Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 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.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In a chaotic world, when the news constantly breaks our hearts and boils our blood, it is hard to find our footing sometimes. We are more connected in some ways than we have ever been, so we are aware of tragedies and injustices around the world as well as in our own country. I’ve talked to many folks feeling overwhelmed and depressed at all of the violence and pain in our world today. We offer prayers and prayers are powerful. But what can we do? So much emotion needs an outlet for action as well as for intercession.
Jesus interacts with a man who wants something to do. He has done his religious duties, and it doesn’t feel complete. He needs an action to take. So Jesus tells him the story that is now known to us as the story of the Good Samaritan. (That’s an unexpected title, for sure: Samaritans weren’t known to be “good” to the audience hearing Jesus’ story for the first time). In Jesus’ story, there’s a man, beaten and robbed, needing help on the side of the road. The religious people pass by. But the good Samaritan helps. He treats the man’s wounds and gets him to a safe place. Jesus wants to know, “Who was a neighbor to the beaten man?”
We are supposed to answer: the one who helped him, of course! I am imagining Jesus today, pointing to the beaten and bleeding ones right in front of us. I am challenged that in all my concern for the whole world, I must not pass by the one bleeding on my street. Compassion fatigue can happen so easily! I can give all my tears and energy to victims on the news and not notice the child without food in my neighborhood or the woman suffering at the hands of her abuser next door.
It is not either/or, of course. It’s not either I care for my neighbor on the street or the one in the news. We pray for both. Often, we can take action for both. We can help globally when a donation needs to be given, or a letter to policymakers written. But always, we can take action for the people living in our community.
A friend who works with the homeless population once polled several of his friends who live on the street about politics. My friend asked, “Does it make any difference to your life who is president?” The poignant answer that returned was, “The president makes no difference to us. But we can tell who the mayor is. We are treated better or worse depending on who the mayor is.”
“Think globally, act locally” is a catch-phrase from the environmental conservation movement to help us remember to recycle. It works for people, too. Yesterday our youth group and I met a man in a nursing home who has no one, ever, visit him. A friend and I visited with a woman who is living in the crisis center hoping to flee her abuser. Today church leaders and I will feed children who are food insecure while out of school for the summertime. And it is not much, but by God, it is such a relief to do something for my neighbors.
Who are yours?