And he answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
“You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” Though the man began his inquiry in order to test Jesus, Jesus commended the lawyer for his correct answer. But the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, asked, “Who is my neighbor?”
In response, Jesus tells of the good Samaritan. In that story a man is robbed, beaten and left half dead. Two religious people, a priest and a Levite, come across the man in his need. Both regarded their responsibilities as too important to interrupt in order to help the man. They had ministry to attend to. They could not make themselves unclean by stopping and touching the beaten man. They avoided him and hurried along their ways. It was the Samaritan, an outsider to the religious people of Israel, who felt compassion for the man and stopped to help…
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. (Luke 10:33)
I had a recent encounter with a woman who was much like the man who had been beaten nearly to death. She was injured, desperate, alone and without resources. She came into the busy church after a sleepless night in a truck and reached out to people she thought would show compassion. But most were too busy with the events of the day. They avoided any direct help. I was clearly out of my element to help a woman in her situation, but with others scattering to their respective priorities, I was willing to drop mine in order to do what I could. At best, all I could do was to find others more equipped than me.
I am grateful to a policeman from among our congregation who spoke with the woman and gave her advice. He was gentle, encouraging and frank all at the same time. I am also grateful to a woman who did respond immediately when I asked her (knowing she had been in this same situation at another time in her life). She provided the kind of care demonstrated by the Good Samaritan. Neither of these people had a “vocation of compassion” as might be expected of pastoral staff, yet both of them demonstrated the kind of charity that gives me hope for the life of Christ in His people.
As pastors we can live in religious bubbles at times. It seems so important to attend to “the flock.” Religiously focused people always feel that they are doing important things. But there are times when those things – even good things – must be set aside for those the Lord brings into our lives who need the kind of compassion shown by the Samaritan. Living an interruptible life is not easy. But it the very pattern set by Jesus.
At the outset, the lawyer wanted Jesus to tell him what constituted a neighbor so he would know when he would be required to show love. Jesus didn’t answer that question, but rather asked His own after finishing the story…
“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)
Rather than tell Him who was a neighbor, He told the man to be a neighbor. As far as Jesus is concerned, to love a neighbor, you have to be a loving neighbor to begin with.