Today’s Gospel is the parable of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus tells in response to the scholar who asks “who is my neighbor.” A man is attackec by robbers, who leave him lying on the road half-dead. A priest notices him and passes by without helping. A Levite sees him and makes a wide berth around him. But then comes the despised Samaritan traveler, who stops and cares for the man.
As I reflected on the passage this morning, I also reflected on an experiment I heard in a talk just the other day. A class of seminarians was given the assignment to prepare a sermon on this Gospel passage. They were divided into two groups – one group was given two hours to prepare the sermon and the second group was given twenty-four hours. They then left the building. On that stairs of the building lay a man obviously in need of assistance (the subject of the experiment).
Can you guess the results? Almost none of the seminarians who had been given two hours to prepare their sermon stopped to aid the man as they left the building. Indeed, it was reported that one practically jumped over the man in his haste to get home to get to work on his assignment. A much higher number of the group given twent-four hours stopped to give the man assistance.
The priest and the Levite were very important men. Doubtless they had many important things they had to do and decided they couldn’t take the time to stop and help an injured man. And the seminarians in the first group had only two hours to prepare their sermon. Sadly, I don’t think the reaction in either case is all that uncommon. Most of us have not jumped over an injured person on the street without giving assistance. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when we don’t behave functionally in the same way. Ask yourself: Are there times when what I’m doing seems so important that I fail to offer a greeting or even a smile to someone I pass in the hall at work? Am I so wrapped up in my important task that I fail to even notice that someone is suffering and could use a word of encouragement or a hand on the shoulder from me? Have I squandered opportunities to do a kindness for another because of my preoccupation with my own projects? As I put those questions to myself this morning, I have to admit – with no small amount of sadness – there are times when I behave more like the priest and the Levite than like the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable.