In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan. As I read this familiar parable again, I was struck by its correlation to another story.
In the Good Samaritan story, a man leaves Jerusalem, gets beaten, stripped of his clothes, robbed, and left to die. Two religious leaders come across him but pass by on the other side of the road. Then a Samaritan man (a person who those two Jewish leaders would have considered inferior) comes by and actually helps the man. The Samaritan bandages the beaten man’s body, pours oil on his wounds, and lends his donkey to take the man to an inn to recover.
As I reread this story, I thought that it sounded an awful lot like another story in Luke—one in which there is a different man beaten, stripped of his clothes, and left to die. That man, of course, was Jesus himself. Like the beaten man in the parable, Jesus was dying on the side of a road outside of Jerusalem with religious leaders watching from the other side of the road, doing nothing to intervene. Except in Jesus’ story, nobody has mercy on him; nobody rescues him from death. The only man who picks up Jesus’ body is Joseph of Arimathea, but instead of taking Jesus to an inn, he takes him to a tomb. The only oils poured on Jesus’ wounds are embalming oils. The only bandages wrapped around his body are burial garments.
When Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan, he asked an expert in Jewish law which of the three men in the story was a neighbor to the beaten man. In essence, Jesus is asking, “Who, in this story, cares?” The expert in the law responds correctly: “The one who had mercy on him.”
In the second story—the story of Jesus’ crucifixion—we see that it is Jesus who cares. He is both the beaten and the benevolent, the mutilated and the merciful. There is no good Samaritan in this story, only a good God.
As Christians we believe that this scene of Jesus’ death is the perfect picture of God’s love for us. We do not, however, often think of it as the perfect picture of God’s glory. Glory is about light and strength and conquering, we suppose. Glory can’t be about darkness, weakness, and death. And yet, how can God’s greatest act of love not also be God’s greatest display of glory? Indeed, the cross is where God’s glory is most evident. As preacher Debbie Blue has said, “[God’s glory] doesn’t exactly shine, it bleeds.” *
Maybe that has something to do with why the first two men in the Parable of the Good Samaritan passed by on the other side without helping the beaten man. Maybe those religious leaders could only imagine God’s glory shining, not bleeding. Maybe that’s why they didn’t recognize the glory of God in the dying man. Maybe that’s why the other religious leaders didn’t recognize the glory of God in Jesus when he was the one dying on the side of a road outside Jerusalem.
I think that we also have a problem imagining that God’s glory bleeds more than it shines. Blood and glory just don’t go together, so we think. At least, not unless the blood belongs to our enemies and the glory gets shared with us. Perhaps we can correct our understanding of God’s glory though. I think we can do better than the religious leaders who passed by on the other side, failing to see the glory of God bleeding out of the beaten man.
When we see our neighbor suffering on the side of a road, their blood should remind us of the blood-stained cross. It should remind us of the communion cup—Jesus’ blood poured out for us—and we should be moved to mercy and compassion. When we see videos of Black men saying, “I can’t breathe,” we remember Jesus gasping for breath upon the cross and we have compassion for those men. When we see images of immigrant children in chain-linked cages, we remember that Jesus was an immigrant child too and we have compassion for those children. When unhoused people ask for a dollar, we remember that Jesus also had no place to lay his head and we extend mercy to those people. When we hear a baby crying in the apartment next door, we remember that God himself showed up as a crying baby and we extend mercy to that child and her parents.
When we act out of mercy and compassion for those who suffer—when we follow the example of the good Samaritan—something strange happens. We start seeing God’s glory and neighbor’s good bleed into one another. As it turns out, they are one and the same.
So, who cares?
When you think about God’s glory bleeding rather than shining, what do you feel? How does that change your understanding of glory?
Who comes to mind when you think about the man lying on the side of the road in the Parable of the Good Samaritan? Who do you see there? Is there a time when you have passed by on the other side rather than help that person?
Remind yourself that God’s glory bleeds, and then think about how you might have mercy and compassion for that person. What can you do to help stop their suffering? Then go and do it!
* Debbie Blue, Sensual Orthodoxy (Saint Paul: Cathedral Hill Press, 2004), 130.