Once upon a time, I sat on a train station in Melbourne and wondered whether I should take the next train or not. It was a stopping all stations one and the next was express. Should I wait or not? The screen showed a minute remaining. I tossed the options around in my head. The train made its noisy arrival. I again thought maybe, maybe not. The doors opened and closed and I sat on the seat still undecided, but having made my decision.
There are needs all around us. So many. We want to help but how can we? Where do we start? We toss ideas around in our minds. Will I, won’t I? How can I respond to the needs of my neighbours?
Jesus told a story to answer the question who is my neighbour. It’s a now famous story called the Good Samaritan. Here’s how it goes. A man, most likely a Jewish man, is beaten and left for dead. He is in great need of help. Who will help him? The story has an unexpected twist to it. The best candidates for offering help, a priest and a Levite, walk right on by and don’t help at all, while the most unlikely to help, a Samaritan (hated by the Jews), comes to his aid.
Firstly, what does this teach us about “Who is my neighbour?” Well, I think what Jesus is teaching us here, is that whoever you come across in your life journey is a person made in the image of God. Whatever their age, social status, whatever their ethnic background, marital status or sexual orientation, if they are in need, we are to help them. They are our neighbours.
So that brings us to the question, how can we help? What are some ways that we can respond to those in need?
In the parable, the Samaritan demonstrates how we are to love our neighbours. There seem to me to be four key ways in which the man in need is helped. Reflecting on these will help us respond to our neighbours as we ought to.
"Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt deep pity.”
Luke 10:33 (NLT)
Jesus tells us that the Samaritan came along. He was on his way somewhere, heading in a direction with his day planned, but notice that the verse says that he saw the man. The others saw him but passed by on the other side. They did not stop. He not only saw him but felt deep pity and he stopped. The needs of his neighbour, who God put in his path, overrode his own busyness.
This is just like Jesus when felt the touch of a bleeding woman in the crowd. He stopped, “Who touched me?” When the children came to him, the disciples saw them as a hindrance. Jesus said “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!” (Mk 10:14). When blind Bartimaeus, in a noisy crowd, called out at the top of his voice, Jesus heard him and stopped (Mk 10:49).
I remember a painful time when a dear friend gently shared with me how through their toughest time, I had not been there for them. I had been doing a lot of good things but I kept walking around them when they were on the road. All I could do was say “Sorry.” But I wish I’d stopped earlier and been there for them.
Jesus said and modelled that we are being a neighbour when we stop and love.
What needs are around you now? A friend in need who would really benefit from a phone call? A work mate who you could take some time out to encourage? A teenage son who would love just to kick the footy with you? A letter that you could write to a persecuted Christian in prison? Being an advocate for the poor in your community? Will we show love by stopping?
“Kneeling beside him…” Luke 10:34 (NLT)
“He went to him…” Luke 10:34 (NIV)
The violent thieves could have still been close by when the Samaritan went over to the injured man. If they assaulted and robbed one man, why wouldn’t they do it again? He put his security at risk. He showed his love by risking.
It’s true, isn’t it, that showing our love to others can be risky. When people are in need sometimes helping them can involve increasing danger levels for us. Many people won’t risk helping because it could be dangerous.
Jesus was different. He, like the Samaritan, put himself in dangerous places to demonstrate his love. When a person was sick on the Sabbath, he knew that the religious officials would be furious at him if he healed him but he did it, and for that they plotted to kill him. Because of love Jesus stood between an angry mob with fists full of stones and a woman caught in adultery. He went to a cross and was yelled at, spat at, beaten, nailed, and put to death. But what a difference his love, in doing that has made for my life and yours. I am glad that Jesus cared more about showing love than being safe. He bravely loved by risking.
It was love for those in need of the gospel that compelled Adoniram Judson to go to Burma in the early 1800s. I wonder if he knew the dangers that lay ahead. He faced rejection, months of harsh imprisonment and the death of two of his children and his wife. His love which did not flinch in the face of danger has inspired so many missionaries since.
Who will have the courage to help free sex slaves? Who will serve in a soup kitchen at night? Who will assist a friend who is being abused?
Is there a risky situation that is stopping you from loving? Maybe Jesus is wanting you to remember that people in need matter to him and are worth leaving our safety to help.
“Kneeling beside him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with medicine and bandaged them.”
Luke 10:34 (NLT)
The Samaritan bandaged the man’s wounds, poured oil on them and helped him. This was practical help. This was a real demonstration of love in action. He responded to this person’s plight. His actions lay at the centre of his love.
He could have walked right past like the Jewish priest, he could have had a good look and then kept on walking like the Levite, the temple assistant. But he didn’t. His love wasn’t one of just words. His love was one that was demonstrated by action.
“The greatest sermon Mr Spurgeon ever preached” was how William Young Fullerton described the orphanage that Spurgeon built at Stockwell, south London. Many lives of the homeless and poor orphaned children were transformed by the work the Metropolitan Tabernacle where Spurgeon was the pastor in the 1800s. He was a fine preacher, often referred to as “The Prince of Preachers” yet he did more than just preached. He led his congregation to love by action.
Have you ever had someone listen to you and say that they feel for you and they understand, but then not offer any help? I’m glad that God just didn’t say he loved me, he demonstrated it by sending Jesus into the world to tell me and to show me his love – even to the point of dying. On the cross Jesus shouts out to us – “I love you this much!” He didn’t just say it. He proved it.
How are you showing practical love to the people around you?
Is your church helping those in the community who are hurt and fallen on the side of the road? If you are a pastor, is it time to do what Spurgeon did at a prayer meeting one evening? He asked them to pray that God would send them a new ministry and the means to carry it out. They received a letter two days later pledging £20,000.00 to be used for orphans. Could your small group respond to a need now by acting in love?
“Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two pieces of silver and told him to take care of the man. `If his bill runs higher than that,' he said, `I'll pay the difference the next time I am here.'“
Luke 10:34-35 (NLT)
By putting the injured man on his donkey, settling him into the inn and leaving the advance payment for his care the Samaritan shows great generosity. He applied ancient first aid, humbly gave his donkey to the Jew and walked alongside, then he gave the inn-keeper two silver coins (enough for 24 days food), and promised to pay the bill when he came back.
His generosity to a Jew was staggering. Yet isn’t generosity always staggering? When you are on the other end of a generous act it can overwhelm you. The vividness of those moments stay with you forever. I remember our family receiving an invitation to have dinner at the home of a man who owned a restaurant. I can still remember the main course followed by a chocolate dessert resembling a cabbage with individual chocolate leaves! This happened almost thirty years ago yet I’ll never forget the generosity shown to our family.
Imagine the thankfulness of the man who was helped by the Samaritan. He would never forget this, not ever. The woman with expensive perfume is still remembered and talked about today. The woman who sent Spurgeon the cheque for the orphanage, Mrs Anne Hillyard was remembered fondly for her generous act.
Who can you think of who would be helped enormously by you not only meeting their needs but by doing so with generosity? A student who is struggling to pay the bills? A single mother who is finding it hard to make ends meet? A refugee who could use your car, for which you would get little trade in anyway?
Which of the three was a neighbour? The answer is the one who showed him mercy. By stopping, risking danger, responding with actions and being generous, the Samaritan really loved his neighbour. Now, today, right where we are, go and do like likewise!