Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Learning to like Good Sam

After years of quiet resentment, I am finally coming to accept that the Good Samaritan wasn’t such a bad guy after all. But for the longest time he was, in many respects, the man I hated to love.

Our relationship was like that of the valedictorian, homecoming king, football team captain, class president, weekend-model older brother (him) and the nebbish younger one who always gets picked last for anything (me). You know you should be happy for all the plaudits he gets, but part of you really dislikes him for making you feel inadequate by comparison. Nothing you ever do is quite going to measure up.

This sense of inferiority dogged my loving actions for years. I have something of a tender heart, and can be moved to acts of compassion… and then there are times when I just don’t feel like it. At such moments Good Sam looms in my conscience, leaving me feeling guilty, that I should somehow be doing or giving more. The guy and his donkey intimidated me.

We shouldn’t wait for a sense of saintliness to put ourselves out for others, of course; sometimes it is important just to do the right thing just because it is the right thing to do, feelings aside. But I suspect that mere duty often dulls the impact of what we are doing—that less with love trumps more with murmuring. It’s hard to offer a sincerely warm smile when your teeth are clenched.

Then I saw Good Sam in fresh light as I read again the story in Luke 10:25-37. I realized that, yes, he put himself out—but only so far. He went to help the mugging victim, took him to where he was going to be staying, looked after him, and paid for further treatment.

But he didn’t cancel the rest of his business trip so he could make sure the man was okay. And he passed off some of the responsibility to the innkeeper, whom he even expected to run up a tab while doing so. Good Sam loved his neighbor, but he didn’t knock a hole in their adjoining walls so the guy could move in with him.

That made me feel so much better. Yes, elsewhere in the Bible Jesus calls us to sacrificial love, to lay down our lives, but through His story about Good Sam, He also seems to be happy with smaller offerings. It’s okay to be an average angel, rather than a super saint.

This is quite freeing. If I’m not wary that every need I encounter may demand more of me than I feel able to give, I can take off the blinders. You know, that way of looking straight ahead, rather than side to side, so that in some twisted form of good conscience we can feel okay about not meeting needs because we never actually saw them.

Maybe sometimes it’s enough to do what I can within the limits of my other commitments, and pass on what remains to someone else. Just be a link in a chain of goodness that it is not my sole responsibility to forge. Rather than thinking I have to score a touchdown, maybe a first down is enough.

As Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

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