(While reading the story of the Good Samaritan)
7 yo: Oh, I know this one! I was the donkey when we did this in Vacation Bible School.
Me: You were the donkey? Oooh, fun, like with a costume?
7 yo: No, I just stuck the picture up on the board.
9 yo: That is not right. Those guys [the priest and Levite] should have helped him. They’re even on the same team!
(At the end)
Me: Why do you think Jesus told this story? What do you think he was trying to say?
7 yo: Even if you don’t like someone, you can still be nice.
Sometimes in life you’re the wounded man lying on the road side, helpless and alone.
Sometimes you’re the priest and Levite, passing by on your way to more important things.
Possibly sometimes you’re the Good Samaritan, demonstrating remarkable Christ-like love.
But sometimes, you’re the donkey, plodding along and falling into a way to make a big difference.
When we teach children -- and adults, for that matter -- the story of the Good Samaritan, the lesson seems simple: be like the Good Samaritan. But it’s a hard ask. It means doing what my son said at the end – being nice to someone you don’t like – but a thousand times harder.
Jews and Samaritans in first-century Palestine had a long simmering and mutual hatred based on history, religion and politics (sound familiar?) The Samaritan helping the wounded Jewish man isn’t like helping your neighbor or the guy who lives a few streets down. It’s the Democratic party chairperson helping the Republican running for Senate. It’s the voter demanding a border wall helping the migrants from Honduras. It’s the mother of the mass shooting victim helping the shooter’s family to heal.
I’d like for my children to demonstrate such giant acts of love, forgiveness, selflessness and caring. I want them to feel the joy that comes from true self-sacrificial giving. But honestly, right now they’re still fighting over who got more ice cream or who has better Pokemon cards. I’m not sure if my kids can be the Good Samaritan. But maybe they can be the donkey.
The donkey was in the right place at the right time, and willing to do the work of helping a person in need. The donkey didn’t come up with the idea. The donkey didn’t do any high-level strategizing. The donkey did what he could and what needed to be done.
A friend recently shared on Facebook about a trip through the McDonalds drive through, when her 8-year-old daughter noticed a man nearby who looked cold and hungry. Mom, she said, that man needs help. My friend said her first reactions were fear – he was close to her car – and the urge to pass by. But then she looked at the man again, really saw him, and decided to give him some food. Right place, right time, keep plodding.
But then her daughter's observation and that small act of giving nudged her to do more, my friend said. She drove home, grabbed a backpack, filled it with food and water and $20, and drove back to the McDonalds. The man was still there, and said to her when she handed him the bag, “I cannot tell you how grateful I am.”
Our children are watching the world around us, observing what we cannot see. Sometimes they, and we, are the donkey, plodding along, doing what we can. And this is very good. But just maybe, with the eyes of a child, we could be a little like the Samaritan, too.