Experiencing the parable of the 'Good Samaritan' firsthand

Originally Appeared in : 9723-/11/9/17

Last Sunday, in my position as director of faith formation, I was leading a group of parents and children preparing for First Reconciliation. Part of the lesson included the parable of the Good Samaritan. However, the resource I use, in retelling the parable, didn’t identify the helper as a Samaritan. He was described as a person from “another country.” The priest and Levite in the parable also were not identified by their titles. The lesson called them “important people.” 


As children are apt to do, the group of second graders was quick to understand the importance of helping others. But perhaps the distinction among “important people” and a person from another country was lost on them. Surely this part of the story wasn’t lost on the adults in the room, including me. 


I was reminded of an experience I had not long ago when my car broke down on a busy highway not far from the church where I work. My drive to work involves a 20 minute commute from another town, and the last stretch of highway is a major one with a speed limit of 70 miles per hour. I was going about that speed (actually a little more) when my rear driver side tire blew out. The noise was terrifying, and at first, I had no idea what had happened. Fortunately, I was able to maintain control of the car. No other vehicles were nearby, and I quickly steered the car to the shoulder of the road.


A gaping hole was in the tire, and the car wheel and back bumper were damaged. As cars whizzed past me, I called my insurance company to report the accident and to get roadside assistance. Little did I know when I first called for roadside assistance that I would be stranded on that highway for three hours. When I first called for help, I was told to remain with the vehicle and that a tow truck would arrive within the hour. 


Complications with the roadside assistance ensued, too numerous and mundane to recount here, but every time the tow truck was later than I had expected, I would call again to be told that the tow truck was on the way. So I remained with my car, expecting assistance at any time. 


While I wasn’t in significant distress (although I grew increasingly annoyed), I was touched by the number of vehicles who stopped to offer help. On two different occasions, people from my parish saw me and offered to help. One turned his truck around (he’d been driving down the other side of the highway) to check on me. Another saw me as she drove down the highway and called me on my cell phone, offering to help. When I declined, insisting the tow truck was on the way (so I thought), she still brought me a bottle of water. We visited a while, and then she reluctantly left because I was sure help would arrive any minute.


In addition, a state trooper stopped. When I told him that I was expecting a tow, he, too, drove off, but not before assuring me that I was safe where the car was stopped on the shoulder. 


Among the others who stopped was a young black man with his toddler son in a car seat. He was willing to offer his time even while caring for his small son. 


A Hispanic man stopped to help while I was on the phone with the roadside assistance operator. Part of the reason I had to wait so long for help was that the roadside assistance operator struggled to find my location (from his office in Florida) even though I was able to give him highway numbers and the mile marker where I was. 


The young Hispanic man, realizing I needed more information, without my asking him, drove out of his way to the nearest entrance of the highway to provide an exit number for me to tell the operator who was still trying to identify my location. 


One quality of all the people who offered to assist me (and in three hours there were more than the few I mentioned here) was that, apart from the state trooper, they were not “important people.” They drove modest vehicles, some a little beat up. 


These people seemed to be in less of a hurry than most. I’m guessing they were willing to stop for me because at one time they may have found themselves in a similar position. They understood what it was like to be in need. 


Perhaps that’s why, in the parable, the Good Samaritan was more inclined to help the beaten man left for dead than were the “important people.” He knew what it was like to be an outsider, a victim of others’ disdain. He cared about the beaten traveler because he could empathize. Surely, Jesus chose a Samaritan as a way to teach his audience that an outsider, despised by the Jews, could have more empathy than those they held in high esteem. 


One of the great dangers for those of us (I include myself) who are materially comfortable in life is that we become less sensitive to the discomfort of others. We have a hard time putting ourselves in their positions. We may even justify our lack of empathy by suggesting that those in need might be dangerous or undeserving of our care and concern.


The main lesson in the Reconciliation session I was leading last Sunday was that Jesus gave us the greatest commandment: To love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we do the first, we cannot help but do the second because God is the source of all love, a love that cannot be contained. If we offer ourselves fully to God, we will offer ourselves to everyone else, even those outside the circles of our family, neighborhood, community and country. 


On an afternoon when I was stranded three hours on a highway, I was offered help I know I would not have offered had I been driving down the highway and encountered a stranger in my predicament. I would have been in too great a hurry, or I would have talked myself into believing stopping would be unwise. 


Those Samaritans who stopped and showed concern and kindness for this stranger taught me a lesson I need to learn. 


Mary Hood Hart is a freelance writer and educator living in Pittsboro, NC. She can be reached at

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