The above is my favorite painting of The Good Samaritan, by English artist Dinah Roe Kendall. I can't tell you why I love it; like artistic Philistines everywhere, I fall back on the explanation that while I don't know art, I know what I like.
I love the story of The Good Samaritan, as much for what isn't written there as for what is. Why was the man headed away from Jerusalem, the High City of God, down toward Jericho, the lowest place on earth, accessible only by treacherous roads filled with hiding places for those wishing to do a lonely traveler harm? And why were the priest and the Levite on that road? Were they traveling in the same direction as the victim, or were they on their way back to Jerusalem? And what of that Samaritan? Had he been the recipient of the same kindness, been blessed by equal goodness, at other times in his life?
I know that the man who falls among thieves is meant to represent all of us -- fallen creatures in a low and dangerous world, a long way from the safety and protection of God. And Christ is the Samaritan, misunderstood, even hated, leaving the open road and moving into the shadows at personal risk to rescue one who likely sees Him as less-than.
But I want to tell you a story that puts a very sacred and personal spin on the tale of The Good Samaritan. I'm writing it primarily so that it will be recorded here to remind and bless those who participated and those who know about it through the telling of it.
Sometime, maybe 20 years or so ago, my father was an LDS bishop in the area where my family now lives. Those who knew my dad knew that he was a man of paradoxes: a no-nonsense guy with the instincts and right hook of a street fighter (a skill he once demonstrated in front of a group of 12-18 year old boys from our ward when a drunken man assaulted our bishop at a local fast food restaurant, causing my father to go all 'Bull in the Ice Cream Shop', leap over the seat, and with a single punch, lay the attacker out cold. My husband was in that group of stunned young men; he's never forgotten what happened when 'Brother Powers' felt inspired to defend a friend), yet full of laughter and tenderness. He kicked you in the butt when you had it coming, but usually that just meant he had your back.
And, as bishop, he took his pastoral duties seriously, watching over his flock and, occasionally using the 'rod of correction' to encourage those showing signs of straying back into safer paths.
One such parishioner was John, an ambitious young lawyer working hard to establish himself in his newly chosen profession, even if doing so meant working Sundays and sending his little family alone to church. Dad watched for several weeks as John's absence became regular, then consistent, and then headed toward permanent. Perhaps, he thought, it was time to pay John a visit.
John tells me that as he waited for the bishop to come to his house, he was feeling a mite defensive. He had his arguments all lined up for why his choices were justified, that those choices were temporary, and that Bishop Powers should worry more about people whose faith really was in trouble and leave solid church members like himself alone.
But for whatever reason, when my dad arrived, John said none of those things. Instead, he listened patiently, then humbly, as his priesthood leader promised him that careful observance of the Sabbath and the dedication of one complete, work-free day a week to his family would bring him professional, familial, and spiritual success in ways his current lifestyle never could. John believed him, and thanked him, and then allowed his bishop to lay hands on his head and give him a blessing.
It was a critical and permanent course correction in John's life, and the lives of those he loved most in the world have been blessed for it ever since.
Sixteen years later, in 2011, my family moved from Las Vegas to Stansbury Park, in part to be close to my mother after she lost my dad to an unexpected heart attack in the fall of 2009. And John, now a happy, successful attorney with a beautiful, growing family, was called as our youngest son's Sunday School teacher, as well as our Home Teacher.
There was an immediate connection between John and our family. Jacob thought he was the coolest guy in the ward, and John loved Jacob with sincerity and genuine affection. We all felt that same degree of love from John, and when he finally saw fit to recount the story of 'The Bishop's Visit', we understood a little better where those tender feelings came from.
Three weeks ago, Jake made a stupid, short-sighted decision that got him in trouble with the law. We emptied his savings account to bail him out of jail, hit Google to see what the maximum sentence was for the two charges against him, and worried and prayed and worried some more.
The next day -- Sunday -- the first thing Jake did was seek out John. John -- his teacher, his friend, and, thankfully, his willing advocate in the legal system.
John came over that afternoon. He prayed with us. He comforted and reassured Jacob that he would do everything in his power to rescue him from the trouble in which he'd placed himself. And over the following weeks, he worked closely with the prosecutor (a stranger, who has sought every opportunity to give Jacob the benefit of the doubt, based largely on John's advocacy on his behalf) to bring a frightening experience to a safe and secure end.
Tomorrow, Jacob stands before the judge to plead his case. John, and another wonderful friend of Jacob's, a man named Jack, were here tonight at Jake's request, joining Brett in giving Jake another priesthood blessing. Then John explained what he and the prosecutor had worked out.
One charge, dropped completely. No jail time. A plea arrangement that, after ninety days, would be expunged from his record -- and then, even that was reduced to thirty days at the prosecutor's suggestion, so that there wouldn't be a guilty plea hovering over Jacob's attempts to find a second job this summer. The fine normally attached to the charge would be reduced by half.
And above all, John would be standing right beside Jacob, placing his professional reputation on the line to defend and protect our son.
Jake smiled tonight for the first time since he was arrested. And cried. And told this great man how much he loved him.
Sometimes, we're the man on the road to Jericho. How we got there, and how we fell among thieves, is between us and our better judgment. And, if we're humble enough, we'll allow ourselves to be rescued, even by someone we feel may not have the right to get involved, regardless of his position in the church. Or maybe we'll cry out for help, and find a friend in a place he might not otherwise have been were it not for his own rescue at another time, on another stretch of the Jericho road.
And sometimes, we're the Samaritan, strong and courageous and able to reach out to another in need, even one whose own short-sightedness, hubris, or naivete may have put him in harm's way to begin with.
What takes us to the road to Jericho? God only knows. But what we do while we're there defines our humanity and our discipleship, and, hopefully, bound up and healed of our wounds, leads us to that upward path, safely in the direction of home.