In the story of the good Samaritan, Jesus is responding to a question from a lawyer, “who wishing to justify himself”, asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29). Jesus answered the question with a parable.
A man was going from Jerusalem down to Jericho when he was attacked by thieves and left for dead on the side of the road. When a priest, travelling the same route, came upon the man, he crossed over to the other side and continued on his journey. Next a Levite saw the injured man and also passed by on the other side. Finally a Samaritan – despised by the religious elite who ignored the man – came upon the casualty and, moved with compassion, stopped to tend to his plight. He bandaged the man’s wounds, took him to an inn, and paid for his care. Jesus ends the story with, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robber’s hands?” (Lk 10:36). To which the lawyer rightly answered, “The one who showed mercy to him. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do the same’ ” (Lk 10:37).
The lesson of service to others demonstrated by the Samaritan is straight to the point. Compassion is the attitude that should define our response to those in need. Compassion is the foundation for our generosity, our hospitality, our service. While some of us may have a more natural bent toward mercy, compassion in service to others can be taught. And it is best taught by example. Watching you respond to people in need speaks volumes to our children.
One morning, several years ago, Rhonda was at the kitchen sink when she saw our new neighbor sitting on the curb crying. Rhonda walked across the street and listened to her tale of woe. Moved by compassion, Rhonda began to give her new friend a ride to her job (part of her despair was losing her license due to an arrest), invited her family to AWANA, connected them to a church, and made a permanent difference in the life of this family. It started with a choice to cross the street instead of look away.
Sometimes the needs of those around us can be overwhelming. We must balance our responsibility to our own families, work, and church body that God has given us to do. How do we choose when to respond?
Our friend, pastor Dave Gibson, used to say, “God puts people in our path that we would have to go in the ditch to get around. They are there for us to serve.” Rhonda and I started to put this concept into practice and taught our kids to do the same. We would ask, “Am I going to have to go into the ditch to get around this person and their need?” If that is the case, maybe God has put them there for me to respond with compassion, hospitality, and generosity.
Who are you “going in the ditch” to get around? And could they be in your path by God’s design? Good questions to ponder as we seek to follow the example of the good Samaritan.