They passed by on the other side.
That phrase from the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 grabbed my attention when encountering it again in an Advent devotional book I’m reading.
The phrase has stayed with me.
The travelers made sure they avoided the broken man in need, the person robbed and left for dead. They passed by on the other side, and more than likely did not even glance his way as they passed him by.
Jesus noted in his parable it was the religious priest and Levite who crossed the road and passed by on the other side. The hero of the story was a Samaritan who saw, stopped and helped.
This parable has echoed down for 2,000 years because it is as timely as today’s paper, and as real as our experience with people around us in need.
Frankly, I have been one of those who has “passed by on the other side” too many times.
Years ago, my inability to say “no” meant I quit carrying cash because I felt compelled to help if I had any money in my pocket no matter how ridiculous the story.
So, my solution was to not carry money. This was in the day before debit cards, so I made myself safe from pleas for help. That was not the answer.
Years later, I learned to say, “I have no money to share with you.” At a core level, that was true. Any money I had on my person was earmarked for other things. However, even that did not settle well on my heart.
I guess it is because our world invites us to pass by on the other side. Our day is planned, our compassion obligated, our priorities set. There is not time to deal with this person’s personal tragedy.
After all, why were they traveling alone on one of the most dangerous roads in Israel? They were just asking to be beaten and robbed. They deserved what they got. Why should I be inconvenienced because of this person’s shortsightedness?
I slid into thinking about Austin, Texas. I live in a suburb of the state capital and, like all communities outside major cities, the lines blur and we don’t know exactly when we leave one town and enter another.
There is one indication that you’ve made your way into the Austin city limits: the presence of homeless persons alongside of the road, at the intersections, under the bridges.
The city has attempted to find solutions for their homeless population, which in turn has drawn more unhoused people. Their honest efforts have drawn ridicule, scorn and push-back from as high up as the Texas governor on down.
Why do people, including Christians, find it more convenient to “pass by on the other side”? How have we come to see people without homes as a nuisance or burden?
What has happened to the voice of Christians in the legislature calling us back to one of the primary responsibilities of government: to care for even the “least among us?”
Frankly, I don’t need the government to look out for me. I am capable of that and, if I need help, I call on my sons. Together, our family has a strong safety net to help one another when we are in need.
What happens if that is not true for others? What happens if they are mired in tragedy or misfortune? What happens if there are no advocates to speak for them?
What happens when the people in the shadows, on the margins of our culture, without voice because they are without standing or financial success, are neglected, overlooked and simply discounted as unimportant?
What of the mentally ill who are turned out on the streets? The addicts who have lost everything? The veterans who have come home with PTSD and an addiction?
What of these folks?
Are they not also the people for whom Christ died? My Bible says that is true.
My Bible tells me I must look as Jesus looked. I must see as Jesus saw. I must feel compassion not of my own but of his in me.
I must not turn away. I must not cross to the other side. I must not walk on because I have more important appointments ahead.
One of the things we should learn from Jesus was he was an “on the way” Savior who found every need, every concern, every issue of paramount importance.
To truly be like him, we must not cross the road and pass by on the other side.
Wash your hands, wear your masks for others, mind the gap and be kind and open hearted.
A private practice counselor working with veterans and survivors of trauma, he recently relocated to Round Rock, Texas, to be closer to family. Previously, Chancellor served four churches in Texas for 33 years, then ran a Mental Health Department of Alan B. Polunsky Maximum Security prison which houses death row.