Samaritans and Tired Clerks

by Edward Gordon

Ever hear about the traveler who got robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road? People from his own community saw him but crossed the street and walked on by. Eventually, a foreigner found him and picked him up. He took him to an inn, cleaned him up, and told the clerk to charge all the traveler’s expenses to his own account until he recovered. If the plot sounds familiar, it should: it’s the story of the Good Samaritan.

Like most people, I want to believe I’d act like the Good Samaritan, given the same circumstances, but I’ve never actually encountered someone in that condition. Where I live, it’s uncommon to find people half-dead on the side of the road. The road to Jericho is thousands of miles from my home. Or is it?

If we put on our spiritual spectacles and look around, most of the people we pass by on the road to Jericho are the people standing in front of us everyday. Think about the tired grocery clerk whose attitude is in the toilet after five hours working on a register, or the harried waitress who isn’t as friendly as she could be. What about the server at the fast food restaurant who mistook your name for “next” and didn’t even smile when he said it? Perhaps these are the people we unwittingly cross the road to avoid. Perhaps these are the travelers who need us the most.

When Jesus described the traveler in the parable of the Good Samaritan, he said he was robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead. But so are the tired grocery clerks and the harried waitresses, and these people represent all of us in one way or another.

Everyday we encounter people robbed of their self-respect by menial jobs that offer little more than food on the table. We meet people stripped of their dignity by petty bosses who insist on being flattered and brown-nosed. We find people beaten down by the fact that if they quit their jobs, their kids will lose their health insurance. Aren’t these people left for dead in a gutter of cynicism just as sure as the Samaritan’s traveler was left for dead on the side of the road?

Loving humanity doesn’t have to mean moving to India and taking over where Mother Teresa left off. It’s not about going way out of our way to serve others. More often, Good Samaritans are the ones who compliment the waitress’s hairstyle and leave a better than average tip. They respectfully address the fast food worker as “sir” or “ma’am” when they order their food. They might even write a letter of praise to the store manager about the professionalism of a particular cashier. Good Samaritans know these little things become huge acts of love to people who rarely experience such gestures in the normal course of a day.

No doubt, loving a stranger in such a way can be difficult, especially if we just endured their negative attitude or if we’re having a hard day ourselves. To make matters worse, we know full well that if we are kind to someone, they may not be kind in return. But if they could return our kindness, would they even need a Good Samaritan?

One thing to keep in mind as you consider the story of the Good Samaritan: the Samaritan was never thanked, not even once, not by anyone. He simply cared about the traveler on the road to Jericho. He decided before he even approached him that such a person mattered no matter what.

There’s a good chance we’ll never see a traveler half-dead in the street. That’s why it’s easy to say we’d act like the Good Samaritan in the same situation. What’s harder to see is what we may not want to see: that the situation is all around us—all the time—waiting for us to act.

© 2010 Edward J. Gordon. All rights reserved.


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