Read this passage first:
The Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37
It’s easy to figure out who the bad guys are in the story about the Good Samaritan. The bandits were evil. They beat and robbed this poor fellow and left him for dead.
It’s also easy to see that the preacher (priest) and deacon (temple assistant) weren’t good guys either. The preacher crossed over to the other side of the road so he could avoid the poor fellow entirely. The deacon was already walking on the other side of the road, but when he saw the poor fellow, he came over to get a better look!
Appalling, don’t you think? How awful that they would see a poor soul in such distress and not care enough to stop and help. Oh, they had their reasons, you can be sure, but were their consciences not disturbed at all?
In any case, there’s another character in this story I want us to consider, someone who is conspicuous by his absence. I’m talking about the fellow who stayed in Jerusalem because the road to Jericho was known to be dangerous.
Somehow the preacher and deacon felt they weren’t in danger on the road. Or perhaps their business in Jericho was so pressing they had to make the trip anyway. We can understand that. Sometimes our business takes us places we wouldn’t want to be caught in after dark.
But Jerusalem certainly had at least one person in it who never took the risk of going out on Jericho Road because it was dangerous. I want us to think for a moment about that risk-averse fellow who stayed in Jerusalem.
We understand this man far better than we understand the preacher and deacon. Like him, we steer clear of dangerous situations. We place a premium on avoiding risk and enhancing our safety. We’d prefer to be untroubled as we focus on increasing our prosperity and maximizing our enjoyment of life. We think about security when we look for a job and a place to live. We factor in safety when we decide where our kids will go to school and where we do our shopping. Enjoyment is certainly a factor in choosing the church we attend and how we will spend our spare time.
But what about the poor soul left for dead on Jericho Road? Didn’t the fellow who stayed in Jerusalem fail to help the man in need just as surely as the preacher and deacon did? Not because he saw the need and passed by on the other side, but because he had arranged his life in a way that kept him out of such situations to begin with.
That’s us, isn’t it?
All of us know there are people in our world who are in distress, and we aren’t opposed to helping someone “when we can.” But this isn’t so much about whether we help the hurting person we see; it’s about the hurting people we don’t see because we go to great lengths to keep ourselves out of risky situations.
People in desperate need are notorious for being in dangerous places. You could look all over Jerusalem’s nicer neighborhoods for a half-dead man who had been beaten and robbed, and find nothing. Take a walk on Jericho Road, however, and the odds of finding someone like that go up dramatically.
But it’s dangerous out on Jericho Road. You might wind up being beaten and robbed yourself. And left for dead. And desperately praying someone would stop to help you. Even if it was a Samaritan.
We protect ourselves from danger, and that’s understandable. Jesus doesn’t expect us to be stupid. But in the process of living “safe” lives, aren’t we also avoiding the places where we are most likely to find broken, hurting souls who need our help?
And so how different is our sin than the preacher’s and deacon’s? People are in need, and we do nothing to help.
Can we pretend we don’t know about girls and boys being sold for sex? About children being sucked into gangs because they see no other options? About young women who have no vision of life other than more babies and food stamps? About young men who see no way to provide for their own other than criminal activity? About places where babies die in droves for lack of clean water? About entire families working in slavery to keep us in coffee and chocolate? About poor people wasting away in prison because someone wealthy wanted their property?
We cannot pretend. We know many people suffer injustice and oppression. Other people. In other places. But we’re OK. Getting by. Maybe even doing pretty well. We have food on the table. The kids are healthy. We don’t live in a dangerous neighborhood. And we sincerely enjoy worship and Bible study at our church.
Isaiah tells us the Israelites worshiped sincerely too. Offering sacrifices. Giving their tithes and offerings. Praying. Fasting. Yet God rejected their worship — because they turned a deaf ear to the cries of the oppressed and did not “do justice.” God’s people were participating in the oppression of the poor. So the Lord turned a deaf ear to their cries, and the Israelites suffered themselves — in exile — until God was ready to give them another chance.
Luke tells us the question Jesus was asked that day — “Who is my neighbor?” — was posed by a very religious man — a regular churchgoer — who wanted to justify his own behavior. Read that: “who was looking for a way to rationalize his self-centered life and the fact he wasn’t doing anything personally to help the broken and hurting.”
That churchgoing fellow, like us, was primarily focused on his own personal salvation: “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” Like him, we have our own reasons for not helping the broken and hurting, and we’d love for Jesus to give us a simple checklist for getting to heaven.
But Jesus says there is more to righteousness than praying, reading your Bible, going to church, giving your money, more even than sharing your faith and going on mission trips. Jesus points us beyond individual isolation to the plight of people in need. He tells us that being right before God includes doing justice for the poor and oppressed. The Lord makes clear his heart for those who suffer, and he requires his people to help their neighbors.
Our neighbor is the person in need. That person’s neighbor is the one who helps.
Jesus connects our eternal destiny to personally helping people in need in significant ways. Look at the degree of responsibility the Samaritan took for a complete stranger: He not only bandaged the man’s wounds, but he checked him into a motel and took care of him. When the Samaritan had to leave, he promised the innkeeper he would take care of whatever other expenses were required for the stranger’s recovery.
The Samaritan was personally involved and deeply committed to helping this man in need.
Jesus calls us to love our neighbor the way we love ourselves. We’re personally involved and deeply committed to taking care of ourselves. For most of us, loving our neighbor the way we love ourselves will require a radical change in the way we live our lives. But radical change is precisely what the Gospel is all about. Our being “born again” is not complete until our minds and hearts have been transformed on the issue of doing justice. Our obedience to Christ is not complete until we answer his call to help the poor and oppressed.
Let’s look at our calendars. When could we fit in a trip out Jericho Road?
You can find a trustworthy organization to help you get out on Jericho Road on our Get Involved! page.
Mark Kelly is editor of Multiply Justice. Copyright © 2012 Kainos Press