And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” 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 10:25-27)
It is unfortunate that Jesus did not take the opportunity to preach the gospel of Himself (the gospel of Jesus Christ – as we have have it) and say, “You have answered incorrectly, you must invite Me into Your heart; do this and you will live.” Instead, the Lord of Life said to him…
“You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:28)
It seems Jesus’ assuring words may have awakened the lawyer to his own legal problem. He immediately tries to reduce his exposure by fishing for a definition of neighbor that might not condemn him.
But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)
Jesus knew this man’s dilemma. Its the same as ours. Jesus’ efforts to liberate us captives causes Him to share the story of The Good Samaritan.
Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?“ And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:30-37)
Being generous can be difficult cant it? As I listen to generous-hearted people describe their attempts to be good Samaritans, I hear painful accounts of being conned by those claiming to have been waylaid by life. Being poor has become an occupation for some and the key to their success is location, location, location – and guilt.
As the would-be Samaritans approach the intersection (franchise) in their cars, Guilt stabs their heart and says, “That person has so little and you have so much. That person’s burdens are much greater than yours.” These statements are not necessarily false but true charity asks, “Is this wise? Could my donation be doing this person harm?”
Did God intend for this person’s problems to drive them to this intersection so they could advertise their poverty to 5,000 cars (on a good day)? I seriously doubt it. At the same time we must not turn off our charity. Charity does no harm because it is both generous and wise. We would be poor stewards of charity if we were to react by hardening our hearts to all giving just because some have given the poor a bad name with their professionalism.
Well then…if these people are not the poor, who are the poor? I believe when we see things from God’s perspective, we are the poor, every last one of us who think we are making life work while excluding God. We are everywhere. Some of the poorest are those with wealth and power, living from one comfort to the next. Other poor live from paycheck to paycheck. And some poor live from handout to handout. The poor are all of us who live without God as our life.
The poor, in our parable happens to be a man with obvious and immediate needs. These needs became apparent to three different people in the course of their daily affairs, traveling from one place to another. Two of them grossly fail the test of loving their neighbor as themselves. In failing to love their neighbor, they failed to love God, in spite of their holy occupations and linage.
This unfortunate man is not just the subject of Jesus’ moralistic homily. God is defining for the lawyer (and us) just who is our neighbor. Remember, the poor are everywhere. We work with them and live next to them. They are our friends and acquaintances. Good Samaritans identify their neighbors needs and help to carry them. If we have eyes to see, these burdens are all around us. God has startegically placed us on earth such that we will encounter them and not pass them by. He wants us to love them as ourselves and in doing so, love him.
But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. (Luke 10:33-34)
I live among a community of saints who regularly encounter those in need and model the Samaritan’s pattern of charity. When they come upon the person lying in the road, they quickly try to stop the bleeding. They clean the wound the best they can. They make sure basic needs are met. They recruit help so that others can have the privilege of loving God. These teams find ways to follow through. They are faithful to stay engaged until the person (or family) finds their own strength and stability. Restoring people to this place of dignity is the goal of true charity. Drive-by-gifts are a sad and (typically) harmful parody of true charity.
If we will open our eyes and connect with our community, we will discover that the poor are all around us. God may call some to direct their resources to the opposite side of town or abroad but He directs all of us to care for our neighbors. And who are neighbors? They are the people God has strategically located on our intersection – that place we are passing by on our way from here to there. Our communities are those people within our relational reach. With Christ in us, with Christ in our communities, we have the Resource to clean the wounds, stop the bleeding, recruit the help (if needed) without referring it the benevolent committee.
The wisdom and generosity of Charity are healing balms to the Body of Christ. We are vessels filled with this Ointment. Oh how healthy and beautiful the Bride shall be when she is adorned with true Charity. Authentic God (not guilt) -induced charity is one way we can be in the world and yet not of the world. Who knows, perhaps they will come to know us by our love.
Father, so that we do not die without a vision, reveal to us our communities and our neighbors. Show us their burdens. May we discover the nature of the Ointment within us. May we see that “we” are the broken vessels from which Your life was to be poured out. Teach us to love others that we might love You – fill us afresh that we might overflow, for your Name’s sake. Amen.