Jesus tells the story of a man who was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho when he was assaulted by a band of thieves that beat and robbed him leaving him for dead on the side of the road.
While he was lying there wounded and bleeding a priest came near him but, instead of helping the man, stayed as far away from him as possible, crossing to the other side of the road. A little later a temple assistant, a church worker, came upon the man still laying on the side of the road but also gave him a wide berth leaving him there naked and beaten. But then another man, who Jesus identified as a Samaritan, came along. This man was different, and his response was completely different from the priest and the assistant. Jesus tells us that the Samaritan had compassion, something the other two had obviously lacked. The Samaritan had to stop to help him, he could not just pass him by. So he stopped to bandage his wounds, then he put him on his donkey and took him to an inn where he looked after him through the night. The next day he left a deposit so the innkeeper could continue to help the stranger recuperate.
Jesus told this story as an answer to a question he was asked by a young man who was wrestling with a personal challenge Jesus had just given him. Jesus had directed him to go and start loving his neighbors selflessly, the same way he loved himself. Maybe to deflect his guilt he asks Jesus what he thinks is a deep and difficult question, “Who is my neighbor”. He is thinking about what you and I are often tempted to think when facing needs around us, “If I am to love my neighbor with such selfless compassion then who qualifies as a neighbor? Is everyone my neighbor? Or will God show me whom I am to love and whom I don’t need to care about” I know I have fought these questions myself in my head and my heart. We may not speak them right out as this young man did, but they are questions that lurk in our hearts as we struggle to know what our responsibility is in our community and to our neighbors.
Stop arguing about who you should help or not, and work on seeing the people around you with compassion.
After telling the story Jesus asks the young man, “Who was the neighbor?” Jesus had changed all the rules of caring for others and the young man got it. After some careful thought, the young man answers that the Samaritan was the neighbor. It wasn’t the man in need and it wasn’t the two men who did nothing. It was the only person in the story that felt compassion and cared enough to do something. Point made. “Now you go and do the same!” Jesus tells him. The message is clear: Stop arguing about who you should help or not, and work on seeing the people around you with compassion. Then do something about what you see and feel.
We are all called to be the neighbor to the people around us. The Samaritan was the least likely candidate for the Good Neighbor Award, at least to the religious Jewish audience that Jesus was speaking to. He was considered as less spiritual and evil. Yet Jesus chooses the Samaritan as the role model for selfless service. The only qualifier Jesus uses is that the Samaritan had compassion on the man along the roadside and did something about it.
Don’t close your heart to what is going on around you. Ask God to open your eyes to the real needs around you and then be the good neighbor.
Change your criteria to the simple criteria that Jesus used, compassion. The need you become aware of is the need you can respond to. It doesn’t matter who they are or who you are. Accept that God has intersected you with someone who has a need you can help with. You may not be the total answer, but you may start a compassion chain reaction. It just takes one person who cares to make a difference. Start looking around you today. Who is the neighbor? You are!