“Finally, another man, a Samaritan, came upon the bleeding man and was moved with tender compassion for him.” (Luke 10:33)
In Luke, chapter 10, Jesus and a Jewish religious scholar discussed the greatest commandment, summing it up in just a few words: “Love God. Love your neighbor.” Sounds simple, but the religious fellow wanted to give himself an out. He wanted a clear definition of who qualified as a neighbor. Who do I have to help? Who do I have to love? Who can I ignore?
Jesus answered the question with a compelling story about what it means to love our neighbor. We call it the story of the Good Samaritan. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s in Luke 10:25-37.
A Jewish man traveling the road to Jericho was attacked by robbers and left half dead. Over time, a Jewish priest and a Jewish Levite both walked by, saw the man, and did nothing to help him. But a repulsive Samaritan, despised by the Jews, saw the Jewish man near death on the side of the road. He had tender compassion for him and greatly inconvenienced himself to save the Jewish man.
Jesus closed the story by asking a question: Which of the three men who saw the wounded man proved to be the true neighbor?
See, the Jewish expert wanted to know who he had to consider his neighbor and who he could justifiably overlook. Jesus gave an example of a Samaritan, detested by the Jews, who showed compassion to a Jew. If the Samaritan treated the Jewish man with compassion, the Jew should treat even a Samaritan with compassion.
So, who is our neighbor? We may think of a neighbor as someone who lives in our neighborhood. Actually, anyone we encounter on our journey through life who needs our compassion, encouragement, or care is our neighbor. Our neighbor doesn’t have to be a Christian. He doesn’t have to agree with our politics. He can have his life in perfect order or in complete disarray. We reach out to people right where they are, just as they are.
The Samaritan met the need of the injured Jew right where he was, on the Jericho Road. Jesus also met people where they were—Peter at the Sea of Galilee and the Samaritan woman at the well.
We follow the example of Jesus. We meet people where they are. They don’t have to meet our criteria or measure up to our standards. Everyone deserves our compassion, encouragement, and care regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.
Martin Luther King Jr. talked about the dangers of the road from Jerusalem to Jericho: “It’s possible the priest and the Levite wondered if the robbers were still around. And so, the first question they asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”
At the heart of our faith is the command to love God and love our neighbors. As we daily live out this command, our question should not be, “If I help my neighbor, what will happen to me?” Our question must be, “What will happen to my neighbor if I don’t?”
Dear God, help me to see people through your eyes. Teach me to be a good neighbor. Give me grace to show compassion, encouragement, and care to those I meet on my journey. Let me show your love to everyone—literally, everyone. In Jesus’s name, amen.