To reach my creek-house hide-a-way, east of Austin and north of Dripping Springs, in the Texas Hill Country, a traveler must take several roads, some smooth, others not so smooth.
First, Interstate 35 to Austin; next Texas State Highway 290 west; Ranch Road 169 north and 101 east. Then, finally, a rutted caliche cattle trail through the old Myers place down into the canyon of Roy Creek. But these are only a few of the roads I travel at this time in my life.
And you, what are the roads in your life? I find it interesting and instructive to hear what you have experienced and learned along your journey. To tell another person our adventures is a gift. A gift to be treasured, because each person’s story is singular, valuable, unique.
“A certain man went … and fell ….” All of us travel. Coming and going is evidence of life; it is exercise of our power. The ancient man who “went down from Jerusalem to Jericho” was not alone on his dangerous road. Nor are we; no one is.
Traffic is heavy, and there are some awesome tragedies along the road, and few escape unscathed. However, not to go boldly into life becomes more costly; such timidity locks us into a living death. Our fear of what lies in wait has been expressed poignantly by Alan Paton:
I see my son is wearing long trousers, I tremble at this;
I see he goes forward confidently, he does not know so fully his own gentleness.
Go forward, eager and reverent child, see here I begin to take my hands away from you,
I shall see you walk careless on the edges of the precipice, but if you wish you shall hear no word come out of me;
My whole soul will be sick with apprehension, but I shall not disobey you.
Life sees you coming, she sees you come with assurance toward her.
She lies in wait for you, she cannot but hurt you;
Go forward, go forward, I hold the bandages and ointments ready.6
Scratch anyone deeply enough and you will discover great hurt. Each of us falls. Our personal diaries illustrate the biblical record; we are fallen persons. Indeed, we are the wounded. Some of us have been injured because we did not prepare for our journey. Most of us have been pulled along by a jostling crowd of travelers into painful experiences we did not anticipate.
The crucial question is not “Will I fall and be wounded?” but “How will I respond to my wounds?” A favorite response to our hurt is to find someone to blame. When our children were young, many of their arguments were punctuated with “You are to blame.”
“No, you are to blame.”
Adults do no better. We seek someone to blame, somehow believing that to fix fault will heal hurt. It does not. Often, it aggravates the discomfort by beginning a long and unproductive effort to vindicate ourselves.
Most of our wounds are not mortal; our response to them may be. My friend Gerald Mann and I were driving along the “old road” between Uvalde and Eagle Pass in south Texas.
Before turning into the Smythe ranch, we saw a doe caught in a barbed-wire fence. We stopped and walked back. The wound on a foreleg was almost incidental, but her furious thrashing against the fence and ground had killed her.
Like the doe we may find that our cruelest abusers are our own selves. This painful revelation may hand us a lifetime sentence of guilt in a personal prison where punishment is severe. We are the wounded.
“Among thieves, which stripped … and wounded him … leaving him half dead.” We are also the wounders! As certainly as we cannot live without falling ourselves, we cannot live without felling others. Some of our victims are like trees intentionally cut; others have died more slowly by our subtle abuse.
We seldom physically abuse one another, but we become comfortable with violence of the spirit, carving away the self-esteem of others without appearing abusive at all.
More unsettling is the discovery that we wound innocent bystanders. Among our families and friends, our thoughtless insensitivity often leaves a high body-count of victims.
Furthermore, through ignorance and passivity, we fuel the corporate evils of our time. Preoccupation with material values, religious and racial intolerance, disregard of nature, unemployment, poverty, crime, child abuse, runaway children, pornography, suicide, and other blights in society flourish when the human spirit is not enlightened and energized.
In the void created by our personal flight from the exercise of public power, evil grows unchecked. “But I did not know,” “I never realized” are excuses, not a healing balm.
The most painful confession I make is that I have used my power to wound others when acting out of good intentions. Because we are not all-knowing, all-loving and all-powerful, our finest intentions are shrouded in ignorance and our love is infected with selfishness.
During our older daughter’s sophomore year in college, I pulled some money from my pocket and laid several large bills on her bed. With a casual “thank you” she went right on talking to her mother. Finally in thinly disguised concern, I huffed, “You’d better count the money I gave you. Wouldn’t want you to lose any of it.” In a painful meeting of our eyes, both of us knew: I was not afraid she would lose the money. I feared Daddy was losing his thanks.
“A certain priest … likewise a Levite, looked on him, and passed by on the other side.” We are all cautious. Caution, like travel, and like wounding, is an exercise of power — the restraint of power. For the priest and Levite, the Mosaic law prescribed a meticulous code of conduct for doing good and avoiding evil. Among the mandates were restrictions about touching bleeding persons or corpses. Penalties ranged from temporary to complete loss of religious credentials.
Our ancient companions on the road had a problem. They were being stretched between the law of love and the love of law, between self-giving and self-protection. Where would they spend themselves? Would they do good for another or avoid costly inconveniences for themselves? Opting for the law and self-protection, they cautiously avoided the wounded man.
Absence of appropriate action invites havoc into our lives and those around us. One has only to read the DWI columns in the newspapers. For several years, I preached to a physician who had lost his license to practice medicine because of his lack of restraint. In the same congregation sat a lawyer who had been disbarred for similar reasons. Although appealing as persons and gifted as professionals, they had not exercised disciplines in themselves that they had encouraged in others.
Excessive caution paralyzes life. It blunts the grand impulse within us and halts the daring deed. How sad that from an inordinate desire to protect ourselves and our credentials, trying to prove that we are good, we may become good for nothing.
Like the priest and the Levite, you and I are stretched between the poles of personal and public concerns. Both are essential; either without the other becomes impotent and ineffective. Personal integrity must be maintained against ridicule. Public involvement must be chosen despite the danger.
“A certain Samaritan … had compassion.” Wounded? Certainly! Wounders? Absolutely. Cautious? Probably. Nevertheless, Jesus instructed us to become the compassionate.
When I was about 15, I went with my father to hear an evangelist. I still remember his sermon outline. He said the story of the good Samaritan reveals three philosophies of power. First, the philosophy of the thieves: Violence — “What is yours is ours and we’ll take it.” Second, the philosophy of the priest and Levite: Selfishness — “What is ours is ours and we’ll keep it.” Finally, the philosophy of the Samaritan: Goodness — “What is mine is yours and I will share it.” Excellent outline isn’t it? Certainly good enough for Sunday night.
Jesus did not tell us why the Samaritan cared. Perhaps the Samaritan knew what it was to be wounded and powerless. Samaritans possessed almost none of the public power that was issued through social acceptance, racial prominence and religious privilege. They were personae non grata, traveling through life without portfolio or credentials. Few of us can identify with such poverty of power.
Nevertheless, this Samaritan helped. Someone out of the past has named him “the good” Samaritan, although the word “good” does not appear in the text. The Samaritan was good, but he was much more. The priest and the Levite were actually the good guys in this incident; they broke no rules. The Samaritan was compassionate.
The distinction between goodness and compassion is not artificial. Goodness feels for and may help. Compassion feels with and does help. Compassion, meaning “to suffer with,” not only insists that “what is mine is yours and I will share it,” but “what is yours — your wounds, your suffering, your powerlessness — is mine and I will share that!”
On the road most traveled, you and I are the wounded, the wounders, the cautious, and the caring. For us to avoid the dangers of the road is expected. To help the wounded on the road is commendable. But, to go back into the traffic and to be vulnerable, to feel deeply and to be responsible even when it is costly, to invest our energies, our fortunes and our lives for the well-being of all persons is to travel the high road with one who “was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (
1. Rollo May, Power and Innocence (London: Souvenir Press, 1974), p. 99.
2. Ibid., p. 35.
3. Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: The Viking Press, 1963), pp. 10-11.
4. Erich Fromm, The Heart of Man (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1964), p. 17.
5. Robert Bellah, “Civil Religion and the Use of Power,” Christian Life Commission Seminar on Power in Church and Society (Nashville: Christian Life Commission, 1981), p. 11.
6. Alan Paton, “Meditation of a Young Boy Confirmed” as quoted by Robert Raines, Creative Brooding (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1968), p. 20.
This article originally appeared in Faith and Mission, a publication of the faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.