Summary: Love is more than a feeling, it is an action undertaken for the well-being of someone else, no matter who, over and above our own needs!
Just a few years ago, an astonishing thing happened in New York City. A construction worker named Wesley Autrey was standing on a subway platform with his two young daughters waiting on a train. Suddenly another man on the platform, apparently suffering from a seizure, stumbled and fell off the platform down onto the subway tracks. Just at that moment the headlights of a rapidly approaching train appeared in the subway tunnel. Acting quickly, and with no thought for himself, Wesley Autrey jumped down onto the tracks to rescue the stricken man by dragging him out of the way of the train. But he immediately realized that the train was coming too fast and there wasn't time to pull the man off the tracks. So Wesley pressed the man into the hollowed-out space between the rails and spread his own body over him to protect him as the train passed over the two of them. The train cleared Wesley by mere inches, coming close enough to leave grease marks on his knit cap. When the train came to a halt, Wesley called up to the frightened onlookers on the platform. "There are two little girls up there. Let them know their Daddy is OK."
Immediately, and for good reason, Wesley Autrey became a national hero. People were deeply moved by his selflessness, and they marveled at his bravery. What Wesley had done was a remarkable deed of concern for another person. He had no obvious reason to help this stranger. He didn't know the man. He had his young daughters to think about. What he did was at severe risk to his own life. But a human being was in desperate need, and Wesley saw it and, moved with compassion, did what he could to save him. "The Subway Superman"-that's what the press called him, the "Harlem Hero." But the headline in one newspaper described Wesley Autrey in biblical terms. It read, "Good Samaritan Saves Man on Subway Tracks."
Wesley Autrey was indeed a Good Samaritan, and many of us, when we heard his story, wondered, "If I had been the one on the subway platform that day, what would I have done? Would I have been as courageous as Wesley? Would I have had what it takes to jump down on those tracks, with a train bearing down, to help that man? In other words, would I have been a 'Good Samaritan' that day?"
We know the parable of the Good Samaritan quite well. In fact, as the news article suggests, our entire culture is at least familiar with the idea of the “Good Samaritan.” We even have “Good Samaritan” laws that protect people who offer help to someone who has been injured in something like a car wreck or other type of accident. We are more than familiar with the command to “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 your neighbor as yourself. We know the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” And Jesus’ response is engrained in our memories; the story of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, beaten by robbers and left for dead, passed by a priest and a Levite before receiving help from a Samaritan. But the question is, do we really know the parable of the Good Samaritan? Or do we just see this parable as an example of how we should be willing to help people who are different from us? I think that if we look very closely at the parable of the Good Samaritan, we will see that Jesus doesn’t quite answer the lawyer’s question. The story that Jesus tells isn’t so much about whom the neighbor is, as about how to act in neighborly way; how to show love to our neighbor.
Just think about it for a minute. Wesley Autrey had been standing on the subway platform in New York at the very moment that a man nearby experienced a seizure and fell onto the tracks. As we know Wesley jumped down on to the tracks to help the man. But suppose that it had been a woman who had a stroke and fell onto the tracks near Autrey, or a child who tripped. Would Wesley Autrey have reacted any differently? I don’t think so. What made Wesley Autrey a Good Samaritan was the fact that he acted. He put himself aside in order to help someone in need; in order to save a life. That Samaritan traveling on the road to Jericho did the same thing. He saw a person in need, and he put himself aside to stop and help. Would we do the same?
About thirty years ago a famous experiment was conducted with seminary students. Researchers gathered a group of ministry students in a classroom and told them that each of them had an assignment. Their assignment was to record a talk about the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The thing was, the recordings were going to be done in a building on the other side of the campus, and because of a tight schedule, they needed to hurry to that building. Unbeknownst to the students, on the path to the other building the researchers had planted an actor to play the part of a man in distress, slumped in an alley, coughing and suffering. The students were going to make a presentation about the Good Samaritan. But what would happen, the researchers wondered, when they actually encountered a man in need? Would they be Good Samaritans? Well, no, as a matter of fact, they were not. Almost all of them rushed past the hurting man. One student even stepped over the man's body as he hurried to teach about the Parable of the Good Samaritan!