by Sarah Carson

I was already running behind when I jumped behind the wheel of my car one Saturday morning.

The gas gauge said I could make it 58 more miles, so I made a mental calculation. It was 50 miles to my destination; I could get on the highway and find a place to get gas somewhere down the road.

Of course, you know where this is going. As I pulled off the interstate, the Shell station in sight, my little red SUV sputtered to a stop at the intersection.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to compare myself to the traveler who fell into the hands of robbers in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, but as I sat waiting for a friend to return with a gas can, I couldn’t help but think of the story—and this month’s Bible study about the many understandings of this classic parable.

Author Mark Allan Powell writes that you don’t have to know very much about the Bible to know the most popular understanding of the Good Samaritan story: “…we ought to be willing to help anyone in need,” Powell writes. “This understanding of the story is ingrained within our culture…,” he adds (p. 22).

But, of course, when it comes to Jesus, nothing is ever so simple, is it?

As in Jesus’ story, three people stopped to help me that morning: first a middle-aged woman, her hair, make-up and color-coordinated work-out clothes impeccable; then a young family in a minivan that looked as if it may have also seen a breakdown or two.

If I hadn’t already had a friend already getting gas for me, either driver might have been a good option. But as Cara Strickland writes in this issue, “It’s rarely the people [we] expect to be able to count on who come to [our] aid (p. 10).”

No, just as in the parable, the lesson I learned that day came from the third driver. When the lanky stranger with the long blonde ponytail stepped out of his Porsche, I could hear him laughing from yards away.

“You ran out of gas?! Who runs out of gas?!” He mocked me as if we were old friends.

“Yes, I know. Someone’s on their way. It’s OK. Thank you for stopping,” I said begrudgingly.

“Oh, I’ll go get you a couple of gallons,” he laughed. “Wait here—not that you can go anywhere anyway!”

“No,” I said. “It’s Ok. Please don’t,” I begged.

As we continue our Bible study on “multiple meanings” this month, we journey deep into the complex ideas others have that we could never have imagined ourselves—including how we sometimes find ourselves at the mercy of those on whom we would least like to rely. Though I didn’t need the young man to help me, just how little I wanted his help had me questioning my own assumptions about him and about other people.

Because in the kingdom of God, writes Martha Stortz (p. 18), “there’s only one kind of people in the world: neighbors.”

In this issue we’ll see how we can learn from our neighbors when we don’t expect or even want to. “Jesus challenges his audience (the lawyer) to identify with the person in the ditch,” writes Powell. “Jesus suggests that we view the suffering people of the earth not just as ‘less fortunates’ in need of our help, but as teachers whose perspectives and experi­ences reveal truth.”

Are you ready?

Don’t forget to fill your tank.

Sarah Carson is associate editor of Gather

This article is from the March 2018 issue of Gather magazine. To read the full story or more like it, subscribe to Gather.