Every place I have lived in has had issues with the marginalized. You know who they are. They are homeless, the beggars on the street. The woman who sell their bodies under the streetlights of downtown. They are the runaways, the abused, those we see on the streets who we walk past when we are downtown.
Politicians are unsure of what to do. Part of the issue is how to show compassion and help them transition from their current situation yet improve the image of the town or city. I was in Victoria earlier this year and saw their “tent city” on Pandora Street. People complained about it. There were public drunkenness and drug use. People passing by on the street were intimidated. The city officials didn’t know what to do about it. The police did nothing and the “city” remained…
As much as we criticize politicians for their lack of action, I think Christians and the Church need to ask ourselves, “What are we doing to help?” Are we so “in-focused” on our own programs and people that we forget there are people in need just outside our doors? Do we see these people as a problem or as an opportunity?
When I lived in Fort St. John, I pastored a church there for almost 10 years. Part of my ministry was to work with the youth of the church and community. We would sometimes collect a couple of bucks from kids to cover some of the expenses. One day, I went to the bank to make a deposit. As I was about to enter the bank, an intoxicated First Nations woman in front of me pulled down her pants, squatted on the sidewalk and proceeded to urinate. As the urine trickled down the sidewalk, she looked up at me and said, “Help me.” I looked down at her and thought to myself, “I don’t have any toilet paper” and then proceeded into the bank to do my business.
In the story of the Good Samaritan, we read about three people who had that choice and how one, the one least expected, helped when he did not have to. We read this story in Luke 10. An expert in the law approached Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Now the answer to this question is “nothing,” but Jesus plays along with his question because he knows where this man is coming from.
Jesus then begins to tell a story about a traveller going between Jerusalem and Jericho. It was a well-travelled road with many places for robbers to hide. This traveller was robbed, beaten and left for dead. At this point, Jesus mentions that a priest and Levite (the upper crust of society of which this expert was one) came by but each walked by the injured person without intervening. Why? Maybe they didn’t like what they were seeing? Maybe they knew helping the traveller would make them unclean? Maybe they were late for an important meeting? Regardless, they chose to go around the traveller and continue on their trip. This sounds like me…
Lastly, a Samaritan came by. Now Samaritans were not liked by the Jews. They were considered soiled or unclean because they were half-breeds. He did not have any responsibility to stop and help the man, but he did. The traveller might have been a Jew, someone who was probably prejudiced towards him, but he chose to stop.
His example is a model for us today on the importance of caring for those in the margins. His actions demonstrated to our characteristics and qualities we as Christians should be living out every day.
The first thing we see is the Samaritan showed compassion. The traveller did not deserve what had happened to him. In my lifetime, I have met many hundreds who live on the streets. For some, their current circumstances were from some poor decisions they made in life such as drug and alcohol abuse or from the result of an abusive relationship. Others struggled with mental or physical health issues and fell through the cracks of our social safety net. Regardless, they were now on the streets, struggling to get by.
The first lesson we learn from the Good Samaritan is his example is a picture of compassion. Compassion should be a mark of every Christian. What do you think would happen if we took a moment and showed compassion to someone? It could be transformational and have a large ripple effect.
The owner of the 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 the 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 lesson we learn from the Samaritan was his acceptance of the one in need. One of the foundations of love is acceptance. The Bible declares that all of us were created in the image of God. That means all of us do have value and worth because we were created in His image. For the Samaritan, he had to put any past experiences, possibly any prejudice he experienced, to get his hands dirty and help this person in need. Letting the past go and move forward.
Many of us base another’s worthiness using different categories or standards. We might think about people’s worth by their social status, their race, their sexuality, or any other scale we like to use, but none of them should dictate who we help or not help.
How many of us have ever taken in a stray cat or dog or nursed a bird after it hit your window? How many of us have ever helped a lost soul with a meal? We will help an animal that Jesus said, God would provide for, yet Jesus also said, “How much more valuable are we to God?
Who did Jesus accept and help? Those who were broken and in need. Remember, He helped a Centurion, a soldier for the enemy of Israel, an unclean woman suffering from bleeding, a leprous man, and even a prostitute. How did Jesus see them all? As people in need and of worth. How should Christians see people? Everyone created in God’s image so each person has value. I think we have all read the warning in the book of James so I don’t need to repeat it, but we need to take an honest look at ourselves and understand that if God can accept me, why can’t I accept others?
Thirdly, we learn that the Samaritan was willing to take a risk in helping this traveller. Remember, this road was dangerous. What if the robbers were still nearby? Maybe he had a disease or infection that could spread? The Samaritan saw the need and responded, regardless of the risk to himself.
Imagine what the disciples thought when Jesus showed compassion to the leper. “Jesus, you might get the disease!” But Jesus saw beyond the risk to the person’s need. As Christians, serving God means taking risks. Will we get our hands dirty? For sure. Might we “catch” something? Possibly. But in the end, we need to get out of the boat and walk out to where Jesus is at work and participate in what He is doing in our world.
Sadly, we can come up with seemingly valid reasons and excuses for not taking risks for God. Things like money and time are somewhat valid, but those are not the bottom line in God’s economy and ministry. In the end, it is about glorifying God through our willingness and sacrifice. To ignore the opportunity might mean we lose an opportunity to be a blessing to others and share the hope that Christ has so graciously shown us.
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 neighbour. 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 this community and this world for Jesus will take a considerable amount of effort and resources. But the key ingredient is found in our own hearts. It takes willingness on our part to be a part of God’s work in the world.
Jesus told this parable to illustrate how eternal life and the golden rule are connected. I believe it also addresses the fact of how much our attitudes and actions or inactions are based upon prejudices. So at the end of this discussion, Jesus asks the question, “Who is my neighbour?” What is the answer? The man questioning Jesus answers, “He who showed mercy.” Jesus asks us to do likewise.
When I walked out of the bank that fateful day, all I saw was the stream of urine running down the sidewalk. The woman was nowhere to be seen. At that moment, I had an epiphany. Not really. Rather God smacked me over the head with a 2×4 and led me to be a part of a soup kitchen in our church. I do not know how many plates of food or bowls of soup I served but in the end, I was changed. No longer would I see those in need as a nuisance, rather they were now people who just like myself, need to experience the grace of God in their lives.
To me, the parable of the Good Samaritan, or “Good Sam,” as I like to call him, is about faith that is lived out in action. Jesus asks us, “Who is my neighbour?” We now know so Jesus tells us, “Go and do likewise.”