The parable of the Good Samaritan is introduced with a question from a religious leader. The question is actually more the searching for a loophole. Who is my neighbor? is the surface question. The underlying question is: how far must I extend myself towards another?
Jesus paints a picture of extravagant generosity. It comes not from those expected to do good, a priest, a Levite. Rather the generosity comes from a questionable person—a Samaritan. But it is this Samaritan who cares for the one who had fallen victim to robbers. He bandages wounds, brings him to an inn, and promises to cover the costs of recovery.
The parable ends with biting words: Go and do likewise. Our task as followers of Jesus is to graciously extend ourselves to others. This is the way of Jesus.
Rodney Stark, in his book: The Rise of Christianity notes some of the sociological reasons why the early church grew exponentially. He says: Christians stayed in the city when others were fleeing to rural areas; Christians had a counter-cultural attitude toward women and children, and Christians took care of the sick, anyone who was sick. They heard Jesus words: Go and do likewise.
A friend of mine talks about her son being in Jewish Sunday School. The boy’s teacher each week had the children tell of a good deed (a mitzvah) they had done the previous week. I think about my Sunday school growing up. My teacher asked of me each week what Bible verse had I memorized. Memorizing verses is good. But this Jewish teacher was teaching that doing good was very important. Important enough to be talked about. Doing good is a whole lot messier and inconvenient than memorizing a Bible verse. Go and do likewise.
I wonder, if all Christians got raptured tomorrow (I don’t think this is how it will happen, but for arguments sake): churches were empty, the good and faithful were gone—poof, twinkling of an eye. How many people left would know that the Christians are gone? And if they knew the Christians were gone, would they be happy or sad?
David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, shared the results of new research that investigated how young people (16-29 years) who are not Christians perceive Christianity. They wre asked “What is your current perception of Christianity?”
* 91% said antihomosexual
* 87% said judgmental
* 85% said hypocritical
* 78% said old-fashioned
* 75% said too involved in politics
* 72% said out of touch with reality
* 70% said insensitive to others
Maybe we need to hear the words of Jesus again: Go and do likewise.
Thomas Friedman wrote a column for the New York Times a few weeks ago (in The Seattle Times, Sunday July 1, 2007, p. C6). It was titled: We’re all public figures now, so behave yourself. He says in an age of cell phone cameras everyone is a paparazzo. So anything we do can be snapped or videoed and then posted on a blog, or MySpace or Facebook. How we conduct our lives is open to public scrutiny, and electronic memories are difficult to erase. So: behave!
Who is my neighbor? Everyone and anyone who crosses our path, as well as the marginalized, and those with no voice whom we seek out. How do we act? With generous hospitality, as messy, inconvenient, and risky that might be.
We do this not because people are watching. We do this because we are followers of Jesus, called to bless the world, make the world better. Hear his words: Go and do likewise!