Maybe they were busy

July 31, 2007 | 12 comments

A couple weekends ago the Gospel reading at Mass was from Chapter 10 of Luke, where Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan. In this story Jesus tells us to love our neighbors. When asked “Who is my neighbor?” he tells the story of a man who was robbed, beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite walk right by without helping him, but a kind Samaritan man gives him assistance.

I didn’t spend a whole lot of time pondering the reading since the message is so straightforward. Good point, I agree that it’s horrible that the priest and the Levite didn’t help the man, not much more to say. Though I didn’t consciously think through it, in the back of my mind I’d categorized the characters who walked by the ailing man as entirely different from myself — I might not be a saint, but I’m certainly not a “bad person” like these fictional characters. I’d never do anything like that!

So it piqued my interest when our priest said in his homily that he imagines that these two men were not really bad people, that they were perhaps like a lot of us. How on earth could that be?, I wondered. Certainly I would never be so callous, and I assume the same could be said for the majority of my fellow parishioners here.

“How could these two men walk right by someone in need of help?” Our priest asked. And when he gave his answer, it was as if he was speaking to me personally. “Maybe they were busy.”

Maybe they were busy.

Oooooh, boy. I think I might have physically gasped a little bit when I heard that. That one statement brought to the surface something I’d been thinking about — or, really, trying not to think about — a lot lately: how very often I use “I’m too busy” as an excuse for not making my stated priorities my actual priorities.

And it also made the characters of the priest and the Levite seem a whole lot more familiar. Instead of imagining them as these nearly inhuman figures who walked by the injured man with a shrug or a “Who cares?”, I could now practically hear their internal dialogue verbatim: “Poor guy! Ya know, I’d really like to give him a hand but I’m already late for that meeting in Jericho, and I have a million things on my plate today. This is a busy road, I’m sure someone else will come along and help him. I’ll keep him in my prayers.”

Here in suburbia we don’t have a lot of dying people lying on the streets, so I’ve never been faced with that actual situation. But I am constantly faced with situations of the same type, to varying degrees of severity; opportunities to do what I know is the right thing, what I give lip service to being very important to me, and yet I walk right by on the grounds that I just have too much to do. Why don’t I visit my grandfather more often, pray the rosary regularly, go to daily Mass sometimes, keep in closer contact with my friends, call my dad more regularly, make time for daily prayer, or all the other things I claim are top priorities? I’m “too busy”.

Like all good lies, it’s based on truth — I really am busy. I do have a lot on my plate. I honestly don’t have time to do it all, to undertake every charitable act that comes to mind, to pray for hours each day, etc. But yet, I’ve allowed “I’m too busy” to become a sort of mantra, a plausible sounding knee-jerk reaction to gloss over those times when I’m just too lazy or too tired or too distracted or too stuck in a rut to do the right thing.

And hearing the story Our Lord told so long ago, realizing that these men were probably not unlike me at all, that they were probably just people overwhelmed by their to-do lists and running late for somewhere they needed to be, and seeing from an outside perspective the horrible mistake they made by walking by the man in need, makes me wonder how many times I’ve done the same thing. Could anything they had going on possibly be more important than lending a hand to that poor man on the side of the road? Doubt it. And I turn the question to myself: next time I casually blow off an opportunity to help someone in need, or just give a friendly phone call to a loved one, or to grow closer to God, on the grounds that “I’m too busy”, I should think of this parable, and remember that the priest and the Levite were busy too.


  1. Tienne

    I had a very similar experience with this Scripture passage. I’d always thought they passed him by because they didn’t care, until I heard a homily explaining that if the priest were to touch the man, he would be rendering himself “unclean” and therefore unfit to perform the duties of his office. If he was on his way to a wedding, for instance, he’d have to cancel it because the cleansing process can take up to two weeks. This site has some more interpretation along those lines.

    It floored me to realize that the people passing up this poor man probably thought their neglect was the RIGHT thing to do. How often must I do the same thing, missing the forest for the trees?

    Jesus is telling us that nothing should prevent us from showing love to our fellow man, not even our previous committments or our concern for following God’s law. His primary law, more important than all the others, is “Love God and love your neighbor.”

    Awesome post, Jen.

  2. wifeofaddict

    Princeton experiment recounted in Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book, “The Tipping Point.”
    Presenting the “Good Samaritan” experiment:

    In the early 1970’s student participants from Princeton Theological Seminary participated in an experiment conducted by psychologists Darley and Batson on the campus of Princeton University. They were told that the purpose of this experiment involved evaluation of their sermons, one of which was to be on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The students began in one building and moved through an alley to another in the course of the experiment. Unknown to the students, the true experiment took place in that alley. When finished in the first location, some students were told that they were behind schedule and should hurry to the next building where the facilitator was waiting. Others were told that they were right on schedule and should walk to the next building. A third group was told that they were ahead of schedule, and should move on to the next site. As the students walked through the alley, a middle-aged man dressed in shabby clothes and slumped in a doorway would groan. How many of these seminary students, preparing for serving churches as pastors, would be good Samaritans and stop to help the man in the alley?[4]

    Overall, about forty percent of the participants stopped. The critical factor in this experiment seemed to be time. Of those who thought they were late, only ten percent stopped. More than sixty percent of those who thought they had extra time stopped. From these findings, Darley and Batson concluded that those who felt hurried were less likely to stop because they did not notice the man in need of help, or they did not realize he needed help. Psychologist Philip Zimbardo summarizes this, writing that “It is likely that, while fulfilling their obligation to the researcher to hurry and not to be late for their appointment, their single-minded purpose blinded them to “irrelevant events” that might interfere with that obligation. Some of those who did not help may not have noticed the man in distress, others might have misinterpreted what they saw as a man merely resting.”[5]

  3. Fireflywishes

    I really loved that post. It struck a chord in my heart too. Like the comment before mine it made me think of the experiment mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell’s book.

    Thank you for visiting my site! And you’re very welcome for the link; I love your blog and feel like God is really using you to do great things for Him.

  4. Rae

    Until about four years ago, I used to live in big cities…. and sadly (in downtown Philadelphia especially, it seemed) there were physically ill, homeless people everyone. Begging. Sleeping on grates. Sleeping on busy sidewalks in the middle of the day, so that others stepped over them on their way to work…. I remember that, early one morning, I saw a man who seemed to be having a fit or seizure of some kind (and I dialed the police). Once one of them grabbed at me–in malice, or in desperation? Terrified, I ran.

    I used to pause and wonder if I should give money; or offer my lunch; or go into the sandwich shop over there and buy something for this person? In the end, however, I was too afraid to do more than put spare change into their cups.

    Afraid. Their mannerisms were often erratic, seemingly crazed; sometimes they ranted. If I offered my coffee, would they throw it–literally–into my face? Would one of those large men attempt to rob me?

    Meanwhile, city-dwellers swiftly passed on their daily errands. The homeless were an unfortunate part of the landscape, and few situations were unique enough to make anyone stop… A common suggestion was that monetary contributions to beggars only enabled them to purchase drugs or alcohol. It was somehow charitable, then, to ignore them.

    Once, a priest suggested that I contribute to foodbanks and charities, rather than give alms directly (or feel guilty about not giving them). I followed his advice, but still–that was a destitute human being, and I just kept walking! Can writing a check compensate for that moment of rejection?

    Looking back, I’m ashamed to consider how many needy people I have passed by–out of fear, and out of conformity! Perhaps out of business, too, but I think it was the fear that ultimately decided my response (or rather, my non-response)…

    And I’m glad that I no longer live in the city, because it’s easier to imagine that I’m good–like the Samaritan–when I’m no longer confronted with these choices.

  5. Kate


    A fellow blogger (I don’t remember who anymore!) once mentioned that she keeps a case of water and a few boxes of granola bars in her car, so that she always has some way of responding to each individual who asks for help, without having the dilemma of whether or not a monetary donation will be misused, or whether to get out of her car to buy a meal. I thought that was wise.

    I heard a homily in which it was commented that the road the poor man was on was a pretty abandoned place, and passers-by might have feared that the man was not really in trouble but simply part of a trap to lure them to the side of the road and into robber’s hands. In any case, it was obviously not a safe place, and I can relate to a desire to hurry up and get back to civilisation when you’re somewhere that makes you nervous.

    Interesting all the things that get in the way of helping others in need, isn’t it?

  6. wifeofaddict

    Sorry, I didn’t have time to do more than hit “publish”. My kids are going nuts;) I’m not sure where I first heard the story I linked to, but I thought it was fascinating. It’s been recreated at seminaries since, always with similar results.

    But, oh no, we wouldn’t do that, right!?

    Great post Jen!

  7. Melanie B


    I’m pretty sure you’re thinking of Julie D. at Happy Catholic.

  8. Kate


    You’re probably right! It was a discussion sometime last year, and it really made an impact on me. I have a lot of respect for Julie!

  9. Rae

    Thanks, Kate…. I certainly agree that having supplies of that sort on hand is a smart idea–and if it’s Julie’s, I give her lots of credit! (And maybe I should look at her blog, too. 🙂 )

  10. Anna


    Jesus is telling us that nothing should prevent us from showing love to our fellow man, not even our previous committments or our concern for following God’s law.

    I think of that when questions come up about going to weddings of Catholics getting married outside the Church, and things like that. It’s good to remember that the real question is always how best to show Christ-like love.

  11. Anna

    Jen F,

    Good thoughts. It’s so hard to really live up to our own ideals, isn’t it?

    One reflection on the Samaritan parable that I really like is this one.

  12. Anonymous

    Do you know the Veggie Tales DVD “Love Your Neighbor”. It’s the best of all of them and is the story of the Good Samaritan.

    Those who passed by the injured man (well, in this case it was a cucumber) sang a song with the refrain: “Busy, busy, shockingly busy! You’ve no idea what I’ve got to do! Busy, busy, dreadfully busy! Much, much too busy for you!”

    That song will sometimes run in my head when I use the “busy” excuse.


Connect With Me On Social Media or Explore My Site



The "THIS IS JEN" podcast is on Facebook & all podcast apps


- Subscribe on iTunes or Google Play (audio)

- Get weekly bonus episodes on Patreon

- Sign up for my email list to be the first
to know about new tour dates