Luke 10:29, “But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Today as I was reading through Luke’s Gospel, I was challenged by the lawyer’s question (even though it was asked in a skeptical manner), “Who is my neighbor?” I was even more challenged by Jesus’ response. Apparently, in some ways, I think that I am an under-resourced person with more neighbors than I really want to care for.
One of my greatest struggles that I have had since living in Dallas is knowing what to do with all the people who are in need. There are a lot of homeless and countless others who are struggling in significant ways. This problem has challenged my heart because, as of lately, I tend to guard my resources since my own budget is tight.
In the context of the situation described by Luke, it was evident that this lawyer who was testing Jesus was one who knew all the right answers. I think we can all identify with that in some way. Many of us have grown up in the church and know all the right answers to spiritual questions. We even feel a sense of pride in what we know. Some of us can even quote scriptures or sing spiritual songs as our answer to the world’s problems. But we will see that is not what Jesus is looking for.
In this story, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question, “who is my neighbor?” The narrative describes a man who was on his way to Jericho when he was robbed, stripped, beaten and left for dead. There were three people whose lives came in contact with the beaten man. They each demonstrated their version of what was good, yet only one was right.
The first man was a priest. He happened to be going down the same road as a beaten robbed man left for dead on a path, yet he meticulously walked around this man when he saw him. This is probably because certain ceremonial laws forbade priests from touching sick or dying people, the priest did what was considered ceremonially clean. It was more convenient to walk around the dying person than to help him and then have to go through the necessary rituals to restore ceremonial cleanness. The priest continued on his journey. His religion got in the way of compassion.
The second person was a Levite. Levites were the tribe of people where the priestly line came from. Levites were God’s chosen people who helped serve in the temple. So it is not surprising that this man’s response was the same as the priest’s. He walked around the body and continued on his journey. It was the right thing to do, after all.
Third, we read about the Samaritan. Samaritan’s were the social outcasts of their day. They were perceived as unclean, repulsive, rebellious people to the religious elite. Samaritans were considered so bad that Jewish people would avoid traveling through Samaria at all costs, even if it meant traveling miles out of the way to get to their destination. The element of shock is that the Samaritan, the social and religious outcast, was the one who was good.
The Samaritan had compassion on the one in need. He spent a significant amount of his resources on the neighbor who he did not even know. It does not take a religious expert to know that the Samaritan was the one who was good. There are several thoughts that go through my mind when I observe the Samaritan’s response:
- The Samaritan was able to identify the need and respond in a meaningful way.
- Doing the right thing was not an issue that needed to be prayed about or something that took the counsel of others
- There was a genuine concern for the one in need
- You don’t have to be religious to be compassionate
- No one told the Samaritan to be merciful
While there are several more observations that I can draw, I think that the few are noteworthy to help us see what we need to look for when examining ourselves as we respond to those in need. Jesus told the lawyer to “Go and do likewise.”
I am challenged because I know that right now I struggle to use my resources to help others in need. I am reminded that it is easy to make excuses why I cannot help others. Inconvenience, a perceived lack of money, other duties (religious and non-religious), and apathy are a few hindrances that keep me from being a faithfully compassionate person. I suspect that others may have some of the same struggles. But it does not have to be that way.
Jesus was not asking us to be precarious with our resources for the sake of people we do not know. Rather, He simply asked us to be compassionate on those who we have the ability to help. The calling is to extend genuine concern and love to others in a meaningful way. That may mean thinking creatively about how to meet needs when money is not available.
We must avoid “walking around the one in need” by saying, “I’ll pray for you” or “I would love to help, but I have to go to church,” or “You do not believe or live like me, so I cannot help.” There are many excuses that can be used to avoid helping others, but rather than dwelling on why we are not compassionate, we should take a moment to rethink how we can extend love to others, even when it is hard.
Is there someone you know you have the ability to help in a meaningful way? How can you extend compassion in a practical way to this person?