by Laurie Gudim
In Chicago during my freshmen year of college I participated in a Quaker Meeting. As is the custom in many such gatherings, we would sit in silence together each Sunday for an hour. People who were moved by the Spirit would occasionally stand to speak. Anyone could speak, and, because I was young and rash, I felt moved by the Spirit often. I’m sure I was a real trial to the members of the Meeting.
A Jewish rabbi joined us for awhile. He was a great blessing to us, and sometimes he would be moved by the Spirit and would share with us a teaching story from his vast repertoire.
One day he walked me home after the Meeting. As we went along he began to ask me questions about my spiritual understanding. He was amazing. In very short order he had exposed the limits of my perspective, revealing to me that I was far more impetuous than I was wise. It was an important gift to me. After that I was less full of myself and more ready to listen in a much deeper way.
There is no reason not to imagine the lawyer in Luke’s tale of the Good Samaritan as just such a gentle teacher as that rabbi was. He asks Jesus questions to test him, to reveal what he really understands. And Jesus, of course, has a depth of wisdom larger than the whole world.
But here’s the thing that stands out for me. Jesus responds with an earnest and gracious welcome to this man and to his test. He considers carefully and answers earnestly. And then he goes even further. He offers a teaching story that might just change the lawyer’s entire point of reference, the parable of the Good Samaritan.
As he interacts with the lawyer, Jesus lives out the loving neighborliness that the Good Samaritan parable is about. He treats this man with the same tenderness and care as the Samaritan lavishes on the severely injured fellow he finds in the ditch. He invites him in, comes to understand what he needs, and then responds in a way that is wholeheartedly generous and nourishing.
This abundant, extravagant welcome is at the heart of all love of one’s neighbor. We are called not just to bind up one another’s wounds – though that is very important. But we are asked more importantly to risk being very available to one another – to hang out together – to consider with one another the questions that burn in our souls. And being present, deeply open, willing to engage and to offer not just our resources but ourselves, we discover that neighborly giving is never just a one way street.
I wonder what Jesus learned from the lawyer who came to test him? At the very least he would have discovered once again the deep union with God from which his wisdom flowed. His parable of the Good Samaritan is probably the widest known story in our tradition. How he practiced loving neighborliness as he reached within his heart to find and to tell it is maybe even more inspiring.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.