Several years ago, I was driving home from getting my hair cut. I didn’t love how it was styled so I couldn’t wait to get home and change it up a bit. You know the feeling, right? It was dark out, so I had that going for me, nobody could really see how silly I looked, lol. I was almost home…I mean so close. With only one more left-hand turn to make in my journey, I could literally almost see my house. I was at a complete stand still on a 30 mile per hour neighborhood road waiting for one car to pass to make that turn when a car came out of nowhere and rear-ended me. They never slowed down and later they were estimated at having been moving at 45-50 miles per hour. The impact moved my car about 3 or so house lengths before it stopped. I was shocked and scared and very confused. I actually thought that maybe I was going to be attacked next. The force was so great, I just couldn’t wrap my head around it being an accident. I was fumbling around in my center console trying to find my phone to call for help and the pepper spray that I carry when I run, just in case, when someone knocked on the passenger window. Terrified and anxious about what might happen next, I looked up thinking it was the person who just hit me. The man standing at my window explained that he heard the impact from inside his house and came running out to see what had happened. He also told me that the person who hit me had backed up and fled the scene down a nearby side street. While I was listening, a couple other people came out from their homes to investigate the loud noise. I must have looked in shock and I was definitely crying. These total strangers, my neighbors, called the police, helped me get out of the car, called my husband to come get me, brought me a drink of water, and comforted me until they could safely hand me off to the right people to take care of me from there.
I’ll never forget it. I don’t know their names and I would not be able to pick them out of a line up, but their love and kindness is forever etched on my heart.
Do you have a story of unexpected generosity or help? Have you ever felt love and compassion from a complete stranger or an unlikely source? Have you ever been the unexpected provider of someone’s needs? I hope that you answered yes on all accounts, but the truth is that all too often when we come in contact with another human in need we want to keep to ourselves...we don’t want to get involved…we assume someone else will take care of them…or even that the human in need somehow deserved to be in the spot we found them in. All stinkin’ thinkin’, btw.
I’m sure there were others who heard the sound of my accident that night, looked out the window, and then decided to go back to what they were doing before they were interrupted for one reason or another. Yet there were a few who looked out their windows, saw someone in need, and ran to provide what they could. I think it’s fair to assume that if we had the opportunity to hear both sides of this situation, people who ran into the fire and those that chose to look the other way, they would both make a bit of sense to each of us.
So how do we decide who to help and to what extent? How do we know when it’s our responsibility to step into a mess with someone, leave the mess for someone else, or force the wounded to sit in it alone?
These are fair and common questions and we are not the first people to ask them. Many years ago, when Jesus walked this earth, people asked him the same questions. One scholar in particular asked Jesus what the requirements were to live in heaven forever.
Jesus’ response was brilliant. He answered the question with a question. It drives me crazy when people do that! It’s like, “I asked YOU. I don’t want to do the thinking; I just want you to give me the easy answer”. Jesus uses this approach a lot because He does want us to do the thinking so that we can learn and apply His teachings. So, He asks the man, “What do you read in the Law?” The religious scholar answered, “It states, ‘You must love the Lord God with all your heart, all your passion, all your energy, and your every thought. And you must love your neighbor as well as you love yourself.’”
Some translations of this response say, “Love God BY loving people"!
Jesus said, “That is correct. Now go and do exactly that and you will live.”
The scholar couldn’t let it go there. He felt like he needed to justify himself and his own behavior, so he pushed back. “What do you mean by ‘my neighbor’?” In other words, how do I define my neighborhood? How far is my love supposed to extend? Who do I have to love, and who…not so much? How selfish and judgmental do I get to be?
And Jesus answered with a parable…a story…He used the story to hold up a mirror…here you go scholar, take a look at yourself. He told a story not unlike my car accident story. He told of a man who was traveling through an area between Jerusalem and Jericho that was dangerous and known for attacks. It was full of switchbacks and places for criminals to hide. The man was robbed, beaten severely, stripped naked, and left half dead. Jesus made sure to point out this location because most people would have considered the attack to have been the dudes own fault because he should have known not to travel there.
Eventually a Jewish priest walked down the same road and saw the wounded man from a distance. Not only did he choose not to help, but he actually crossed to the other side of the road to avoid him!
Later another kind of religious man came walking down the same road and also crossed to the other side to pass by the wounded man without stopping to help him.
Finally, another man, a Samaritan, a man considered to be the lowest of the low, a man that Jews wouldn’t have even associated with, walked up on the bleeding man, was moved with compassion, gave him basic first aid, and took him to an Inn to stay for the night. In the morning, the Samaritan had to get back to work and his life, but he stopped by the Innkeepers place and gave him money to take care of the wounded man.
We do not know if the injured man was a Jew or Gentile, but it made no difference to the Samaritan; he did not consider the man’s race or religion. The “Good Samaritan” saw only a person in need of assistance, and he did what he was capable of doing to help…not like a super- hero but like a human; not without boundaries or at the detriment of his own life. He did what he had the ability to do. The End.
And then Jesus brought it…
He asked the scholar which one of the three men who saw the wounded man proved to be the true neighbor?
The religious scholar responded, “The one who demonstrated kindness and mercy.”
And Jesus drops the mic with this: “You must go and do the same as he.”
Now that you’ve seen your reflection, Go. Follow the Samaritan’s example in your own conduct… show compassion and love for everyone you encounter in your everyday activities.
Love others regardless of their race or religion or gender or sexual orientation or background or high school or zip code or marital status.
If you happen upon someone who has need and you can help, then help generously and freely, without expectation of return and without judgment whether you think they deserved it or not. Period. End. Of. Story.
Who was the scholars neighbor? Who is your neighbor? Who is my neighbor? Every person. Every single person with breath in their lungs is our neighbor. How do we decide who to help and to what extent? How do we know when it’s our responsibility to step into a mess with someone?
If our path crosses the path of someone in need and we have the ability to help, then we help.
You see, we belong to each other. There is no outsider…no outcast…no ‘other’…no neighbor… no democrat…no republican…no rich…no poor… no gender, no sexual orientation, no class, no creed, no ethnicity, no race, no nationality, no legal status, no age, no ability, no Christian, no non-Christian, no educated, and no drop out.
There are just humans…image bearers of God.
Greg Boyle says it like this:
“There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ – only ‘us’.
Much like the scholar in this story, if we know, why don’t we do? Why do we turn the other way when we see people in need? Why do we keep to ourselves? Why do we make judgement about who gets our love and who doesn’t?
Pope Francis calls this behavior a “throw away culture”. If we don’t understand someone or a people group, we just throw it away. We have normalized the demonization of humans that are different than us or have made us angry or that we don’t understand making it nearly impossible to see humanity as an “us”.
He may be right, but it doesn’t have to be this way. It starts here. With you. With me. This is our wakeup call. There is NOTHING normal about demonizing a human. All life deserves kindness and love.
This whole love God BY loving people thing is a big deal…it’s everything. Jesus said it’s life giving. You see, how we love others is how we love God.
It’s not about if or how well we follow the religious rules or ceremonies or traditions. It’s about loving God therefore allowing the space for Him to do something in us. God wants to create something new in us…a free life! A life free from judgement, complaining, and venting…a life free from gossip and insecurity…free from comparison and people pleasing. Loving others…all people…even the ones who make our blood boil will change our hearts and set us free…our lives will be new. We will experience joy. We will experience confidence. We will experience abundance.
The mirror is being held up to our faces. Do you see your reflection? It’s time to let go of those prejudices…time to bury the hatchet…time to be fearless…time to love God BY loving all people.
Go. And do.