According to Tolstoy, a drama does not tell us the whole of a person’s life. What it does is place a person in a situation. Then, from the way the person deals with that situation, his or her character is revealed to us.
This is precisely what Jesus does in his story. He places the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan in a situation. They are faced with a decision: To stop and help the wounded man, or to continue on about their own business? There is no escape for them, and no place to hide. They have to commit themselves one way or another. The priest and the Levite decide to pass by; the Samaritan decides to stop and help.
Crisis does not create character, it merely reveals it. In times of crisis people reveal what is already inside them – the generous person or the selfish person, the hero or the coward. One moment or event may cause a person to reveal his essential being. The encounter with the wounded man was such a moment for the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan.
What did it reveal about the characters of the priest and Levite? It revealed a very damning thing, namely, that they were self-centered persons. They would not put themselves out to help another person. When the crunch came, they put themselves first.
And what did it reveal about the character of the Samaritan? A very admirable thing, namely, that he was a caring person. He was the kind of man who could not pass another human being in pain without wanting to relieve that pain.
Life is continually testing us. Every day we are tested in little ways, and now and again in big ways. These tests reveal the kind of people we are – fundamentally unselfish people, or fundamentally selfish people.
Big opportunities are rare, and few could perform them. But we get many small, less spectacular opportunities to show care and concern for another human being in need.
The extent of our virtue is determined, not by what we do in extraordinary circumstances, but by our normal behavior. It is modest, everyday incidents rather than extraordinary ones that most reveal character. Every little action shapes our character.