This past weekend, we hosted a party in our home for about 35 people. One of the things about having people in your home is the need to have it clean and tidy for when they arrive. This is especially true if they are staying over. We make sure the bathroom is neat, there is food in the fridge and freezer and fresh sheets on the bed. We hide any dirty laundry or other messes because we want to impress our guests. In certain social settings, we “dress to impress,” but in the case of our homes, we often “stress to impress.”
Our city, like many major cities around the world, is pondering at whether to put a bid in to host an Olympic Games. Now there are many benefits to hosting an event like that as it brings in tourists and raises the prominence of the city at a global level. But there are also setbacks to doing it. I can remember many of the past Olympic Games and the struggles cities had not only to build the structures necessary to host events, they had to deal with the disadvantaged and marginalized in their cities who might cause trouble or be an “eyesore” to visitors.
For example, in Vancouver, there was a push to clean up the “Eastside.” People were evicted and the people on the streets were “moved” away from the venues. Now, this issue isn’t specific to large urban centers. Even here in Edmonton, we struggle with that issue. Our church is often a “hotel” for many of the marginalized with upwards of nine or ten people frequenting our steps. I’ve lived in cities a fraction of the size of Edmonton who doesn’t know what to do with this situation.
So, as Christians, as the church, how should we respond? Do we try to hide or ignore the problem? Or as many service agencies have done, do we approach it as an opportunity?
When you see the people around your city dumpster diving, begging for money or standing on the street holding a sign asking for help, what goes through your mind? Most people would use the words: disgusting, diseased, drunk, smelly, loser, hooker, druggie, thieves, losers… and in some senses, they might be right?
There is a well-known story in Scripture that describes this very scenario. In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus is asked the question regarding what is needed to inherit eternal life. Jesus begins to tell the story of a businessman who while traveling the road between Jerusalem and Jericho was attacked. The robbers took his belongings, beat him and left him for dead. A priest comes walking by and sees the man. Instead of stopping, he continues on his journey. Following the priest is a Levite. He too, seeing the injured man, avoids him and continues on his journey. So what was it about this man that caused the priest and Levite to avoid him?
Part of what may have prevented them helping was fear. This man was robbed. Maybe the robbers were still close? Also, if this man were to die or be dead, touching him would make them unclean. According to the Law, this would disqualify them from certain ceremonies in the temple. In the minds of the people listening to Jesus, the priest and Levite might have been justified in not stopping.
But then Jesus goes on to say a Samaritan came by next. Samaritans were not looked well upon in society as they were of mixed race, a half-breed. To many Jews, they were “worthless” and no doubt suffered persecution from the Jewish majority. Many of Jesus’ listeners probably thought the Samaritan would also go past the injured man or maybe stop to see if there was something else he too could take from him.
But the Samaritan didn’t. Instead, the man stopped, bandaged the injured traveler, put him on his donkey and took him to an inn so he could receive proper care. And on top it all off, he paid for all the man’s medical costs. His actions are a model of what ministry is about.
In this story, we find four characteristics that we can apply to our lives in how we interact with those around us. Firstly, the Samaritan acted with compassion. This man who was robbed didn’t deserve what happened to him. Most of the people we see on our streets are not there because they planned to be. I’ve met many who had dreams and desires but through some poor choices, unforeseeable circumstances or tragedy, their lives took a turn and they ended up destitute. I think if we all took a moment to think about our own lives we would realize we too were a choice or two away from the same situation.
That being said, what do you think would happen if we took a moment and showed compassion to someone? The owner of a drive-through coffee business in southwest Portland, Oregon, was surprised one morning to have one of her customers not only pay for her own mocha but also for the mocha of the person in the car behind her. It put a smile on the owner’s face to tell the next customer her drink had already been paid for. The second customer was so pleased that someone else had purchased her coffee that she bought coffee for the next customer. This string of kindnesses—one stranger paying for the mocha of the next customer—continued for two hours and 27 customers.
Compassion is expressing mercy – just as Christ has done for us, so we show it to others.
The second things we see here is the Samaritan put aside his prejudices and assumptions and accepted the man for who he was… someone in need. It would have been easy for him to walk away. But he saw the need which superseded any negative attitudes he may have felt.
Many of our prejudices are based on past hurts or experiences. This story illustrates how we need learn to forgive and move forward. Too often we measure people’s worth and value by social status. Need should be the only thing that dictates whether we should help or not. How should Christians see people? Everyone created in God’s image so each person has value.
Who did Jesus accept and help? He helped those who were broken and in need. Think of the Centurion, the Jews sworn enemy, yet Jesus met his need. The bleeding woman, the crippled man, the possessed man, the leprous man, the prostitute… if there was a need, Jesus was willing to help. But will we do likewise?
The third thing we see from this man was his willingness to build a relationship. It would have taken the time to clean his wounds and bandage him. It would have taken the time to take him to the inn for additional help… there would have been time to get to know one another.
Relationships take time but sometimes in our busyness, we tend to ignore the needs around us. All of us can be that way. Even pastors can sometimes get caught up in that. We can end up doing the things that seemingly need to get done and miss out on God’s opportunities presented to us. Ministry is about relationships. Life is a journey about relationships. Christianity is about relationships and it is modeled in God’s desire to have a relationship with us.
How many of us are Christians today because someone took the time to befriend us and eventually introduced us to Jesus Christ? Opportunities for relationships happen every day. Sadly, many of us are too busy to notice and lose the opportunity to build bridges and therefore opportunities to share our faith.
The last thing we learn from this story is if we are to care for the needs of others, efforts will be required. The Samaritan cared for man’s wounds, cleaned them, anointed them, carried him to the inn and paid the expenses. Too often, ministry is measured by the bottom line. Ministries are often measured by results versus cost. True, ministry has a cost, but it isn’t just about money. Living for God is giving our all to Him and for Him. We offer our energy and effort and He produces the results.
Watchman Nee tells about a Chinese Christian who owned a rice paddy next to one owned by a communist man. The Christian irrigated his paddy by pumping water out of a canal, using one of those leg-operated pumps that make the user appear to be seated on a bicycle. Every day, after the Christian had pumped enough water to fill his field, the communist would come out, remove some boards that kept the water in the Christian’s field and let all the water flow down into his own field. That way, he didn’t have to pump. This continued day after day. Finally, the Christian prayed, “Lord, if this keeps up, I’m going to lose all my rice, maybe even my field. I’ve got a family to care for. What can I do?” In answer to his request, the Lord put a thought in his mind. So, the next morning he arose much earlier, in the predawn hours of darkness, and started pumping water into the field of his communist neighbor. Then he replaced the boards and pumped water into his own rice paddy. In a few weeks, both fields of rice were doing well—and the communist was converted.
Making a difference in whatever community you live in and this world will take a considerable amount of effort and resources. In the end, it comes down to our willingness to allow God to work in and through us. Jesus told this parable to illustrate what eternal life and the golden rule entailed. I believe it also addresses the fact of how much our attitudes and actions or inactions are based upon prejudices. The Samaritan’s actions are a reminder of what the Christian life looks like in relation to the world around us. Almost every street and community has a homeless person, a hurting person, or a lost person… and our actions and attitudes can help lift them up.
At the end of Jesus discussion with the teachers of the Law, He asks them the question, “Who is my neighbor?” The man questioning Jesus answers, “He who showed mercy.” Jesus tells the man and tells us today to go and do likewise.