What does it mean to be a good neighbor? We were exploring this question as a church this weekend, and I found it to be a particularly interesting one. As my pastor explained some of the cultural nuances of the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), it dawned on me that we, the body of Christ, so often act like the priest and the Levite in the story, not the Samaritan. This parable wasn’t just for the people Jesus spoke to, but for us as well.
As the story goes, there was a man who was robbed and beaten, left on the side of the road to die. A priest approached, and crossed to the other side of the road. A Levite came down the street, and he also crossed the road. Finally, a Samaritan stopped to help the battered man, taking him on his donkey, bandaging his wounds, bringing him to an inn, and paying for his stay until he could return to cover any additional costs that might have accrued in his absence.
We would like to think that we wouldn’t behave in such a way if we encountered someone in such bad shape, that we wouldn’t ignore that kind of suffering. But in our own world, there are people who live in squalor only a short distance from the front gates of those living in opulence, people sold into sex slavery as part of a disgustingly profitable trade, people dying of hunger and preventable diseases while others gorge themselves on rich foods and throw away the leftovers. In short, our world is no different than that of the one described in this parable.
The priest and the Levite, the ones whom Jesus’s audience would expect to come to the rescue of the dying man, made the conscious decision to cross to the other side of the street instead of stopping to help him. They saw a need and deliberately walked away from it, carrying on as if nothing was wrong, keeping themselves separate from the devastation of those around them. Reading this, we find ourselves thinking how detestable this reaction to such obvious need is. But if we think about it, we –the ones the poor and destitute of the world should be able to look to for help– ignore the needs of others in situations just as desperate as the man of this story. We avoid getting our hands dirty, turning our backs on a hurting world right outside our doors, thinking it’s not our job to help them, convincing ourselves that someone else will do it.
The Samaritan, however, saw this man and had compassion for him. He did what the other two were expected to do. He stopped. He cared for him. He dressed the wounds. He paid for the lodging of this complete stranger. He offered to pay for any other expenses, securing the robbed man’s recovery for as long as he needed to stay, no matter the cost. He cared far more for this hurt stranger than he did for himself. He took time out of his day, detoured in his travel to wherever he was going, gave two full days’ wages to provide for the man, and risked his reputation to associate with a cultural enemy. He knew what the repercussions of choosing to help could be in a society that condemned the interaction of the opposing cultures, but he also knew what the likely consequences of ignoring the man were, and he chose to help despite what results might follow.
Once we open our eyes to the needs of those around us, we are forced to act. We no longer can pretend that our world doesn’t need our help. We may not be able to change everything, but we can all do something. What gifts have we been given, in the form of talents, possessions, wealth, influence, and time, that could benefit those around us? How can we begin today to open our eyes to the needs of those around us and start acting like the good neighbors we’re called to be?