By Pastor Glenn Pease
Back in 1991 Glamor Magazine had an editorial about a woman who drove up to the toll booth of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco and said, "I'm paying for myself and for the 6 cars behind me." One after another the next 6 drivers came up to the booth with dollars in hand only to be told, "Some lady up ahead already paid your fare. Have a nice day." This random act of kindness was inspired by an index card the woman saw on a friend's refrigerator. It said, "Practice random acts of kindness and senseless beauty." The friend saw the saying spray painted on a warehouse wall. Her husband liked it so much he put it on the blackboard of his 7th grade class. One of the students was the daughter of a columnist. She took it home to him, and he put it in his column in the paper.
Soon, random acts of kindness were being done by people all over the country. Bumper stickers were made, and people were putting the idea on letters and business cards. Articles came out in Reader's Digest, Ladies Home Journal, Red Book, and People's Weekly. The idea was so simple: anything you think there should be more of in this world-do it randomly. It is a great idea that was a fad for the world, but it is to be a way of life for the Christian. It is not a motto merely, for kindness is to be a basic ingredient of who we are, and not just a temporary program.
Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan because the religious scholar He was talking to represented the religious establishment who thought that all that really matters is having the right beliefs. Jesus used a Samaritan, who had some wrong beliefs, to show him, and all religious people, that right beliefs without practical behavior do not make you pleasing to God or to anyone else.
The priest and the Levite were professionals who had all the right answers to theological questions, but they were not kind to the man in need, and, therefore, their being right was of no practical value. Better is one who may have some wrong ideas of the truth, but who is kind, for he is more likely to be a tool of God in the world. Jesus is dealing with people who think that if the head has it all together, they are really in the favor of God. Jesus is saying by this story that the head is not enough if the heart is not right. Knowing truth is good, but doing truth is a must to make truth practical and relevant to real life. What good is it to know the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself if you do not do it? Better use the student who does not know, and misses that question on the test, but who does in fact show love to his neighbor.
I must confess that I am part of the old school that was trained to believe that if you teach the Bible and help Christians grow in their understanding of its truth, they will respond by reaching out to touch the world around them. Now I know this is not how it works at all. Christians get so involved in learning the truth of the Bible that they forsake the world, and do less and less to show the love of God to the world. Christians get just like the Jews got that Jesus is dealing with. They became fanatical for studying the laws of God, and were experts in the law, but they lost their compassion for people. All they cared about was legal technicalities. They did not care that people were hurting and needed help. They criticized Jesus for every loving act of kindness He did because He broke one of their laws in doing so. They were very unkind, and Jesus fought this terrible state of mind. To think that God cares more about rules and regulations than about people is the greatest heresy of the religious leaders of Judaism.
Jesus made them very angry by using Gentiles and Samaritans as heroes, for this was heresy to them to even suggest these kinds of people could be more favorable to God than they were. Jesus used them, however, to teach that what was really heresy was to think that having a good grasp of the law was all that mattered, even if you did not practice the spirit of it. Judaism failed God because it ceased to be kind. Jesus said the Pharisees were to be listened to, for they had a correct understanding of the law. They were valid teachers of what God wanted men to hear and understand. They were condemned, however, because they did not practice it. They were cruel to widows, and they laid burdens on everyone making the law of God a pain to man rather than a pleasure. Jesus said His burden was light, for He came to make the law a pleasure, and to free man from legalism. He came to give life and life abundant, and that is found by being agents of kindness. This is how Christians become the light of the world.
Kindness, like cruelty, reproduces itself. An experiment in the college library in Madison, Wisconsin demonstrated this. A stranger was sent into the library and gave out delicious cookies to 26 of the students studying there. A little later another stranger came and asked if they would become helpers in an experiment the school was conducting. They responded with a willingness to do it, but those who did not receive cookies were not willing. Kindness produced kindness.
College women were interviewed, and then as they walked away about 50 yards a male college student would say that he lost his wallet, and could they give him money for a bus ticket. When the interviewer was kind and considerate 60% of those women gave the male student the money. When the interviewer was not warm at all, and gave no approval for the answers he received, only 30% offered the needy young man assistance. Many such experiments revealed the obvious. If you make people feel good by being kind to them, they are more likely to be kind to others. If you are negative, thoughtless, or indifferent to another's need, you start a chain reaction that will produce more of this cold spirit, for they will pass it on. Every act we do is like a rock thrown into the pond of life. It creates ripples of either kindness or coldness. Everyday we altar the sum total of the world's kindness or cruelty by how we deal with people.
A Christian is to be one who is daily creating chain reactions of kindness. Lucy Larcom said, "If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it." That was the practical goal Jesus was aiming at with this story of the Good Samaritan. Go and do likewise He said to the Jewish lawyer who thought he could be all he needed to be by his intellect alone. Not so said Jesus. The fallen world has too many needs to be met by the mind alone. You have got to get your body involved in action to make the kind of difference God expects from you. If you read the life of Jesus, you will observe that He was constantly interrupted by people with a need. Sometimes He didn't have time to eat because the needs were so numerous. He would be going someplace and be interrupted by someone else's need. It was not always convenient. That is the problem all of us struggle with-the inconvenience of being kind. So often an act of kindness is going to throw you off your schedule.
Look at the Good Samaritan. He was on his way to somewhere, and now he is confronted with a situation that will demand considerable time. He has to minister to the physical needs of this injured man. Then he has to get him to the inn, and there negotiate a plan for his care. Who knows what he had to give up in his own plans to help this man? In our day, stopping to help a stranger in trouble could mean you would miss a ball game, or your favorite TV program. The point is, acts of kindness often cost you the loss of something in your own life. Mary Webb said, "If you stop to be kind, you must swerve often from your path."
The priest and the Levite refused to pay the price of being kind at an inconvenient time. They were not just out there for exercise, or a nice Sunday walk. They had things to do and places to be. They were religious leaders, and many suspect that they had obligations to perform at the temple in Jerusalem. To stop and help this man would cost them a price they were not willing to pay. It was the wrong time for them to be loving. It was the wrong place for them to be loving. They had to get back to town where their love could be seen as they prayed or gave alms, or some other religious function. To stop and help this stranger seemed irrelevant to their goals, and they would not let his need interfere with theirs.
The Good Samaritan, on the other hand, had to sacrifice his plans, and possibly miss an appointment that was a great business opportunity. He had to use his own supplies of oil and wine to help heal the man. He had to pay for the man's room in the inn, for he had been robbed and was completely broke. He then went beyond the call of kindness and offered to pay for any further cost of the man's care when he returned. Up to this point I could conceive of myself being the Good Samaritan. The cost would not be enormous, but now he has taken on the role of the man's medical insurance. He is committing himself to pay for all expenses needed to nurse this man back to health. One would have to be very wealthy in our day to make this kind of commitment. I don't think Jesus is trying to tell us we should mortgage our home and go into major debt to care for strangers. The point he is making is, there is a cost to kindness.
If you are going to obey the second great commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself, it will cost you something. It costs to love yourself. It takes time and money and energy to be kind to yourself, and to make life easier by balancing out its burdens with pleasure. Obedience to God has economic implications everywhere you turn. Love and money are linked in very strong ways. For all we know the priest and the Levite prayed for the injured man, and vowed to add him to the prayer list as soon as they got back to the temple. But they never spent a dime to help the man survive. They were examples of what James refers to as a dead faith. Faith without works is dead. If a brother or sister comes and is without food and clothing, and you say, "Go, be warmed and filled," but you do not add some cash to your kind words, your verbal kindness is really a form of cruelty.
God could not love without paying a cost, and Jesus could not love without paying the ultimate cost, and we cannot love without cost. Kindness that never costs is a sham. The reason we have a benevolence fund is because we know there are many situations where you cannot really care without cash. Recently I was able to take groceries to two families who had been eating poorly for weeks. One family was eating out of cans only, and the other was living on the bread they got from our bread ministry. As a church we were able to give them the joy and pleasure of some meat and nourishing food. There was no way to do this without cash.
This is an often overlooked aspect of this story of the Good Samaritan. He did all he could do for the man, and he had to get on with his own life and business, but he paid others to care for the man. Here you have institutional kindness. The inn keeper was paid to continue to minister to the man. The world is filled with organizations and institutions that do for people what we cannot do. They need cash to do it, however. The Good Samaritan gave so others could carry out his desire to be kind. By our giving to the benevolence fund we help kindness thrive, and by our giving to countless other groups we make kindness thrive. It is not just what we do, but who we support that adds to the kindness of the world. We can't help people in the many complex ways they need help, and so we need to support those who specialize in helping others in specific areas. That is what the Good Samaritan did.
Listen to this contemporary version of the parable: "A certain woman driving alone from Washington to Richmond, ran over a spike which punctured her tire and left her stranded. In distress, she raised the hood of her car and tied a scarf to the door handle; then she locked the doors and sat in the car praying for the Lord to send help.
By chance there came a limousine with a bumper sticker that read, "Smile, God Loves You." When the occupants saw the stranded woman, they passed by in the far lane without even smiling.
Also, there came a sports car with a CB radio and a bumper sticker saying, "Honk If You Love Jesus." Driver passed by in the far lane without even honking, or using his CB to tell the highway patrol about the woman's dilemma.
A certain workman, when he saw the raised hood and scarf, came to the spot where the woman was, with compassion. He stopped his old pickup, which had no bumper stickers, crossed the four-lane highway and offered to change the tire.
The woman tried to pay the workman, but he refused the money saying, "If my wife were stranded on the highway, I'd want some good Samaritan to stop and help her out." And again he crossed the four-lane highway, got into his bumper-stickerless truck, smiled and honked at her, and went on his way to work. Which now of these three was a neighbor unto her that had a flat?
This modern version of the Good Samaritan illustrates that a great deal of the Christian faith is like that of Judaism which Jesus condemned. It is superficial sloganism. Faith without works is dead; love without deeds is dead, and words without actions are dead. No amount of religious knowledge has any practical value if it does not make you a kinder person in the way you respond to all human need.
The big mistake Christians make is thinking they only need to be ready to be a Good Samaritan when they come across a person stranded and facing a major crisis. The fact is, we show our love for God and neighbor most often in the acts of kindness we can show everyday. I know from recent experiences how uplifting and healing small acts of kindness can be. Wordsworth wrote, "The best portion of a good man's life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love. Every happy home or church is made loving by little acts and words of kindness."
Amy Raabe wrote,
Scatter seeds of kindness, Everywhere you go.
Scatter bit of courtesy-Watch them grow and grow.
Gather buds of friendship-Keep them till full-blown,
You will find more happiness-Than you have ever known.
Gather every bit of love-All that you can find;
With it bind the broken hearts-For love heals all mankind.
You can only be a blessing to God and all mankind by being kind.