Just some early morning thoughts from me to you…
He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor.”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…”
Luke 10: 27 NIV)
On April 3, 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered what would turn out to be his last speech, most familiarly known by the name “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” The next day, Thursday, April 4, 1968, he was assassinated.
At the time Dr. King was in Memphis, Tennessee to address what was happening with the Memphis Sanitation Strike. As he spoke he continued to call for an end to the injustice which was being done to the black race in general, and in particular, on behalf of the thirteen hundred sanitation workers on strike against the City of Memphis, seeking better pay and working conditions.
As always, he called upon everyone to step up and come out to support their brothers and sisters, whether they were directly affected or not, and to always do so non-violently.
At one point, as he was nearing the end of his remarks, he paraphrased the story told by Jesus of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke, the beginning of which is noted in the scripture above, and said:
“One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base….
Now that question [“And who is my neighbor?”] could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn’t stop to help him.
And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he [was] concerned about his brother.”
Dr. King then engaged in his own speculation with the audience as to why the priest or the Levite might have passed by the man in need. Historically, he offered, it had been attributed by many that the priest, and then the Levite, were too busy, or self-consumed with their own agenda, perhaps even late for another engagement.
But also the truth is, he went on, that the journey they were on was in a dangerous area, and across a hazardous, winding and steep stretch of road which started out at about 1,200 feet above sea level when you set out from Jerusalem and then approximately twenty minutes later when you arrived in Jericho you were at 2,200 feet below sea level. A stretch of road which during those days was called “The Bloody Pass.”
Understandably, they may have feared for their own safety, Dr. King suggested. They may have thought the thieves were still nearby, or that the man was faking his injuries to get them to stop, so he could rob them.
Whatever it was, he pointed out to those gathered that night in Memphis, that neither the priest nor the Levite stopped to help the man in need, but only the scorned Samaritan man would stop.
And so drawing to a close his paraphrase of the familiar story of the Good Samaritan, and what else he imagined might have occurred that day, Martin Luther King, Jr. concluded with this poignant possibility as to why the three acted the way they did:
“And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’
But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’
That’s the question before you tonight. Not, ‘If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job.’ Not, ‘If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?’
The question is not, ‘If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?’ The question is, ‘If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?’ That’s the question.”
We can all see ourselves in the story of the Good Samaritan. And we can all sense ourselves being called out by those words of Martin Luther King, Jr. from that night so long ago in Memphis.
We can see ourselves probably in each of the roles depicted in those stories, including the role of the man in need having been beaten and robbed, and maybe even in the roles of those sanitation workers, and others during those Civil Rights Movement days, needing a voice to speak out on their behalf and offer a hand up in a difficult time of need in life.
Unfortunately, we can also probably remember ourselves in the role of the priest and then the Levite, passing by someone in need, but now, hopefully in ever-increasing ways, we can see ourselves in the role of the Samaritan who stopped and may well have asked the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’
Who has come to our assistance in those moments of need in our lives? Whose assistance have we come to through the years in their moments of need?
And, in those situations where we didn’t help, what held us back from doing so?
What will you do today when standing in the face of someone in need, or at some moment in time where you can make a difference or not?
Will you ask: “If I stop to help, what will happen to me?”
Or will you ask: “If I don’t stop to help, what will happen to them or others who come after them?”
The priest, the Levite, the Samaritan.
Who will you be today, tomorrow and every day for the rest of your life on into eternity?
In His Name—Scott
Copyright 2014. Scott L. Whitaker. All rights reserved.