Who Will Be the Good Samaritan?

When someone tells you they’ve been hurt, you wouldn’t tell them they haven’t.
When someone shares with you about their experience, you wouldn’t tell them that can’t have happened because you have a different experience.

When a whole group of people tell us they’ve been hurt, a compassionate response involves listening.
When a whole group of people share their experience, a compassionate response involves trying to understand how and why that happened to them.

An appropriate, compassionate response does not include setting about to prove them wrong, declaring that that can’t possibly have happened because it hasn’t happened to you. They must be wrong, right?, because what they’ve described seems so wrong.

If I tell you I’ve been hurt, and you tell me I haven’t; if I describe my experience and you tell me I’ve misunderstood what happened to me; if you choose not to listen and try to understand, not to bear my pain with me but instead to defend those who have hurt me, I will not trust you. In aligning yourself with the one who hurt me, you have added insult to injury. I will call it like it is: you have heaped additional abuse upon the abused.

And if you don’t listen but instead want to tell me to buck up, that God loves me and God will take care of me if I just trust Him more, I won’t believe you. Because we know of God’s love through the ways we are loved, and you haven’t loved me.

We cannot love well unless we listen well. And once we’ve listened, we have to be willing to do something. We have to be willing to lean in and shoulder the pain with those who’ve been hurt. It’s time to stop defending the abusers, even though they may be us.

Jesus told a story about a traveler who got robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the roadside (Luke 10:25-37). One after the other, some VIP’s passed by on the other side of the road. Jesus doesn’t explain their excuses but it’s not a big stretch to imagine that it might have had to do with ceremonial cleanliness–they couldn’t afford to get blood on their blouses since that would mean additional time to ritually purify themselves before they could get on with their very important business, ironically (or not) of helping others come close to God.

The story’s good guy is the least likely of the passersby to stop and help. Samaritans and Jews didn’t mix. The Samaritan should not have wanted to help a Jew, and the Jew might not have accepted the help if he had been aware enough to have an opinion. At this point, though, it’s pretty clear he needs help or he will die.

This Samaritan allowed himself to be moved by pity for their shared humanity. He got on his knees in the dirt to do roadside triage. He examined and then treated the man’s wounds, cleaning and anointing them to prevent infection. He put the man on his donkey and took him to an inn. He spent the night caring for this stranger when surely he should have been on his way to his intended destination. When he had to move on, he made sure the injured man would have continued care; he paid the expenses and promised to check back in and cover any overages.

The Samaritan went so far out of his way and then some. Clearly the story tells us that he didn’t have to. He could have kept on going like the others. Jesus’ listeners wouldn’t have expected the Samaritan, of all people, to stop. Yet the Samaritan who showed mercy has become the Ultimate Example of what it looks like to love your neighbor.

You know, the Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself. The two basics of living in God’s kingdom, the non-optionals above all others for what it looks like to follow a God who defines Himself as Love (1 John 4:8).

Our brothers and sisters of color have exhausted themselves trying to get us to hear and understand that they’ve been hurt. They’ve been beaten and left for dead. And so many of us have crossed the street, looked away, held our noses to avoid the stench of blood. We’ve said we’re too busy, the problems are too big and they’re not our problems. We’ve said that there aren’t any problems, that they’ve misunderstood their own experience, that they’re bringing the problems on themselves. It has nothing to do with us. We’re good people, and we’re not racists. Obviously we would never beat someone up.

Obviously. However, if we haven’t been part of the solution, we have been part of the problem. We are complicit if we walk on by with our heads full of excuses held high. Getting involved will be costly. So I ask: who will be the good Samaritan? And what will that look like today?

I’m listening.

Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

What’s the News?

A couple years ago, I decided I needed to curtail my practice of ending each day with the first fifteen minutes of the 10 pm newscast. For most of my adult life, I watched the news before bed. But gradually I realized that I wasn’t sleeping soundly, that images or issues from the news wound themselves into my dreams or, worse, left me tossing sleeplessly through the night. Adulting can be difficult enough without insomnia.

Towards the end of 2016 I decided that, for my sanity, I needed to forgo TV newscasts altogether. The presidential race brought out the worst in everyone, me included. Above and beyond the ‘commonplace’ stories on worldwide political shifts and violence, America’s angry politicians and their supporters had turned up the volume. In response, I turned it off.

Although we had stopped taking the paper years earlier, the time had come to once again read the news. To that end, I am grateful for The Skimm, which (ahem) skims the national and international headlines and presents summaries in a nonpartisan, headline style with links to more information.

I need to stay informed, but there is just so much bad news!

Without trying hard, I could rattle off bad news on too many world-changing issues. Yet when I ask myself, “What’s the good news?” I’m not sure I know how to answer.

What is the good news? And, now that we’re thinking about it, don’t we all love those too-infrequent feel-good news stories? The ones where the good Samaritan does some wonderful sacrificial act that changes the life of a wheelchair-bound child, or a homeless person, or simply their neighbor who has fallen on hard times. Maybe someone should produce a regular good-news cast (Is there such a thing? If so, point me in the right direction, because I need it!).

Some days—many days?—I forget that gospel = good news. I forget that Jesus told us all about this: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). I forget that God’s still in charge: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).

I suspect I’m not alone. Not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the world’s troubles. Not alone in finding it incredibly difficult to be still. Not alone in forgetting that God loves the world, this world, the very one He created, populated by all the people He fearfully and wonderfully made.

Not alone at all, because God loves me. And God loves you. And God asks us to love one another.

That love one another thing can be hard, especially with all the bad news. You and me, we may not even like each other. We may be on opposite sides of battle lines, barbed wire, drawn guns, hatred.

Jesus found Himself there, too. And, despite all the bad news that we are, He loved us so much anyway that He did the most wonderfully sacrificial good-news thing ever: He gave His life in our place, for our sins, so that we can live forever in relationship with God. Jesus’ story–which becomes our story–makes for the ultimate good-news cast.

Walk in Love
Week 10: Walk in Love
1 John 4:7-21

Connect
What good news have you received recently?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 4:7-21.
Why should God’s people love one another?
What does God’s love for us look like?
How does God’s love for us change us?
According to this passage, what does the Spirit do for us (vv13-16)?
Compare vv12 and 17. What is the difference between God’s love being made complete in us and among us?
How do God’s people loving one another make God visible (vv12, 17, 20-21)?
What is the connection between love and Christian confidence or “no fear” (vv17-19)?

Live
Does John mean to say that everyone who acts lovingly has a saving relationship with God? That anyone who does not act lovingly does not? Explain.
How do you know God loves you? How do you experience God’s love for you? What’s the difference between knowledge and experience of God’s love?
In your experience, does love or fear inspire more obedience? Better character? Explain.
When have you acted lovingly despite not feeling loving? What was that like?
“Remarkably, loving someone who is unlovely brings into focus the power of God’s choice to love us in our unloveliness” (Gary M. Burge). Have you ever experienced this? If so, describe it.
How would you sum up John’s version of the gospel’s good news from this passage?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God will help you know and experience His love so that you have generous love to share with others.