But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37 NRSV)
There were so many reasons why the Samaritan could have avoided being a good neighbor to the man who was robbed, beaten, and left to die at the side of the road. The priest and the Levite may have avoided helping because they would be considered defiled if they touched a corpse. Samaritans were considered impure and were generally scorned by the Jews. For any of them, there may have been concern that the attackers would be nearby to strike again. There was significant cost. The Samaritan had to pay two denarii for the injured man’s keep, which equaled about two days’ wages in those days. All of these threats and uncertainties would certainly be concerning for anyone who wanted to help.
Jesus uses the story of the Samaritan to shake up and undo our ideas of what being a good neighbor means. Being a good neighbor isn’t always easy; in fact, Jesus shows us that being a good neighbor can be quite difficult. In his example, being a good neighbor means to break strict religious codes, to face and help even our enemies, to brave uncertain situations, and to be generous with our resources.
I’m reminded of a night when a woman came up to my car window while I was stopped at a stoplight. She explained that her car had broken down, and asked if I could give her a ride (this was before we had cell phones). For some reason I felt wary, and I apologized for not helping her as I drove away. I questioned my decision all the way home. But on my way home the next night, she was there AGAIN! A week later I learned that a man had been robbed by a woman in the same area, under the same circumstances.
It’s hard to know what to do, isn’t it? Are we always called to do the right thing, even in uncertain situations? Jesus’ story seems to tell us we should… and there are courageous, selfless people who do.
Or does Jesus’ story of extreme neighborliness open our eyes to all of the easy, safe, or simple opportunities we have each day to be good neighbors? How we neglect to do even these? Does his story remind us to do some difficult things, too- to show mercy to those who have mistreated us, to forgive those who have hurt us, to accept those who are different from us, to be hospitable and generous with others? In doing the small, safe and simple acts of kindness before us- as well as those that threaten our comfort zone but not our safety- we can still make a big difference.
We can ask God for wisdom and discernment in our daily living. We can also ask God for courageous and generous spirits. We can ask God for the awareness and availability to be ready to serve our neighbors. Most of all, we can trust that God is lovingly providing and always abiding in each of us, inspiring and inviting us to be good neighbors as often as we can.
Are you talking to ME?
Today Jesus asks, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
What keeps you from being a good neighbor? Lack of time? Not paying attention? Feeling powerless to help? Too many neighbors in need? Strained relationships? What might you do today to make one simple difference? Are you able to trust that God supplies your wisdom and discernment, but also your courage and faith, as the opportunities come before you?
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?