The mountain is tough. No matter how meticulous you may be, it is a dangerous place. Be humble. ~ Kilian Jornet, extreme runner and mountain Climber
For people who love a physical challenge, climbing Mount Everest is the ultimate adventure. At 29,029 feet high, and with atmospheric pressure at the top cutting the available oxygen to one-third of that at sea level, it’s a dangerous place.
In reality, the top of Everest is a place not meant for humans to inhabit for more than a few minutes. Plus there is the potential for suffering through two-hundred-mile-per-hour winds, avalanches, falling rocks, whiteouts, frostbite, altitude sickness, crevasse falls, witnessing the accidental deaths of other climbers, or experiencing sudden death yourself.
While the question of how to stay safe is important for a mountain climber, it’s a question we all ask ourselves sooner or later, especially in regard to life after death. If you believe that humans are spiritual beings and that there is some sort of afterlife, sooner or later you’ll tangle with this same key question: What do I need to do to be safe? Many people with different motivations asked Jesus this question face-to-face, and their stories are recorded in the Bible.
On one occasion, Jesus and His disciples were making their way to Jerusalem and were somewhere near the village of Bethany, where his close friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived. On this particular day, while Jesus was teaching, a so-called expert in the law stood up to test Jesus, and he raised this exact question:
Teacher,… what must I do to inherit eternal life?
In other words, what do I need to do to be saved?
“What is written in the law?” Jesus asked in response. “How do you read it?” — Luke 10:25–26, emphasis added
It’s important to note that the question about how to be saved is coming from a noted teacher who is already part of the established religion. He was part of the status quo, but he still had the same question: How do I stay safe when this life is over? How can I be saved from death and judgment?
After some back and forth with the teacher, Jesus told a story.
A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. — Luke 10:30 NKJV
Notice Jesus didn’t give the man a name because this man represents every single one of us. He is every man and every woman.
The man was walking the road from the holy city of Jerusalem, situated at 2,500 feet above sea level, down to Jericho, “the Fallen City,” at 1,300 feet below sea level. That meant a 3,600-foot drop in elevation in a short, twenty-mile journey. But in that short journey, things changed forever for the man as he went from being on top to being on the bottom. His life journey suddenly changed, as it can for any one of us.
A phone call, an e-mail, a meeting — or an accident or a medical or relational crisis — we all know how everything can change for us in a few seconds. Storms can roll in seemingly from nowhere.
When the man going down to Jericho fell, Jesus said he fell among thieves. The moment he fell, his enemies were there, ready to take advantage and prey on him in the most vicious way. Where were his friends? Where were the helpful bystanders? For some reason, he was left to suffer this attack alone.
You might have experienced this part of the story too. When difficulties arise, friends can be unaware of what you’re going through, or even turn or fade away, and you’re left to go through the situation alone. Sometimes the emotional pain of being left all by yourself in a difficult situation is worse than the pain of the actual situation. It hurts when so-called friends leave you at your lowest point, because that’s the kind of behavior you expect from your enemies, not your friends. When you need help, whatever your storm or struggle is, and you don’t get it — that’s devastating. Isolation in difficult situations is not only painful, it’s dangerous. Climbers on Everest who become isolated risk dying alone. The man in Jesus’ story faced the same.
As a result of the brutal attack, the man was in terrible shape. Jesus said they left the man half-dead. This might be your situation right now — feeling half-dead in the middle of a difficult situation in life:
- Living in half of a marriage
• Trying to keep together half of a family
- Struggling to revive half of a career
• Fighting to hold on to half of your sanity
But hold on. If the thieves left the man half-dead, then it also means they left the man half-alive! There is hope. The injured man was still half-alive and might live to fight another day. And if you’re feeling like you’re in that half-dead situation today, I’m here to tell you the worst mistake your enemy ever made was to leave you half- dead, because there’s part of you that is half-alive.
And if you take the half that you do have and connect it with the whole of God, then you have everything you need to make it. Focus on the good, on what’s left, and start from there.
Next, Jesus continued the story by describing the travelers who encounter the injured man lying there next to the road. He was too hurt to get up and walk, so he lay there in pain, alone, waiting. If someone didn’t stop and help him, he was going to die. And he knew it. There’s no other word for that feeling than despair.
Seeing injured, dying, and dead people is a normal part of the journey on Mount Everest. Hundreds of people have died in their quest to climb Everest, and many of those bodies are still there, and visible, on the mountain. And because of the danger of the climb, it’s not at all unlikely that, as a climber, you’ll see other climbers struggling, falling, and even dying on your way up the mountain. You may be forced to climb by other climbers who are literally in despair.
It’s a terrible dilemma for a climber. Do you stop and help? There are many reasons not to. You might not be able to help if the person is ill or seriously injured (and you’re not a doctor), because you don’t know what sort of treatment to administer and you don’t want to make things worse. Or, by trying to help, say by carrying someone down the mountain, you might possibly endanger yourself by falling or incurring a lethal injury. Or you might lose the chance to summit, wasting all the time, money, and energy you’ve put into the effort over the last year. In the end, the reality on Everest is that trying to help someone who’s seriously injured or dying might accomplish nothing, if he or she is already too far gone, other than endangering yourself. It’s a nightmarish quandary and similar to what the passersby on that road to Jericho were facing. Do I stop and help or pass by to get to my own destination safely?
The truth is we all need help on life’s journey. Virtually no traveler or climber gets to his or her destination without help, especially when an emergency arises (and they always do).
The first traveler to pass by, Jesus said, was a priest who “happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.”1 The reason he didn’t stop was because according to the Levitical laws, as a priest he was not allowed to touch a dead body. If he did touch a dead man, he would become ceremonially unclean, and until he went through the necessary rituals to become clean again, he would not be able to carry out his job. So because the priest thought the man lying there might be dead, he avoided him and passed by on the other side. Can you imagine how the man felt?
However, the priest had clearly misdiagnosed the situation. The man wasn’t dead. He was alive and waiting for help. How often do we pass judgment on people, misdiagnosing their situations and giving up on them because they seem beyond help and hope? Perhaps you’ve been the one waiting for help.
The next traveler in Jesus’ story was a Levite. The Levites were descended from the tribe of Levi and historically had both priestly and political duties. He was an important person in the community, but it was the same story as the priest. The Levite looked at the man, didn’t want to risk getting involved, and passed by on the other side. Maybe he was afraid the thieves were still in the vicinity, or that someone would think he’d committed the crime. He saw, but he didn’t help because he didn’t want the victim’s issues to become his issues.
Now the dying man had been passed by two people. How often do we, who seem to be religious, pass or turn away those who need our help? Especially if they look or do things that to us are dirty, disgusting, or repulsive? When we push those who are broken and hurting away, we push them down into despair and a place of no hope.
The third traveler was a Samaritan. Since the Samaritan people were considered religiously inferior, a great chasm had developed between Jews and Samaritans, with both claiming to practice the true religion and worship the one, true God. But they didn’t like or trust each other.
Ironically, though, the Samaritan was the one person who broke tradition and stopped to help the suffering man in tangible ways.
A Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.” — Luke 10:33–35
Score one for the outsider! This Samaritan man, from a group of people looked down on and considered half-breeds, was the hero of Jesus’ story. The Samaritan represents God, who always goes out of His way to get involved and help those who need it. The best picture of this is Jesus, who came down from heaven, put on human flesh, and intervened in the human story. He took on our mess.
God loves us so much there are no boundaries He won’t go past to reach down and pull us out of the pit. He is the definition of what we need to be safe and be saved.
Who are we really? Are we Jesus people or something totally different? Jesus people wouldn’t have walked past this hurting man lying by the side of the road. And those who are hurting all around us are the norm, not the other way around.
To “take pity” on someone means to experience deep compassion, the kind of compassion that prompts you to identify with someone else no matter how different he or she is and then to intervene on that person’s behalf. The Samaritan man put aside his differences so he could see, really see, the injured man who needed his help, stop to assess the situation, and then figure out how to help. It was triage, borne out of love for a fellow human being. He showed love and care for someone he’d never met before, who was different in background, culture, and religion, and who likely would not be able to ever pay him back for saving his life. It was an unselfish love with no expectations attached, like the basis for the old grant covenants. Jesus’ story reveals the heart of God, whose desire is for us and who will do anything to be connected with us, heal us, and keep us safe.
Jesus finished telling the story, tying it all together for the expert in the law, with his original question about what he needed to do to inherit eternal life and be saved.
Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Jesus asked.
“The one who had mercy on him,” said the expert in the law. “Go and do likewise,” said Jesus. — Luke 10:36–37
Excerpted with permission from Desired by God by Van Moody, copyright Vanable H. Moody.
We all need help along the way. So, let’s help along the way! Who do you see that needs tangible help today? Come share with us on our blog and tell us what you’re doing for them! We want to hear from you and be encouraged by your Christlikeness! ~ Devotionals Daily