I groaned as I saw the flashing construction vehicles and the line of red brake lights ahead of me. I was taking my son to school, and we hadn’t left early enough to allow for delays like this. Some cars were already doing U-turns, presumably to go another route. But our detour option was a much longer way, so I decided to wait a few minutes before making a knee-jerk reaction. Sure enough, a minute later the cars ahead of me slowly started inching forward. Whew. But as I approached the cause of the backup, I could see this wasn’t just construction. There was a car with a smashed front end sitting in the middle of the four-lane road, and there was a man lying on the ground next to the driver’s side, two construction workers kneeling beside him. Clearly, the accident had happened very recently, since the emergency workers hadn’t yet shown up. It was a horrifying feeling to pass right by the man on the ground, not knowing his condition or even if he was alive. My son and I prayed for him and for the others involved in the accident, and we were fairly silent the rest of the drive, until my son said, “You know, Mr. Smith would have stopped to see if he could help.” It was an innocent observation; he didn’t mean it as a guilt trip, but I was convicted nonetheless. I should have stopped, but I didn’t. It was a modern-day parable of the Good Samaritan, and I was the priest passing by on the other side.

There were a number of reasons I shouldn’t have stopped. By now, we really were on the verge of being late for school. The man on the road was apparently already being helped by the construction workers. I didn’t want to be in the way. What could I have done, anyhow? Still, the feeling of guilt persisted. You could have prayed with them, a little voice whispered in my head. And I knew that was true. At the very least, I could have stopped to ask if they needed anything, and if I could pray with them. My son’s school would have understood if he was late. This was more important.

Perhaps you can recall a time when you could have or should have stopped but didn’t. And I’m not just talking about a car accident that just happened. Maybe a friend needed a listening ear, but you were too busy. Perhaps you didn’t visit your grandpa in a nursing home because he had Alzheimer’s and wouldn’t remember if you came anyhow. Maybe your church needed Sunday School teachers and you made lame excuses to get out of volunteering. Or some acquaintances were moving and you didn’t offer to help load or unload the U-Haul. Serving your neighbor doesn’t have to be anything dramatic like giving CPR to an injured man on a busy road. But it is often inconvenient. Serving others requires sacrifice.

Recall with me the actual Parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:25-37. After a traveler was attacked by robbers and left for dead, a priest and a Levite—both of whom would have been expected to help—passed by on the other side of the road. A hated Samaritan then came upon the man and had pity on him. Not only did he stop to bandage his wounds, he took him on his own donkey to an inn and paid the innkeeper to take care of him, promising to stop by at a later time and reimburse any other expenses incurred by the innkeeper. Today, that might look like following an ambulance to the hospital and paying for emergency surgery for someone who doesn’t have insurance. Um, yeah, I’m not about to do that.

And that’s just it. None of us can live up to such high expectations. Remember why Jesus told the parable in the first place: a lawyer was testing Him, asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Well, we know the answer to that—there is nothing we can do to earn heaven. No matter how “good” we are, we will never be good enough. God demands absolute perfection, and we all fall far, far short of that standard. So the parable of the Good Samaritan is all Law. Jesus isn’t telling it to say, “Hey, be like this Samaritan and God will reward you.” No, He’s showing that we can’t be what God expects us to be. Jesus is the real Good Samaritan, who sacrificed His very life to save us from eternal death.

This isn’t an excuse not to serve others, however. Jesus only means that we can’t earn heaven by our good works. He’s not saying we shouldn’t help our fellow man. Elsewhere He clearly states that we are expected to serve our neighbors. Matthew 7:12, for example, gives us the Golden Rule, “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” Or take Matthew 25:31-46, where He talks about clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and so on. He explains in verse 40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

I’ll never know what would have happened had I stopped at the car accident. Likely, it wouldn’t have been anything dramatic. Still, I wish I’d had the courage to stop. But I thank God that the construction workers jumped into action, doing what they could. They turned on their vehicle lights in the darkness to alert people that something was going on. They helped the man out of the car and attended to him while they were waiting for the ambulance. And for all I know, maybe they prayed with him too.

As you go through your day, watch for opportunities to serve others. It will rarely be “convenient” for you to do so. But remember, in serving others, you are serving Jesus Himself.