36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10: 36-37

As a child, the Parable of the Good Samaritan was a story that seemed nice.  Of course we should help others.  I did not understand why the other men could just pass by, leaving the hurt man to die.  It was a story of helping those in need around you, but I never fully understood the depth of this story.  It did not seem like mercy in its fullest sense.

As an adult, I learned more of this story and why this is an example of showing mercy. The historical context of the story adds a dimension that makes the story a bit more personal, more convicting.  I believe Martin Luther King Jr. conveys the implications of this story quite clearly.  He said:

I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred miles, or rather, twelve hundred feet above sea level [actually about 2100 feet or 640 metres[6]]. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet [7 m] below sea level [actually 846 feet (258 m)[7] or 258 metres]. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite 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?”

Certainly the priest and the Levite were fearful of what might happen to them if the came to the aid of the injured man.  We can reasonably understand their fear.  But Jesus did not stop the story there.  He included the part where the Good Samaritan overcame his fear and showed love and mercy to the injured man.  This was the type of love and mercy Jesus expects us to show.  This is the difficult, sometimes dangerous love we are expected to give to those in need.

This story begins to make me nervous.  I want to follow God.  I have experienced the joy and peace that comes with it.  I want to hear Him and experience Him in ways I never imagined, but this brings a bit of fear.  What might God require of me?  There is evil in the world I can only begin to imagine.  Thrusting myself, and my family, in the midst of it is a scary proposition.  However, as Isaiah 41:13 (and many other verses) assures us, “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”  What an amazing picture!  God is taking hold of our hand and assuring us that He is there to help us.  I cannot imagine a much better promise.

So, where does this leave us when following the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbor as yourself”? We may still feel some of the fear when God asks us to love in amazing and radical ways, but we also have the beautiful assurance that He is there with us each step of the way.  Being a neighbor often does not look as it did in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  It may not be an inherently fearful situation, but it may require obedience outside of the ordinary.  Perhaps God has asked you to help a person others have turned aside as a “lost cause”.  Maybe He has spoken to your heart that you are to give in a way you never would have imagined.  Or, God has asked you to put aside your schedule to help a friend in dire need of a listening ear.  I do not know how God will ask me to be a good neighbor, but I do know that He expects me to listen and will be there with me, giving me to proper tools to do so.

It often breaks my heart when we, myself included, look to someone else to solve problems and help those in need around us.  We, like the priest and the Levite, often continue on with our lives as those around us are in dire need of help.  People are starving; being persecuted and abused; falling to sickness and depression; yet we sit by and wonder who is going to help them.  The truth is, we, as individuals, are meant to help them.  We cannot each help them all, but together, we can help so many more!  If we stop looking for who is going to fix it and start looking where we can help, the situation begins to show God’s love and mercy.  I challenge each of you to find where you can help and get to work!  I know that is what I am doing.  While I know what I do impacts others, I may be receiving just as much from the partnership.  I learn more about what it means to be a child of God through each interaction, and that is an amazing thing.