On my recent trip to New York I made a new friend. Her name is Dorothée. She is the co-owner of the bed & breakfast I stayed at and was my hostess for the week. I’ll admit I had an agenda going into the trip. I really wanted to make a connection with some of the people in the town where I hope to retire. So little did Dorothée know when she took my reservation that I was looking for more than just a room and some delicious breakfasts… I was hoping to make a friend. And she didn’t disappoint.
I was only there a few short days but I felt like I left with a friend for life. We had some wonderful opportunities to share and visit and although I know we barely scratched the surface in getting to know each other, I’m confident this is only the beginning.
We were open to each other. She shared her Inn, which is delightfully decorated with the antiques that her and her business partner have collected. She shared her phenomenal, gourmet breakfasts with me, her only guest for the week. She shared her love for connecting with people and creating spaces for others to connect with each other. And she shared her two dogs and cat with me. I shared my desire to move to that area. I shared my passion for writing and my faith. I talked about what I believe God is showing me about what it means to live with His Spirit within me. The conversations were deep and meaningful. It was wonderful!
Although I don’t know very many details about Dorothée, I am sure there are many things we do not have in common. I know that we were not born in the same country. (She’s from France.) I suspect we don’t share the same political views. We may not share the same faith. And there are probably countless other things that we differ on. But during that short week we had together, none of that mattered. We openly shared what we were comfortable sharing with each other. There was no judgment, no prejudice. We were both just open to each other and looked for the things we had in common rather than our differences.
It was while I was at the airport on my way home that I began reflecting on how the week could have been different. I was convicted by the fact that too often I put people into categories before even getting to know them. I have my implicit biases that quickly sift people into one category or another. Will they agree with me or disagree with me? If I had done that with Dorothée there may never have been a connection, or certainly not one that would have lasted.
It’s a bad habit. Personally, I chalk it up to social media. I don’t scroll through my feed thinking about the people behind those posts. I scroll through my feed looking for those I agree with, those whose posts I can “like.” I swipe past those I disagree with, those that trigger that stress reaction in the pit of my stomach. Or worse, I engage and start crafting my outrage to post in reply. The power of opinion is like a drug, and it’s a dangerous one. I believe our society is punch drunk with the importance of our almighty opinions and we are forgetting not only how to connect with one another but the importance of it. The truth is, we’ve always had differing opinions. The difference was, our opinions were never more important than our connection to one another.
We’re not alone in this. Jesus actually addressed this problem in His day too. Although the cause wasn’t social media at the time, He did address the problem with people not recognizing who their neighbor was. The story is commonly known as The Parable of the Good Samaritan.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)
As in all of His parables, Jesus chose His characters carefully. First off, He gave His audience the setting. It was the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Historically it was known as “the bloody way.” Picture the most violent and crime-ridden street or alley in your community. That was the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and everybody knew how dangerous it was. Still, in the parable, a man takes his chances on that road and gets beat up by thugs. All of his money and clothes are stolen and he’s left there to die.
There are three people who encounter the beaten man. The first two are a priest and a Levite. The priest was someone who served in the Temple. He was a religious man, someone you would expect to have a lot of compassion and care for another human being. The second was a Levite. All priests came from the tribe of Levi but not all Levites became priests. But again, for Jesus’ audience and even for us today, one would assume that these would be some of the most compassionate people around. The expectation of them would be that they would stop for someone who needed help.
The third person was a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans were bitter rivals. The Jews would never consider a Samaritan to be their “neighbor.” In fact, they only reserved that designation for other Jews. So it is purposeful that Jesus chose a Samaritan to be the hero of this story especially when posed with the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
The Samaritan didn’t look upon the man and base his response on the man’s nationality, race, religion, or political preference. He looked upon him with compassion and saw him as a fellow human being in need of help. He thought of the man first and himself second.
Jesus turned the question asked by the expert of the law back to him as He ended this parable. “Which of the three do you think was his neighbor?” Notice that the expert of the law couldn’t even bring himself to say the word, “Samaritan,” but instead said, “the one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus’ words to him are the same that they are to us, “Go and do likewise.”
We could easily say, “Okay, Lord, next time I come across a guy whose beat up in a dark alley I’ll help him out,” knowing full well we have no intention of ever going down that dark alley in our community if we can help it. But if that is our only response I think we are missing the point of this parable. Jesus’ audience then was no different than His audience today. We have to stop categorizing people and sifting them in terms of whether they agree or disagree with us. We have to stop looking at people’s opinions as their defining traits, as though that is all that there is to them. There is more. There is a soul in need in every human being.
In researching this parable I came upon the following quote:
“It is a convenience, and perhaps a necessity, of human life, that the great mass of humanity should be broken up in to fragments, sections, with differing customs, languages, and names. It gives to the world the stimulus of competition and helpful rivalries. But these distinctions are superficial, temporary, and beneath this diversity of speech and thought there is the deeper unity of soul. We emphasize our differences; we pride ourselves upon them; but how little does Heaven make of them! Heaven does not even see them.”
Revrend H. Burton wrote that sometime in 1889-1890 and it is exactly what the Lord convicted me of in that airport. God does not see us in terms of our political views, our race, or whether we lean left or right. He’s sees us as humanity in need of a Savior. “For God so loved THE WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him may never perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) If He doesn’t see us through the superficial categories of the world, why do we insist on seeing others through them?
My life verse is 1 John 4:12 but let me give you that verse in context.
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.” (1 John 4:11-13 – NIV)
God doesn’t love us because we vote for a particular candidate, go to a particular church, or follow a particular rule. God loved us before we ever knew who He was and long before we ever chose to love Him back. We know this brand of love. We’ve experienced this brand of love and we’ve been saved by it. John is reminding us of our responsibility now that we have God’s love and His Spirit within us.
We as believers have the opportunity to show God to others who don’t know Him and who have never encountered Him. “No one has ever seen God; BUT if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (verse 12). They will see Him through us! God becomes visible because He lives in us. His love becomes complete through us! If that does not excite you, I don’t know what will. People who don’t know God’s love can encounter that same great love that saved you and me through the Spirit that lives inside us. That is not religion. That is a calling. That is our life’s purpose!
When we fall into the system of the world, categorizing and sifting others based on our almighty opinion we are not only misrepresenting what it means to be a follower of Jesus, we are missing the opportunity for God to be visible to someone who doesn’t know Him. He is asking for our openness so that His Spirit and His love can do for others what it did for you and I. We are not only to see others as souls in need. We are to see ourselves as carriers of the only One who can meet their need.
Our job as believers is not to manufacture our own love for others hoping that will point them in the direction of Jesus. It is rather for us to be open to allowing the power of God’s love to flow through us, to allow the Spirit of God who lives in us to touch others through our skin, our smile, our kind words, our eyes. When our love coinsides with the Lord’s the experience is even greater and frankly, I believe, God’s gift to us. But our love is not a requirement. It’s His love that will change a person’s life. It is His Spirit that will draw them to their Savior.
Revrend H. Burton said it well:
“It was because the Samaritan forgot himself that all the world has remembered and applauded him. …Discipline your heart that you may see in man everywhere a brother, whose keeper you are. Let fraternity be, not a theory only, by a realized fact, and then a factor of your life. Train your eye to watch for others’ needs, to read another’s woe. Train your soul to sympathy, and your hand to helpfulness; for in our world there is room enough for both.”
Now join me and let us, go and do likewise.
Thank you, Father, for loving us first! Thank you for the power of your love and the gift of your Spirit living inside of us. Forgive me, Lord, for the countless times I have sifted people and categorized them by my opinions and bias. Make me open to others, so that they may encounter You and come to know Your Son as their Savior. Thank you for the example of the Good Samaritan. Use me as you see fit to love and care for those souls in need. In Your Son’s precious name, amen.
Burton, H. (n.d.). St. Luke. In Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Third Series). Rev. W. Robertson Nicoll, (Series Ed). Retrieved from: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/expositors/luke/10.htm.