“… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” —Colossians 3:12
When Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan, he does so in response to a man who is more interested in passing judgment on Jesus’ teaching than he is in gaining wisdom. If we are commanded to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, then for those folks who want to make sure that they do things exactly right, the question is required: Who is my neighbor?
This question can’t be any more relevant to daily life than it is right now. There may have been times in the past when we might have imagined that we could move through our days independently minding our own business while others minded theirs. American culture seems to love the image of the self reliant individual who brings to any challenge a fierce independence that rejects any offer of help as an affront to our personal sovereignty that risks placing us in a position of indebtedness to others and, consequently, weak. We imagine that we can always take care of our own business on our own.
“I am inclined to do things on my own. That way I know it’s done right.“
It’s like some sort of all-encompassing honor code where there can be no possibility of authorized aid.
The past two years have taught us that we are not independent. A highly transmissible virus forces us to acknowledge that our neighbors’ welfare depends heavily on our good behavior. We can’t simply go through life making our own choices for ourselves and imagine that they have no bearing on anyone else. When the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ story see the beaten man lying by the side of the road and pass him by, they are acting independently and their actions are a danger to the man who is suffering.
Our lessons have not just been taught to us by the coronavirus. Calls for racial justice and the increasing volatility of the weather caused by climate change is compelling us to recognize that our lives are not just impacted by our actions or those of our neighbors – either close by or around the globe. Our lives are significantly conditioned by the attitudes and actions of generations that preceded us. Just as surely, the generations that follow us will inherit the impact of our own attitudes and actions for good or ill.
When Jesus’ story places the unexpected and racially profiled Samaritan in the role of the helping neighbor, he’s not just trying to call us to action. Jesus is telling us how things are. Regardless of the barriers that we imagine are between us and others, we are all in this life together, even across the barriers of culture, distance, and time.
It’s the way things are.
The hope of the Christian gospel (or good news) is based on the fact that in Jesus, God comes to be with us in all of it, too. Ours is not a God who stands at a distance waiting to see if we’ll finally get it right and save ourselves or prove ourselves worthy of acclaim. Ours is a God who shows up on both sides of the Samaritan story. He is both the unexpected Samaritan paying for our care with his own gifts and he is the one who is beaten, whose wounds we are called to bandage and who has been raised up from the dead.
When we reach out to care for each other we don’t do so just to keep the suffering at bay. We do so as a people who have been called into a life that is being restored through God‘s own actions and we are honored to be involved in God’s good work.
We give and receive compassion as a gift from God.
Aug. 25, 2021
Image credit: The Good Samaritan by Vincent vanGogh