do such a thing? He did not merely pass by, he went out of his way to avoid the disagreeable sight. What was he thinking? Maybe: “What a shame that people would be out on this dangerous road alone. Doesn’t he know any better? What a fool! This is the natural consequence of such a foolish decision. I hope he learns a lesson. Besides, he is not in my congregation.” There is a cool detachment, maybe even some condescension in such a response.
Here comes the next passerby. Certainly he will stop. After all, he is a Levite, one who serves as a musician or custodian in the temple of God. Such a humble servant will certainly minister to one who is injured.
“And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him and passed by on the other side” (v.32).
Was convenience or cleanliness more important to the Levite than godly compassion? What a bitter irony! Was Jesus suggesting that the entire Jewish hierarchy from humble Levites to exalted priests was spiritually bankrupt? Was He saying that charity is the mark of true followers—and there was none of it in the ancient and rigid order?
Certainly the same might be said of some of our responses to spousal suffering in marriage. We sometimes are so concerned about being right in an argument that we fail to be good. When the system is drained of charity, it is only a dead form. “The letter killeth but the spirit giveth life” (2 Corinthians. 3:6). When we pound our spouses with logic or power, we are no better than the thieves. When we dispassionately witness our partners’ pains, we are no better than the priest or Levite.
We can be humbled by reflection. How often have I seen my partner’s pain and added to it by heaping discontent on my already-injured spouse? When she is hurting do I take an “I told you so” stance?
Maybe we do a little better than the thieves. Maybe we act like the priest or Levite. We blithely ignore our partner’s struggles. Maybe we figure they deserve it. Maybe we figure it’s not our problem. Maybe we are absorbed with our own problems.
If still conscious, after the priest and Levite passed by, the injured one must have been desperate. The holiest members of his community had passed him by. Would no one have pity on one as miserable and helpless as he? It would appear that he had no hope as he weakened at the side of the road.
“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was . . .” (v. 33).
Certainly he will not get help from a Samaritan. They are half-breed pretenders to the great religious tradition. They are the lowest of the low. They are strangers and foreigners.
“The Samaritan was racially impure—half Gentile, half Israelite; he worshiped at a different temple, a rival of the Jerusalem temple. His religion was half pagan, half Jewish, a blasphemous mongrel religion to the ultraorthodox Pharisees. So Jews despised such people. . . . One can imagine how offensive this story was to the priests and Levites of Jesus’ day. Translating such a parable into our culture, it is as if a stake president or a bishop passed by such a victim because he was late for a session at the temple or a ward planning meeting, and an excommunicated Mormon cared for him.”
Note that the despicable Samaritan “journeyed” while the priest and likewise the Levite came “by chance.” Is it possible that the officially religious came upon the scene by chance while the Samaritan was out looking for opportunities to serve? Is it possible that the most spiritual are not always those who appear most “religious”? Is it possible that the mark of a true believer is the willingness to travel the highways of life looking for opportunities to help those in need? Joseph Smith seemed to validate that idea when he said: “Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.”
There is a quirk in human nature here. Many of us find it easier to minister to the stranger than to the family member. Unexpected service to the stranger is often warmly appreciated. Service to family is expected and often goes unappreciated. As a result, many of us cheerfully do for others the things that we grudgingly or sporadically do for family. What would we do if we were less concerned about the rewards of appreciation? Probably we would offer gentle healing regularly to injured family members.
The Samaritan in Jesus’ story clearly represents the Savior Himself. “Samaritans were viewed as the least of all humanity, so it was prophesied that the Servant Messiah would be ‘despised and rejected of men’ and ‘esteemed . . . not’” (Isa.53:3).” The work of caring for the injured is often disdained by those who see themselves as holy or busy. Jesus is different:
“. . . and when he saw him, he had compassion on him.” (v. 33)
The first response of this disreputable stranger was compassion. Rather than chide the traveler for foolishness or lack of preparation, He looked on his injuries with empathy. Even now He does the same for us as He finds us bleeding by the side of the road. He might rightly claim that we have brought our miseries on ourselves. He might justly claim that He has no responsibility for us since we have all strayed from His counsel. But he looks on us with the compassion characteristic of God. We would not expect this Samaritan passerby to do more than feel saddened by our plight. Why would He care for those who cause Him pain? Yet again we are surprised by Him: The Samaritan “went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (v.34).
Wow. The Stranger will bring all of His resources to bear in healing us, the injured ones! He binds up our wounds. He is, after all One who is touched by every pain and infirmity that we ever suffer. He bore not only our sins but even our pains and discomforts so that His compassion would be fully informed (see Alma 7:11-12). He brings His whole soul as an offering to us.
Symbols of spiritual rescue
Hugh Nibley teaches us that no ancient Christian could have misunderstood the ceremonial implications of “pouring in oil and wine.” The alert reader recognizes sacred, even sacramental, emblems. Today, when we think of oil, we recall hands laid on heads for healing. We think of anointing and dedicating our whole lives to sacred purposes. We are soothed and comforted by the blessings attended by consecrated oil.
J.A. Tvedtnes said, “olive oil is symbolic of the Holy Ghost. This is because the Holy Ghost provides spiritual nourishment, enlightenment, and comfort, just as olive oil in the ancient Near East was used for food, light, and anointing.”
When we think of the wine, we remember His weekly invitation to come boldly to the throne of grace and receive mercy and grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). Every week He offers His blood to heal us. With his stripes we are healed. His compassion stretches to the infinities of time and space as He personally ministers to all of us.
But there is still more. Jesus puts us on His beast and walks while we ride. What a model of meekness and humility! He, King of kings and Lord of lords, walks so that we may be carried to healing. He who is truly First becomes last while we who are last are put first.
Jesus does not then dump us at the first county hospital. He brings us to a safe place and tends to our healing Himself. In the time of our crisis, He stays up all night with us.
Perhaps you have felt His ministering to you in times of desperation. I have. And I am grateful. In our lonely nights He ministers to those of us who have slept through His agony (see Matthew 26:49).
“And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee” (v. 35). After getting us through the crisis, he paid two pence to the host. The two pence can have several meanings. It could have provided care for the injured man for up to two months! How gracious that Jesus would provide such time for healing!
Or the two pence could have paid two days’ wages for a laborer—which could be understood as sustaining us in our labors while He is gone away after the crucifixion before returning on the third day with the resurrection.
There is a third interpretation to the two pence. Intriguingly, the amount paid was “the amount each Jewish man had to pay as the temple tax each year.” Thus this payment could be symbolic of putting the injured traveler right with God for a year while his body healed just as partaking of the sacrament worthily sets us right with God for another week of spiritual struggle.
The reward for service
The account reports that Jesus leaves us in the care of the host with the promise to repay any expenses the man incurs above the amount already paid. Some commentators have noted the folly of anyone promising to pay any and all debts. It seems clear that Jesus is not turning the healing of the injured over to strangers. He is entrusting the work of ministering to those whom He knows and trusts, those who have made covenants with Him. He promises you and me that, when He comes again, He will repay anything we invest in helping and healing His children.
When we follow the example of the Good Samaritan and care for injured travelers, the currency of repayment for our service is uniquely appropriate if surprising. He promises us forgiveness of our sins. “For the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants” (Mosiah 4:26). When we minister to family members who are sick or injured, we receive in payment a divine bounty of forgiveness.
The lowest response to vulnerability
We see different kinds of responses to the traveler. The thieves seized on the opportunity to rob the traveler. The priest and Levite actively ignored him. The Samaritan had compassion and ministered to him. These three responses might represent general types of responses to those who are distressed.
When we operate by the telestial law, we act primarily to meet our own needs with disregard for others—just as the thieves did. Our automatic responses in family life usually operate at this level. Our needs are the guiding principle in our decisions. We act to protect our dignity and interests with little regard for the needs of family members.
For example, in a spousal squabble we attack our partners, their wisdom and goodness, in the process of proving that things should have been done our way. We leave them injured and half dead as we stomp off to recount our rightness.
The honorable response to distress
The second type of response is the terrestrial typified by the priest and Levite and is guided by principles of fairness and honor. The priest and Levite had no official responsibility to one who was unwise or careless. Besides, how could they ever hope to help one who was so injured?
This level of functioning is actually about as good as humans can reasonably expect in family life. This is the mindset of honorable dealings. We give with the expectation of reasonable benefit. We negotiate and bargain. It is a triumph of the law of business over the law of the jungle.
When we don’t get benefits commensurate with our investments, we cut our losses and quit the relationship. We have no intention of throwing good effort into hopeless causes.
The heavenly response to our need
The third type of response is that of the Samaritan. He was purposefully looking for those in need—such need is never in short supply in our families. And He came prepared. It was not by chance that He had oil, wine and bandages with Him. He was motivated by compassion and prepared to serve.
This kind of response does not come easily to humans. In fact, I think it is fully impossible for us—unless we are filled with Jesus. We cannot “love [our] enemies, bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]” (Matt. 5:44) unless we have been changed by Him.
Most of the time we exact an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Yet you can probably think of a time when you have responded to ugliness with graciousness, kindness, love, and compassion. It feels good. We can see Him working through us! We are blessed to have Him at the helm of our lives.
The surest test of our spiritual maturity is the way we react to those who are imperfect physically, spiritually, or emotionally. How do we react when someone attacks and blames us? Do we defend ourselves at all costs? Do we try to be fair and balanced? Or do we, like Jesus, recognize that ugliness is often an expression of pain? Do we minister with love and patience? Do we bring healing to the injured?
To be continued.
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