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by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

June, 2013

One night earlier this year, after a snowstorm, my wife, Charlotte, and I saw a car that had slid off the road. We stopped to see if I could help. I asked the occupants of the car, a young Asian couple, if they were all right and they said they were and that they had already called 9-1-1. At about that time, another car stopped and two other young Asian men got out. As they approached the car, one asked the driver, “Excuse me, are you Chinese?” The young man driving replied, “Actually, I’m half Chinese and half Japanese.” “What difference does it make?” I demanded. “Oh, none,” the young man replied, “I was just curious.” I guess it’s natural for one Asian to be curious about another’s origins but it would never occur to me. We weren’t able to help the stranded couple but I would have stopped no matter what nationality they were.

This incident reminded me of the parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37). The Samaritan in the parable didn’t ask whether the victim was a fellow Samaritan. In fact, it probably would have been clear that the other man was a Jew. And yet, the Samaritan didn’t hesitate to help the other man. Instead, he did everything possible and then some.

We’re supposed to help whenever and however we can. It’s natural to want to help people who “deserve it.” But we aren’t called to do that. Instead, we’re called to help whoever needs help. The parable of the Good Samaritan was in response to a question a man asked Jesus. An “expert in religious law” had asked him, “‘Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?’” (Luke 10:25b New Living Translation). Jesus responded, “‘What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?’” (vs. 26b NLT). The man replied, “‘“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” And, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”’” (vs. 27b ESV). ““‘Right!’ Jesus told him. ‘Do this and you will live!’” (vs. 28 NLT). But Luke tells us the man wanted to “justify his actions” so he asked Jesus “‘And who is my neighbor?’” (vs. 29 NLT). And so Jesus told the parable we know today as the “Good Samaritan.”

In our church wide study of the gospel of Luke earlier this year, we learned that this was a familiar story, except that the “Samaritan” was originally a woman. Women weren’t valued then and the notion of a woman helping when the two men wouldn’t was revolutionary. Jesus made it even more revolutionary by exchanging the woman for a hated, contemptible Samaritan. The priest and Levite represented “good” people by Jewish standards of the day, yet they did nothing. The point wasn’t lost on Jesus’ listeners: The Samaritan did it, why can’t you do the same? The Samaritan was a good neighbor, why can’t you be one?

Jesus didn’t tell the people, “‘Then the King will say . . . “For I was hungry, and you asked me if I was a Christian. I was thirsty, and you asked me what denomination I belonged to. I was a stranger, and you asked me the name of my church, . . .”’” (based on Matt. 25:34b-35 NLT). Instead, he said ““‘. . . you fed me. . . . you gave me a drink, . . . you invited me into your home.”’” Similarly, James didn’t tell his readers, “Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, ask him or her whether he or she is a Christian” (based on James 2:15 NLT). Instead, he wrote that if you don’t give them the things they need, “What good does that do?” (vs. 16B NLT).

Jesus challenged the people, “‘If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!’” (Luke 6:32 NLT). He challenges us too, and all disciples for all time. We are not called to do for those who are like us or for those who can return the favor or those who “deserve it.” Instead, we are called to give to “the least and the lost.” Our simple acts of kindness—neighborliness—can speak volumes. Our lack of kindness can speak just as loudly.

“‘If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! . . .
. . . You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.’” (Luke 6:32-33; 36 NLT.)

Copyright © 2013 by David Phelps