I remember the touching story of the “Good” Samaritan growing up in Sunday School. Jesus told it in response to a question asked him – “Who is my neighbor?” Dude gets beat up while traveling home. He’s left for dead by the side of the road. A priest and a Levite both pass him by and ignore the heck out of him.
The third man who passes by is a Samaritan. As a child, we learned that we should all be like that Samaritan and help people in need as the teacher pasted the little flannel picture of the Good Samaritan on the board.
Then I went to Seminary. I remember the class well. It was hermenutics taught by Dr. Robert Stein. His first statement was, “Where does the Savior ever call the Samaritan ‘good’?”
Oh, snap. Never noticed that. He then informed us of how the Jewish audience hearing the parable would have been aghast hearing that a Samaritan would have been the one who had stopped to help in the first place. In those days, the Samaritans were viewed as “half-breeds.” They were ascended from the Assyrians and had married Jewish people. Many Jews hated them.
Therefore, for Jesus to put a Samaritan as the hero of the story was a stunner. It offended his largely Jewish audience. Especially when he asked the man who had posed the original question, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10:36 ESV) The man couldn’t even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan.” Instead, he said,“The one who showed him mercy.”
Over the past five years, I’ve been trying to find my place in the world after I fell from ministry. There were days I didn’t want to go into Wal-Mart or Kroger for fear of seeing someone I might know. I would hang my head in shame while in public, hoping no one recognized me. Over time, this feeling went away as I grasped the full forgiveness of God.
I did struggle with how to help other people. I wanted to minister. I always kept the words of Hershael York from my book in the back of my mind, “Your repentance has to be more notorious than your sin.” So, for the past five years, I’ve been an ear for fallen pastors, tried to keep my head above water, and tried (sometimes on target) to do the right thing.
Two things happened recently that might sound like a humble brag, but they’re not. They struck a chord in me.
A while back, I was driving down a long stretch of interstate and saw a car broken down. Now, my mother, God rest her soul, always told me to never stop in such a situation. I can hear her now, “It’s a trap!” (Or maybe that was Admiral Ackbar.) Anyway, something within me told me to stop for this 1987 Buick Century.
I got out and five people got out. They looked worse for wear. One was on a cell phone. I asked them if a tow was coming. No, apparently, they couldn’t get a tow. The car was overheated. I’ll be honest, they didn’t smell too great. Amazingly, enough, I had a brand new container of coolant in my car and I went to get it. The car still didn’t start. The guy who was there said, “We need some tape to tape up this pipe.” Amazingly, again, I had trainer’s tape (for my job) and got some.
While he was taping, I began talking to a young woman. She said, “Thank you for stopping. We’ve been here for an hour. No one has stopped. Five people have honked. Even a state trooper. I just got out of the hospital after having a miscarriage.”
The guy said, “I’m done, let’s start it up!” It started. Every one in the car hugged me. And I hugged back, choking back tears.
A few days later, I was in the IGA parking lot and I swear it was the same 1987 Buick Century. It was a young couple and they pulled up next to me. The young woman was in the drivers seat and her husband was leaned back in the passenger seat, seemingly embarrassed. She said, “I wouldn’t normally asked, but we’re on empty. We have no money. If you just have a dollar, please.”
I said, “I’m sorry,” as I opened my wallet. “I don’t carry cash.” I went into the store and couldn’t stop thinking about them. I could almost hear God say, “Get them money.” I got to the checkout and said out loud to the cashier (who must have thought I was nuts) “I can get money off my debit card!” She said (looking at me like I was an idiot), “Yes, you can, sir.”
I ran back out to the parking lot but didn’t see them. But I turned to my right and they were sitting there talking to another woman who was trying to get away from them. I ran over to them and gave them the cash. She said, “Are you serious?” I said, “Yes ma’am! God be with you.” She yelled out the loudest, “Hallelujah!”
I looked over and her husband was smiling and crying.
That’s when it hit me. I was the Samaritan. I was the one Jesus called. The outcast to minister to others. Rejected by many, but still very useful to God. Surrounded by neighbors in need.
Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.
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