One of the most familiar passages in Scripture is the story of the Good Samaritan. Even people who say they don’t know much about the Bible know how the story goes: a man was attacked by robbers and left beaten and bloodied by the side of the road. Two others came along, a priest and a Levite, and left without stopping to help.

Then a Samaritan arrived and gave assistance that went above and beyond the call of duty. He dressed the injured man’s wounds, took him to an inn, and gave the innkeeper money to provide for him until he recovered (see Luke 10: 29-37).

We might wonder how the first two men could just leave the beaten man alone in his suffering. Maybe his presence alerted them to the fact that it was a dangerous road. If they stopped to help, they might get assaulted, too. Maybe they were on their way to an important engagement and didn’t want to be late. Helping at the moment was not convenient. Or maybe if they helped him today he might ask for something else tomorrow. They knew they could only do so much. The priest and Levite probably felt justified in not getting involved.

These excuses sound familiar. What made the Samaritan act so differently? A fundamental change in attitude. Whereas the first two men thought, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” the Samaritan thought, “If I don’t stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

The Samaritan had made a change on the inside. He walked the same road as the other two, but through his conversion of heart he overcame fear and united the injured man’s pain with God’s healing.

For most of us, putting others first and ourselves last is an uphill climb. Old habits and self-centeredness keep pulling us in the opposite direction. But the grace of God is stronger and will help us triumph in the end.

If the Good Samaritan’s care of the injured man seems extravagant, even more so is God’s care for us. We won’t fully realize how many good things He sent our way until this life is over. One of His best gifts is the desire to love and serve the poor. What could be better than to have a heart that is like God’s own?

The season of Lent is upon us. Let us keep in mind the type of fasting that the Lord finds acceptable: to release those held captive by injustice, to break the yoke of oppression, to share our bread with the hungry, our shelter with the homeless, and our clothing with the naked (Isaiah 58:6-7).

As we journey toward Easter, may our eyes be opened to see our neighbor in distress, and may we let go of whatever keeps us from loving others as a Good Samaritan.